Road Course Racing Memories
Note: My articles are based solely on my thoughts, observations and sometimes experiences. Normally I do not offer statistics, although at times I may reference what different broadcasters, among others, have said or alluded to.
My fascination with road course racing came on the back country roads of Georgia when I was young girl. No, it had nothing to do with moonshine running. It happened when I was just watching my older brother and several of his friends designate a starting point, which was also the finish line for their competition. There were pine trees in the area and the object was to select 5 or 6 trees to drive around while weaving around them and trying to make it back to the start/finish line.
There was enough room to allow for passing as they followed their makeshift course. The first one back to the start finish line was the winner. Bragging rights was the only trophy for the winner of their race. There was something about the speed, the sounds and the smell that made me excited about what was happening with automobiles and what they were capable of doing. When someone was pushing the clutch pedal and changing gears the sound was just incredible. Waiting until I could learn to drive that way brought dreams to this young country girl.
Not too long after my family moved to the Orlando, Florida area, I was finally old enough to drive. Connecting with friends who had the same desire for speed and fun, we became involved in some of the small sports car clubs. These clubs had racing events in parking lots or on abandoned air strips, usually on Saturday or Sunday afternoons. We had local sports car gymkhanas followed by cook outs and socializing. I would drive a Mustang belonging to a friend, but I never won a trophy. However, that participation increased my love of speed and racing. The rules were simple and stop watches were used to determine the finishing order. Normally, bragging was a big part of the socializing.
Life was good and we were enjoying cars and racing. Most of us would attend some of the racing that was going on in Daytona on the beach course. Although I did not attend the race pictured below, my future mentor, Dick Joslin, was racing in it. Dick also drove the first Dodge in the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959 and finished 28th.
1955 Beach Race:
Front row starters Tim Flock and Lee Petty, in a pair of Chrysler 300s, lead the 48-car field on the pace lap prior to the start of the 1955 Daytona Beach Grand National. The second row consists of Dick Rathmann and Fireball Roberts, with Dick Joslin (red car inside) and Junior Johnson occupying the third row. Flock was declared the winner after apparent winner Roberts was disqualified.
As time passed, I met people, including Dick, who were involved in racing. By then, Dick was the promoter at the Orlando Raceway and I worked with him at a Pontiac dealership during the day, and for him at the race track on Friday nights. He taught me a lot about auto racing. I was very fortunate to attend some of the 12-hour road races at both Daytona and Sebring. Then came the first 24 Hours of Daytona and I was invited to go with a group who were camping in the infield during that race. It was extremely exciting and although it was not the stock cars of NASCAR, it was road racing and I found it much more interesting and exciting than the oval racing. I did an article on that and if you have not read it, or wish to re-read it, you can find it here.
Each year, I look forward to the road course races at Sonoma and Watkins Glen. When I first moved to California, I had the experience of attending a race at Sears Point. Since then, it has been called Infinion and now is known as Sonoma. I miss the carousel from the old track. I also have memories of when NASCAR raced the road course track in Japan on the Suzuka Circuit and then at Twin Ring Motegi, which is an oval. The races were exciting and I always felt envy for the fans attending the events.
I am not sure yet how I feel about the Cup Series racing on the road course at Charlotte in September, but I do look forward to it. I think it takes a special skill to drive any track, but especially the road courses. I must admit that normally I prefer to watch the road course races on television but attending them in person is extremely exciting. There is nothing that can compare to the sounds, smells, camaraderie, food, fun and excitement of being at an auto race in person. Many memories will linger and one will recall most of them the rest of their life once you have attended a race in person.
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