I bid you welcome gentle readers, and as always, a warm welcome to that person assigned by NASCAR to read all we write here today and what you good folks have to say about it. Maybe it’s love; maybe they just want to catch us in mistakes. Either way, it’s a pleasure to entertain you.
Well, what did everyone think of the racing this weekend? Did all your favorites win? Did your Fantasy team outscore the rest of your gang? Nope, mine either, but to this aged race fan, there was truly one big winner this past weekend, and it wasn’t the guy in the bright yellow car. Matt got lucky; the win I’m citing came from hard work and getting everything right! Did anyone notice? Well, maybe that’s not really a fair question, as it seems entirely possible that I may be the last one to that table and you all might be weeks ahead of me.
She’s referring to the NBC network and their coverage this past weekend of… well, just about everything. Well before the racing began, one of my “more mature” gentle readers opined that he wouldn’t be watching the trucks at Pocono. The reason given was that he could no longer bear to listen to the voice of Michael Waltrip. That’s a bit harsh, but that crusty ol’ curmudgeon can at times be crankier than your Aunt Susan’s old Model A, so the source was considered and dismissed as not being truly representative of anyone but that gentleman. Still, the point was made, and in all honesty, I must admit that my TV came with volume control and I’ve long since mastered the art of not listening to Michael at all.
But watch it I did, and it was one more Kyle Busch extravaganza, which could have been christened, “The Race that Refused to End!” After multi-colored flags waved several times, Kyle finally led them past the white flag, and it no longer mattered if all Hell was breaking out behind him. Maybe it was consciously ducking the annoyance of what FOX presented that tuned me in closer on Saturday evening when the Xfinity cars put on their show at Iowa Speedway, the Midwest track that could and should replace the forsaken Chicagoland on the NASCAR schedule… in my weathered and perhaps slightly biased opinion. (Given the choice, the short track will win every time)
We weren’t long into that race when it slowly crept into my sensory perceptions that I was actually enjoying not only what I was seeing, but what I was hearing. The camera work on that race was something close to perfection, covering front, rear and middle of the pack with cameras drawn back so that the viewer could see at any time there were more than 2 cars on that track. The booth crew was new to me… not the persons, but the pairing. It was Ralph Sheheen and Dale Jarrett, and together they made an unexpectedly great combo.
Nothing was discussed in that booth but the race at hand and the racers within it, and that was done with experience and knowledgeable comments all the way from green to checkers. But there was something else I’d missed for a long time. Everything they talked about was in conjunction with what we at home were seeing. It became obvious that the pair was watching the same frames of the race being sent over the airwaves. They were “following the camera” as it were. How many times have you heard this scribe use that description of how the old ESPN crew of Bob Jenkins, Ned Jarrett and Benny Parsons used to get it so right?
When that race ended, I was sorry to see it go. My mind made a mental note that it was probably the best race coverage, making it the most enjoyable race I’d watched, since anywhere back in the 1990s… before this new “package” ever happened. Let’s face it; in their first time out as a NASCAR broadcasting outlet, NBC failed miserably. This time, they have reached for the opposite end of that spectrum, and I do believe they’ve got it!
Then came Sunday and we were back at the big track… Pocono, or as they’re calling it these days, the “Tricky Triangle.” I love this old girl, probably because we have history together. Back in the 80s, she was the closest track to home, except the meandering twists and turns of the track at Watkins Glen, which at that time was better viewed on TV than at the track. It was to Pocono that I finally, after umpteen years of trying, dragged a still hesitant and recalcitrant husband to his first race. After that, getting him to go racing was no problem. One might have thought it was all his idea! Funny how that works…
I’m pretty sure that by now, no one needs me to tell him the finishing order, or that the race ended up being a gas-mileage fiasco of major proportions, with all the good cars just a bit short on Sunoco, leaving the podium finishes to some folks that were, to put it kindly, kind of also-rans all day. Face it; it was Pocono. She is long and she is flat; she is wide except for the turns, and after a restart, the cars soon become spread out and do not offer much in the way of breath-taking excitement. A couple of incidents on pit road however, served to counteract all that on Sunday.
One was early in the race, when car #5 spun and followed directly in the tracks left when young Jeb Burton did the same during Saturday practice. Each of them attempted to take down the wall separating the pits from the area where crews do what crews do when their car is on the track. Burton’s car had assailed the wall between pits 42 and 43. Kahne’s took him even farther down the road before making that abrupt stop that concrete will affect every time. Equipment left resting on the wall took to the air in the form of unguided missiles, scattering everywhere. It was not a pretty sight, but no one was injured… this time.
In the second instance, Brad Keselowski screamed into his pit just a teeny-weeny bit too hot, slid right through it and out the other end, taking with him his jackman and tire carrier. The latter turned that car into a pretty fair imitation of Mickey Gilley’s mechanical bull as he rode it out on the hood. Again, no one was seriously injured, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
A note to all of my SAFER barrier enthusiasts concerning the incidents with the wall involving Burton and Kahne. As I keep reminding you, there are times and places where SAFER is not the answer, and this is one of them. Consider that the wall in question is the one over which crews have to jump to service their car when it comes to the pits. If that wall were the height and depth of a SAFER barrier, those guys would have to develop something close to the ability to leap tall buildings at a single bound. In this instance, the remedy being “discussed” is to simply discontinue use of a few of those rear pits and move them up toward the front, out of harm’s way. It’s the Pocono frontstretch; there’s plenty of room.
