I bid you welcome gentle readers, and the same warm welcome goes out to our assigned reader of the day from NASCAR. I do hope you all enjoy a bit of history with your coffee. Your scribe had considered writing quite a different column here, but allowed common sense to rule and give this week over to the Lady in Black without further comment on some things surrounding this year’s running of the Southern 500 at Darlington. At some point you will undoubtedly be given a not-too-subtle hint of what you missed or what was missing… however, experience has taught that arguing with fools is an argument one cannot win and will only end up being thought another fool.
Such being the case, we now return to the sojourns of the irascible Lady in Black as she visits Darlington on Labor Day 2003 for what for many years was thought to be the last true Southern 500. For any gentle readers that are not familiar with the Lady or for those among us that just have short or failing memories, you can find the actual race results by clicking right about here. Now, without further ado, here is the tale of “The Last Southern 500” as related on that day by the Lady in Black.
The festivities got underway with a wonderful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by Lt. Col. Roseanne Lynch of the United States Marine Corp. That lovely lady had a vocal range that most of us could only dream about.
(You’ll find the Anthem at the 29-minute mark)
This week we actually got to see a Winston Victory Lap taken by three-time Winston Cup Champion, Cale Yarborough, and my, doesn’t that old boy still look fine. I’ll bet that he’s still up to muscling one of those rolling behemoths around without power steering. (Okay, you caught me! Once upon a time, I was a real fan of Cale.)
The contest got under way with the sophomore class on the front row, and it was Friday Ryan out to the early lead from the pole, with Jeffy’s Mini-me, the Candy Man, and Texas Terry in tow. The gladiators managed to drive all the way to lap 6 before putting the man in the little stilt house to work, when Chasin’ Laughter, the new zero hero, fed a Christian to the lions (AKA the wall). Along with those two, also destined for a very long afternoon were Dale Swear-it, Rusty Fenders, Black Haired Mikey and Raindrops. Because it was Darlington, no one was playing that all too familiar fuel mileage game and they all came in for a beer and pretzels. Actually, all but one came in as Jimmy Buschwhacker kept Mongo out for an extra lap, looking for a fire hydrant. Give the lad five bonus pretzels for that.
On the restart, someone near the front didn’t get his foot on the gas fast enough and caused one of those chain-reaction things that you see on the freeway during rush hour. Mutt Kenseth backed off the gas and collected a tap from Jeffy Gorgon, who in turn lost several colors of his rainbow to the hood of Munchkin Martin’s car. Behind them, Sterling Silver apparently attacked Captain Nemo with his radiator and came out the loser. Both the Silver Bullet and the Pfizer rolling drugstore retired for repairs and Nemo lost a couple of laps for repairs to the Nautilus. Amazingly, there was no caution for all that. I guess the man in the little house was taking his own beer break.
At lap 44 we saw Jimmy Buschwhacker bring Mongo to the pits for a grooming, saying it was just “bad loose.” By lap 62, the DeWalt Darling and the Budmobile started to reel in Flyin’ Ryan, who had led every lap to that point but the one Mongo took. Four laps later, he had to cede it to Mutt, while we saw pit stops for Marblemouth, the Zero Hero and Green with Envy. NASCAR claimed that Wawd drank his beer too fast and invited him back for another quickie.
At lap 71, we saw an interesting caution for debris. Someone said that whatever it was came from Wild Biyull’s car, and if it did, no one will be hearing from him for a bit. That thing looked Cingularly like a cell phone to me. I wonder if it was a Nextel! The ensuing Bud break came just in time for the Bud Wagon, which had a tire going flat. On the restart, it was Mutt in the lead, followed by Jeffy Bootin’, the New Man, the Bud Stud and Kevin Havoc. There was a bit of bumping and running on that start as well, with Green with Envy giving the leader a short trip to the wall, then finding himself on the receiving end courtesy of SParky, but they all bravely soldiered on.
The yellow rag would fly again at lap 100, when Mule Skinner broke something important to his steering and started singing, “Hello Walls.” After Miller time, it was Citgo on the go, with the DeWalt tool cart, Flyin’ Ryan and Dale the Lesser behind him. That lasted for about ¼ a lap and Mutt retook the lead, only to give it up a couple of laps later when he earned his Darlington stripe and fell back to third. Around this time, a few of those rolling wrecks were coming back on the track, minus an interesting combination of hoods and fenders that made them resemble Modifieds more than stock cars. After a few more circles around the track, we learned that his pit bulls were having trouble understanding Mutt on the radio. Seems the lad spilled a bit of his Miller Lite into his microphone and now he’s all garbled. (I wonder if that should be “gargled.”)
