The racin' gods had a poker game
& smiled on the real race fan.
By Jo Ann Hlavac
It was Thursday afternoon and the racin' gods were getting ready for the poker game that began tomorrow. They had called the boys to come over for a weekend of poker playing, eating, drinking and racing. The series was at Darlington and the racin' gods knew how the drivers loved that old girl. It seemed like the perfect time to have them over and while they were visiting they could talk about something that was troubling the racin' gods.
The racin' gods were not happy. They hadn't liked some of the changes that had been made in recent years to their sport but had tried to understand about growth, market shares, larger markets, new markets yada, yada, yada. They weren't happy about the cars being so aerodynamic sensitive. They weren't happy about all these 1.5 mile D-Shaped Tri-Ovals being built instead of real race tracks. But the powers on earth that were in charge of their beloved sport had gone to far this time with talk of Realignment 2004. During Speed Weeks a bomb was dropped in the form of talk about The Rock and Darlington losing a race date. Had those people gone mad? What were they thinking? Did they not realize they were slowly killing the sport that they all loved so much? This angered the racin' gods so much that they decided to wreck havoc on the series in the form of bad weather. Each weekend the city that was hosting the NASCAR race would have rain, lots of rain. In fact, they were so angry that they decided to postpone the Daytona 500 with rain until Monday so they could think thru all their options. As they were trying to decide how to handle this mess, a phone call came thru to tell them that the people who controlled their sport on earth were now trying to control the weather. They had started the Daytona 500 fifteen minutes early to beat the rain that the racin' gods had sent as punishment. This even angered the racin' gods more. How dare they? By starting early, they were trying to get the race to the halfway point. They made a decision that they knew would change the outcome of the race. It had to stop.
After the 500, Dale came by to talk to the racin' gods. He knew they were upset but they were only hurting the race fan like the people in charge of the sport. The racin' gods decided that bad weather would stay but the skies would clear for Sunday to reward the REAL RACE FAN who had never let bad weather keep them from the track.
Now the series was at Darlington and the talk about losing a race date was getting so loud it hurt their ears. This is what propelled the racin' gods into having the boys over. Dale called and he was bringing Neil, Alan and Davey over after they got back from hunting. Curtis Turner and his room mate Tim Richmond, who had become his best partying buddy since arriving here, were picking up Kenny. Tim Flock was driving over with Tiny, Fireball and Joe, who was taking this hard because of his museum being at Darlington and all. Lee Petty was coming and bringing his grandson, Adam, who the racin' gods decide was exactly like Richard when he was Adam's age. Maybe they could all figure a way out of this mess that had been made of their sport.
Friday afternoon the weather held off and they all sat around watching the truck race. This was one of the few good moves the powers in charge had made in recent years. The racin' gods and drivers all agreed that the trucks were more like real racing. Aerodynamics didn't factor as much into the trucks as it did the cars. The only problem was that they ran almost all their races in a new market area. The trucks put on a heck of a show that day. The fans in the Brasington Grandstands witnessed the slide job, bumping and banging. They watched trucks slide thru the turns so loose that they could have read their license plates if they had any. The racin' gods were glad they had held the weather off for the day. They played poker into the wee hours of the morning.
Saturday afternoon, they were sitting around eating Bar-B-Q and drinking a few beers when the talk shifted to the realignment. Every one there agreed that the direction the sport was heading was nothing but trouble. Maybe, the people in charge didn't realize that the markets where their sport began were just as important as these new markets. Maybe they had forgotten about real racing. Maybe they had forgotten about those fans that had been making the pilgrimage to these traditional tracks for years. They had come with their daddies and granddaddies. Now they were bringing their sons and their grandsons. Every single racing legend in NASCAR history that was now here with the racin' gods had driven on the track too tough to tame and it was only right that every new legend should have that opportunity also. The racin' gods got angry just talking about. Their anger turned to tears as they cried thinking about the lost dates. At Darlington, their tears showed up in the form of rain as it had done for the past few weeks at the tracks.
"Well, you know what it is? They are trying to run those tracks and fans out of the sport like they done to me," said Curtis. He continued, "Now, I got to say, I would have loved to run in Vegas. Not at that speedway they built there mind you, but at the city."
With this comment the racin' gods and the boys roared with laughter thinking about how NASCAR would have dealt with Curtis Turner in Vegas.
Dale got up and walked outside. The racin' gods followed him to see what he was thinking. "I'm just sitting here looking down at the Darlington track. Come over here and look. I want you guys to see something," Dale replied.
The racin' gods asked Dale what they were supposed to be seeing.
Dale told them "Look at all those loyal fans camping at the track. They come every year even though they know the rain is coming. They come even though they know that NASCAR doesn't want them any longer. They come because they are the REAL RACE FANS and they deserve better than this. I remember that this talk about Darlington losing a date started after they closed Wilksboro & I said then that I would boycott any race that got one of Darlington's dates. Too bad the drivers won't stand together on this." The racin' gods agreed but what could they do?