With that discussion put aside, let’s return to the coverage of the race, this time with the “A” team in the booth, which consists of Rick Allen, Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton. Gentle readers, these guys are good! I’m rather embarrassed that they’ve been here since Daytona and I’ve just now gotten around to paying attention to them. If the coverage of all the action on the short track was great, then the coverage of the sometimes lack of action on the big triangle was superb!
That crew was absolutely into that race, and their one purpose was clearly to see that we, the fans, got the most possible enjoyment out of it. There was no patter among them; only conversation pertaining to what we were seeing at that moment on our home screens. All of it was done in excited tones, denoting that a good time was being had by all. Several times through the race, we were treated to a full-field rundown with the pit reporters taking the lead on that one. Now, those rundowns could usually be marketed as a cure for insomnia, but these were not boring in any way. As the camera panned from one car to the next, we were given a brief offering of pertinent facts… driver, car make, team, place in the field at that moment… then the rundown was handed off to the next reporter, as most of us have heard Barney Hall and the MRN gang do for many years… from corner to corner, which each giving the name of the next voice you will hear. Kudos and thanks to Mike Massaro, Marty Snider, Kelli Stavast and Dave Burns for an awesome job!
Looking back, this old gal can tell you that she hasn’t enjoyed the races on TV that much in donkey years. The overnight TV ratings came out today, and they were roundly discouraging, giving Sunday’s race the lowest ratings for Pocono in perhaps ever. Guys and gals, I think we owe it to this sport we’ve loved, some of us for a long lifetime, to give the NBC crews a chance. This is something we’ve been looking for and hoping for, for a long, long time… a chance to sit down in front of our TVs and actually enjoy a race! We used to do it, though I know many of you can’t remember that far back.
Please, take my word on this one. Next up is the weekend at the Glen, and that old track usually produces some darn fine racing. Tune in for the race, and tell a friend to do the same. It’s not like it has been for too darn long. NBC even provides lots of side-by-side commercial coverage, and they don’t bury the cars on 1/12 of the screen and key on only one car. If they can get more of us to watch, we’ll get more of the same. C’mon gang! Spread the word; bring everyone to the party and a fun weekend of racing will be had by all. As the old Budweiser ads used to say, “I’ll see you at the Glen!”
And speaking of the Glen, we’d be remiss if we didn’t share a map of the SAFER barriers at the old track.
As one might expect with a road course, we won’t find SAFER barriers in great abundance, but obviously this old dog has learned a couple of new tricks over the years, as SAFER has been added to known trouble spots. Still, I’m sorry to report that Watkins Glen International failed to even respond to the survey mentioned here in an earlier article. That’s not too courteous Michael Printup. We love your track, but we love our drivers more.
Time now for our Classic Country Closeout and today we’re going to hear from just a single artist, perhaps not Classic in the “classic” sense of the word, but he’s a guy I have fun listening to, so let’s hear some offerings from Bill Fries.
Who’s he, you ask?? That folks, is the real name of C.W. McCall, the “Rubber Duck” with a truck that got himself a “Convoy.” Ah, but you’ve all heard Convoy a million times. Today we find out that it wasn’t the only song Bill ever recorded. This one came a bit later, as an obvious follow-up to the big hit, and it’s called, “Around the World with the Rubber Duck.”
Another interesting note… the gentleman that produced Convoy and several others is a guy named Chip Davis, but you’d recognize him and his group better as Mannheim Steamroller. Lord, the trivia an old gal can pick up along the way. My collection boasts a couple of his albums, and of all the songs on them I think my favorite is one called, “The Silverton.” I’m not sure why this one sparks my interest. I just like it!
It still amazes me to hear that deep booming voice and recall that the man it belongs to is a rather diminutive fellow, with blond hair done in kind of a Dutch bob and glasses about 3 sizes too big for his face. He’s still cool though, and almost every song he sings is so very different from the rest. This next is perhaps the most different of all. It never made a hit on the charts, but it did on mine. Please enjoy “Rocky Mountain September.”
A little doom and gloom anyone? This song predicts far worse than did Merle Haggard when he asked if the good times were really over for good. Here’s C.W. McCall’s, “There Won’t Be No Country Music.”
In closing for today, I’ve chosen one that just kind of gives you a warm fuzzy memory of those days before the Interstates, when truckers would assemble as if it had been planned, filling the parking lot of one of those old diners, which like as not resembled a bus with two back ends. I think they were intended to resemble the dining car on a train, but looks aren’t everything. If you saw those trucks there, it was time to pull in because you knew that was the best place around to grab whatever meal it was time for. Please enjoy, “The Old Home Filler-up and Keep on a’Truckin’ Café.”
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!