With Writers and Racetracks, Age Can Be Everything
It was an open weekend, a rarity in our busy schedule this summer, so what better way to use it, I reasoned, than go to another race track I’d never before seen? My wife blessed the idea, no doubt in part because she wanted to return to Washington to help our daughter with some home projects (and she knows I’m pretty worthless with that stuff).
I have a “hit list” of new (to me) tracks, and I decided to put Greater Cumberland Raceway in Maryland in the top spot for this weekend. It’s a historic track (opened in 1924); it’s been closed for a few years, and the local politicians (who always seem to prefer ballfields) almost wiped it off the map before some new promoters stepped forward.
Here’s the aerial view:
Quickly, I made motel reservations for Saturday night, then thought about how - a couple of decades ago - I would have gone to this track (about two hours from the house) and driven home afterward. I’ve gone to Port Royal, Selinsgrove, Clyde Martin Memorial and Old Dominion (the old track in Manassas) many times and driven home after the races, and those are about the same distance. I even drove to Jennerstown Speedway, nearly three hours away, and came home that night. A lot longer time back, Dave Fulton and I frequently drove from Richmond to South Boston Speedway on Saturday nights when that trip also was well over two hours.
But I was… sigh… younger then.
Rain hit Greater Cumberland just as I got there, but the staff hung tough, and after two hours of rubber-on-mud work, we had a racing surface that was racy and dustless. “Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines.”
Lots of cars came out to help run in the track after 30+ minutes of rain.
Greater Cumberland is a neat place. The fairgrounds is small, and the track dominates. It sits up against impressive mountains (which are across the state line in West Virginia), with the North Branch of the Potomac River in between. You can’t see the river from the track, but I’ll bet it floods the place regularly, and I’ll bet that - even below flood level - it’s formidable enough to dunk some of those politicians in it, not that I’d ever advocate such a thing.
If the races get boring, you can just stare at the scenery.
There were 50 cars on hand for four divisions - hardly overwhelming, but better than Lizard Creek last week. A dozen super late models formed the featured division, including the son of another driver, making his debut in the top class at age 12. Not sure how I feel about that.
The track is a big, sprawling half mile, which sometimes makes for lackluster racing, but there were enough good battles here to hold the interest of a decent-sized crowd (considering the rain). A couple of close finishes got the folks cheering. There’s a covered grandstand, typical of old fairgrounds tracks, and it has new aluminum seats with backs. Concessions were pretty cheap, and other than one somewhat surly employee who seemed to blame me because she was out of what I wanted to order, everybody seemed friendly. Like a lot of fairgrounds tracks, the place benefits from using the fair’s restrooms, which in this case seemed almost new and were spacious and clean. (Lizard Creek had port-a-johns.)
Here’s the covered grandstand.
So I’m glad I added Greater Cumberland to my list, and I hope they succeed and make it well past their approaching 100th birthday.
Another thought. Back in the day, I don’t think my evaluation of the racing at Cumberland would have been as demanding as it is today - pretty much the same as we see with NASCAR. I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating… we have by far the most competitive racing ever these days (even with “clean” or “dirty” air), but nearly all the die-hard (older) fans complain that it’s not like the “good old days,” even when those days might have had the winner three or four laps ahead of the rest of the field. Why do we do that?
(Editor’s Note: We do that because “back in the day”, we weren’t watching on TV. We saw our racing just as you’re describing, and we saw ALL of the cars, not just the top one or three… if the other two were close enough to the leader. There is still racing back in the pack, even in NASCAR, and the fact that the fans almost never see it is, one might expect, one of the top reasons for shrinking sponsorship throughout the top three Series)
Let’s face it - we’re catered to so much (with just about everything) that we can demand and get 20 cars on the lead lap and a sanctioning body that can find a reason (debris!) to close up the field and ensure a nail-biting finish. When David Pearson won the 1966 Capital City 300 at Richmond by five laps, we didn’t go home and tell all our friends that the race was a royal stinker; we didn’t know any better.
Just like we didn’t complain when there was nothing good to watch on the two or three television channels our antenna could pick up… or when we were told that we couldn’t possibly phone a friend who was 500 miles away (let alone in another country), because those long-distance calls cost too much… or when the Brownie “box” camera ran out of film after 12 shots and we didn’t have any more (and couldn’t afford the film or developing cost, anyway)… or when the local paper didn’t carry anything about the races, and there was nowhere else to even look.
You get the point (but don’t start with an overall societal then-and-now argument, because I know we had home delivery of bread and milk and vegetables back then, but you’d have gotten a totally blank stare if you’d asked somebody to bring you a pizza - and try asking Sears or Wards to deliver your “mail order” in two days).
It’s OK that we set our standards higher, because in this age, somebody will probably come along and meet them, no matter how ridiculous. Still, maybe we should keep in mind that we were satisfied with a lot less once upon a time, and maybe a little of that perspective wouldn’t hurt, even in NASCAR where - just maybe - everything about the “good old days” wasn’t quite as good as our memories make it. Those memories maybe have been altered a bit by this Microsoft/Google/Amazon/Facebook/iPad/Uber world.
On that basis, I had a (blank) fine time at Greater Cumberland, and except for Keselowski (my pick to win) wrecking before most of the fans had even sat down and popped their beers, Kentucky went pretty well, too.