Lap 148 brought yet another caution for debris. (These lads could use some lessons in neatness) Amusingly, Bootin’ slowed to allow the Munchkin to get a lap back. That made him only 50 short of the rest of the field. After the Coors stop, it was Havoc up front, followed by Jeffy’s Mini-me, Sniffles and the New Man, but the restart had to be waved off, since the Budmobile was parked on the track and the wheels wouldn’t turn. That would cost him 12 laps while the pit bulls replaced a rear axle, and any hope of gaining points on Mutt this week.
Lap 164 could have gotten very interesting when Busch League cut a left front Goodyear down while attacking Jiminy McCricket with it and slowed dramatically. Somehow, everyone managed to miss him, but it was all for naught because three laps later there was another of those 6-car pileups. Casey Smears went hunting for the upper groove, only to find that it was full of rainbow colors that turned into a kaleidoscope right after the contact. Along with those two kids, the afternoon was also spoiled for Dave Blarney, Ken Shredder, Johnny Been-slow and Kenny Wall-Ace. It must have been the smoke (Or a full moon) that caused Jeffy’s Mini-me not to see what was left of the NAPA Parts cart until he punted it severely, coming to the caution flag. Whatever it was must have cleared up in the pits because he came away from the beer break as the leader.
No sooner were they back under green than Flyin’ Ryan took over the lead and both Not Too Sharpie and the Budmobile got a lap back. After that, they continued to circle without much excitement until lap 227 when Mongo bit the butt of Captain Nemo and assisted him into the inside wall. That brought about the sixth Miller time of the afternoon, but when the beers had been drunk and the snacks eaten, one car remained alone on pit road, and that was the Alltel entry of Flyin’ Ryan. Those pit bulls pushed it to the end of pit road (about ten feet) and back again several times, spraying vile things into the fuel intake and then brought in reinforcements from the Miller crew, but the car refused to run. You’re ahead of me, aren’t you? Remember that little button on the steering wheel that those naughty kids have been playing with lately. Well, it happened again! The not so New Man hit the kill switch and killed about eight laps of his race. Now, I understand that even after those TV gurus found out what was really wrong, y’all were treated to the little toy car turned upside down, with Buffet Benny explaining all about vapor lock.
They didn’t get a long way down the road before caution #6 flew around lap 239. This time, it was the already wounded car of Ken Shredder doing the honors when his hood flew up and pretty well rendered him sightless. Without much choice of what to hit, the wall in turn one seemed like a good idea so he chose that to give the gang a chance to order up a Corona with lime. (Yeah, I know, but they might be someday ~ that diversity thing, ya know) Coming to the flag, two warriors got laps back from the leader, Toad Bodiddley and Dale the lesser. Only one lonesome soldier stayed away from the bar for that round. That was Kevin Glue, leading a lap and creating for himself a short-lived Kodak moment. Behind him at the start were Havoc, McCricket, Sniffles and the Awesome One, while ahead of him was Ryan the Revived, still trying to overcome that kill switch thing.
As we amused ourselves with watching the #4 fade from view up front, word spread that Rickety Rudd, who’d been racing quite well to that point, had lost all power steering. Well dang, he should be too old to handle that, but he kept right on truckin’. Sometimes those old boys surprise you! Lap 274 gave Rickety and all the others another trip to the bar when the Hermanator slapped the wall and stacked the track with parts of Stacker II.
They returned to the track without a lot of change in the lineup and commenced to circling around for a bit, the way I remember the middle stages of most Darlington races. We learned that Cow Patty had lost a cylinder in the toilet paper car (Probably from the shock of actually being competitive) and we saw a little puff of smoke from underneath Sniffles’ car that no one thought much of at the time.