"Well", said Dale as that mischievous grin spread across his face "let's give them a real race. A race that makes the race fan smile & glad they are at the track even if it isn't their driver that wins".
They had to have a plan. If a driver in the race was too dominate, the racin' gods would alter the situation slightly to slow down the dominate car; however no one could change the outcome. That had to be understood. If they changed the outcome they would be no better than the people in charge of the sport on earth. The racin' gods were doing this for all race fans. They wanted to have a humdinger of a race for those faithful fans that had been paying the bills for their sport for so long. They wanted the new fans to see that what they were getting in their new market wasn't real racing. They also wanted to remind NASCAR that quality of racing should be the most important factor when giving dates to tracks.
The racin' gods called off their punishment and the rain began to ease up in Darlington but didn't stop completely. They had to call Mother Nature. The rain was all her now. She was usually stubborn about these springtime showers in the southeast. They had tried to talk to her before about all the rain during races at the Rock and Darlington. She stood firm saying that even an idiot knows it rains in the southeast during February and March and the race dates should be different. The phone call was made and after some begging she relented and called off the showers.
Sunday found the racin' gods firing up the grill, icing down beer and tuning the radio to the station that carried the race. As they called the drivers to their cars, the racin' gods called the boys to come hang out on the cloud they had placed over the track because the race was about to begin. The green flag dropped and the boys and racin' gods started to have fun. Jerry came over the radio about how strong his car was and the racin' gods decided a little spin might slow him up a little. They made sure that he didn't hit anything. Later in the race when Junior and Mark were so strong, they raised the level of excitement at the track. They knew that with the excitement higher people are more likely to make a mistake. Sure enough those dominate cars had a problem in the pits with loose lug nuts. Now the laps were winding down and the racin' gods decided that they need to bunch up the field in order to put on the kind of finish they wanted. Pit stops were made and soon Jeff was in first pulling away from the field. This wasn't the finished they wanted. They liked Jeff and had smiled on him many times at Darlington but they wanted something else. What could they do?
"Hey ya'll" called Davey "the sun is out. You know that is going to mess up everything with the setups."
All of a sudden Mother Nature was there laughing. "What are ya'll looking at? Didn't you know I was a race fan before coming here?"
The sun did the trick. First Jeff, then Elliot, hit the wall and ended their chances at a win. It was getting closer to the end & Kurt Busch was leading by 4 seconds over Ricky Craven. This wasn't too good.
"Hey. I think Craven is gonna catch him. Let 2 of us go down there and help them out," suggested Joe.
No, that wouldn't be allowed decided the racin' gods. They would all just have to wait and see the outcome. All of a sudden they heard Busch over his radio about his power steering being gone. Oh boy, this could be what they needed.
With 5 laps to go Craven caught Busch and the racin' gods, the boys & all the fans in the stands were on their feet. There were 3 laps to go when Craven went high in four and Busch blocked him. Craven gave Busch the chrome horn and passed him on the front stretch. Going into 1 Busch repaid the bump and sent Craven up towards the wall in turn 2. Craven gathered it back up and took off after Busch. Did he have enough time and tires left? The white flag waved and there was less 1½ miles to go. Craven got closer and closer. The two went flying down the back stretch.
"He's gonna get him in between 3 & 4" screamed an excited Joe Weatherly.
As Craven went low coming out of turn 4 they were side by side! They bumped and banged from turn 4 to the start/finish line and the fans went wild. As they crossed the line in a plume of smoke every person watching that race at the track or on TV knew how special it was. Every person knew that what they had just seen was a real race at a real race track.
The racin' gods noticed Dale was gone. All of a sudden he appeared before them. "Where have you been" they demanded. "You missed a great finish."
"Well" said Dale. "I couldn't help myself. I had to be in that car but don't worry I rode in the passenger side. I wanted to make sure that Ricky took his victory lap all the way around the track so the fans in the back stretch could celebrate with him. I don't like when they tell you on the radio not to take it because of TV time. You can't believe how much just that little gesture means to these fans. I also wanted to make sure he thanked the fans in victory lane. It doesn't seem like any one does that any more. Oh yea, I also wanted to be able to tell Pearson when he got here that I took the checkered flag at the lady in black as many times as he did."
With that the racin' gods and the boys broke up in laughter. They had done what they had planned.
I sat in the grandstands as I had done for so many years at this track. I celebrated with everyone else at Darlington on Sunday when Ricky came by us during his victory lap. When in victory lane he thanked the fans in the grandstands, we all cheered. At that moment, while celebrating there in the stands, we all silently thanked the racin' gods for smiling on the real race fan that day.