At lap 311, the yellow flag waved from the stilt house for yet more debris from those messy kids and as they slowed to come in for a quick one, we heard Sniffles announce, “No clutch!” Aha! That was the puff of smoke we saw! It was his flywheel hitting the ground and spewing itself all over the track. On the Smirnoff Ice Triple Black break, their car missed the barstool and had to back up to get service. Then he had to be pushed off the stool to get him on his way. Once back on the track, it was Jiminy McCricket in the lead, followed by Havoc, Texas Terry, Jeffy Bootin’ and Sniffles. In a few laps, we’d see Sniffles slow down when the car jumped out of gear, but he found one and kept on truckin’.
Lap 333 brought us the final Coors break of the afternoon, courtesy of Rubby Gordon’s flat right front Goodyear and his Cingular meeting with the wall because of it. Rubby immediately announced that he had no steering, and then gave the crowd a smoke show while trying to get the car back to the pits. He was awarded a 9.65 by the judges for the figure “8” at the entrance to pit road.
When they returned to the track, the new leader was the Terror of Texas, whose pit bulls had turned him loose in just a tick over 13 seconds. Right behind him were Mr. Goodwrench and the Lowe’s rolling hardware store. At the restart, the Bud Stud got out around the leader, but realized that it wasn’t his fight any longer and let the leaders go. With 28 laps to go, it was Alltel’s turn for the Darlington stripe, hitting the wall and then caroming into Havoc. Soon after that, Rubby hit the wall again and retired to the lounge. At lap 346, the engine finally let go on the toilet paper car and Cow Patty retired as well.
At lap 352, Sterling tarnished an already sad looking Silver Bullet when he hit the wall then headed for the bar. The gang up front never changed a lot during the last laps of the race. When the checkers waved, it was Texas Terry LaBonte waving back, for his first win in skatey-eight years. Behind him were Havoc, Jeffy’s Mini-me, McCricket, the Awesome One and Jeremy Mayfail. (Gee, I haven’t used that name in the finishing order in months)
As the rest of the drivers headed for the garage, Texas Terry stopped on the track as though he were contemplating doughnuts, but instead he drove to the little house on stilts and the nice man tossed down the last checkered flag that will ever fly over the Labor Day race at Darlington. What a touch of class it was when, with that flag in hand, Terry took a good old-fashioned Texas Victory Lap, making all left turns. The crowd went wild and if you think they all loved that, you should have heard the cheers when the entire Kellogg’s crew scaled the fence together.
The crowning glory had to be when the two young guns who’d finished behind him (Havoc and Mini-me) heaped praises and congratulations on the two-time Winston Cup Champion without any rancor or envy. Coming 23 years less a day of his first ever Winston Cup win, this victory was second in popularity only to that epic Daytona 500 in 1998, when the Intimidator finally stood victorious after 20 tries.
Terry LaBonte, I salute you Sir! (I’ll try to lay off that “lobotomy” thing for a little bit)
That’s exactly the way it was at Darlington on Sunday. Would I lie to you?
Thanks so much Lady in Black. We do hope you don’t become a stranger in these parts. Folks love hearing from you from time to time. Right now, forgive me but I have a simple message for the folks; then we’ll go straight into our Classic Country Closeout for this week.
Now then gentle readers, what do you suppose our theme might be for the Classic Country Closeout this week? I think I’ve chosen a few songs apropos the Southern 500, and once again… WELCOME HOME SOUTHERN 500!
First up, here is Hank Thompson treating us to his version of, “I Hear the South Callin’ Me.”
Next let’s reach way back and here Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys as they offer, “That’s What I Like about the South.”
There must have been a hundred or more recordings of this one and the best probably was from Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, but we just heard from them already so let’s give a listen to Roy Clark and Reba McEntire teaming up for a rousing version of “My Window Faces the South.”
The next song is very dear to this old lady. I did a short-lived series with a good friend, which not only bore the title of this song, but this very rendition was the background for the racing stories of a much older time in Georgia. It was short-lived only because I found it untenable to remain writing where I was, so I left and joined my partner, Jim Fitzgerald in this effort to please and entertain the race fans when they’re not at the races. Johnny, you are always welcome to join us here. You know that.
Gentle readers, here is Glen Campbell, giving us “Southern Nights.”
How about an oldie from Grandpa Jones? Here he is singing “Are You from Dixie?”
And just one more before Jim starts counting. Here is Red Foley, my favorite singer of all time, with the Nashville Dixielanders playing and singing “Dixie!”
Be well gentle readers, and remember to keep smiling. It looks so good on you!