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The racin’ gods had a poker game & smiled on the real race fan. Part 3
The last Rockingham fall race: Pop Secret 400 2003
By Jo Ann Hlavac 11/13/03      Part 1: Click here        Part 2: Click Here

The racin’ gods had a poker game for the spring Darlington race & smiled on the race fans with the closest finish in NASCAR history.  When it was announced that the beloved Darlington Labor Day Southern 500 would now be held in California & the Rock would lose the fall race, it made the racin’ gods and all the boys unhappy over the sad state of affairs in their sport today.  The racin’ gods had another poker game for the last Labor Day Southern 500 and smiled on the real race fan again.  After the Labor Day race, the racin’ gods & the boys decided there would be another poker game weekend and they would give the last fall race at Rockingham a proper send off.

It was Thursday evening and the racin’ gods were preparing for the poker game weekend.  They had called the boys to come over for a weekend of poker playing, eating, drinking and racing so they could give the Rockingham fall race a proper sendoff.  The horseshoe pits had been setup.  They had even set up a game of washers that seemed to be a favorite of the race fans camping at the track.  Grills & chairs were all cleaned and put in place. The poker tables were all setup & stocked for the weekend’s party.  Beer was iced down in the coolers.  Dale called and he was bringing his dad Ralph, Neil, Alan, Davey and Clifford over after they got back from hunting. Curtis Turner and Little Joe were bringing Tim Richmond & Kenny Irwin as soon as they got done at the first party.  Tim Flock was driving over with his brother Bob, Tiny, Fireball & John Nemechek.  Billy & Bobby Myers were coming with Red Byron.  Marshall Teague was bringing Banjo Matthews, Buck Baker & Herb Thomas.  Lee Petty was coming and bringing his grandson, Adam, who the racin’ gods decide was exactly like Richard when he was Adam's age.  Harold Brasington & H. Clay Earles were coming together. Ole Harold was takin’ this latest move by the powers that be on earth awfully hard.  Ole H. Clay Earles was none too happy himself with talk of his beloved Martinsville losing a date in the near future.  The racin’ gods wanted to make this race extra special for the boys & for the real race fans.

The racin’ gods all got together for one final look at the check list.
 
“Has the horseshoe pits & poker tables been setup?  Beer been iced down?  Is everything ready for the boys?’ asked Darrell, the racin’ god in charge of festivities.

“Yes, all is ready” replied Horace, the racin’ god in charge of planning. 
 
Horace was asked about the weather which always was a concern at the Rock.
“I hate to say but as usual there will be rain, high winds and bitter cold,” replied Horace sadly.

“Did you talk to Mother Nature” asked Darrell.

“Yes but she is being stubborn.  She’s tired of adjusting her weather because the powers that be on earth don’t seem to care about when they run races in the South East.  She said she would think about it.  All we can do is wait & see” replied Horace.

The boys started arriving Friday afternoon.  The racin’ gods & the boys stayed up late drinking, playing poker, telling stories & basically have a large time.  Just as the party was breaking up for the night, the racin’ gods & the boys noticed that the skies began raining in Rockingham North Carolina.

“Well, I guess we see what Mother Nature decided” remarked a sad Horace.

“Heck, don’t fret.  She may change her mind.” Tim Flock told him; not that he believed it but to make him feel better.

Saturday found the racin’ gods & the boys tossing the shoes and drinking a few cold ones while waiting out the rain.

“Seems like we always wait on the rain to stop at Rockingham” said Dale.

The racin’ gods made a quick call to Mother Nature.  She simply had to call off this rain storm.  After reminding Mother Nature that she herself was a good old girl from North Carolina who was also a race fan, sentiment won out and she called off the rains.

The racin’ gods knew how excited Ralph was to see the Busch race because that Truex boy was running his paint scheme at the Rock.  They told the boys;

“We are all heading down to the Rock for some real racin & some fun.  Remember no one alive can see ya’ll” 

With that the rain’ gods & the boys all zipped down to the infield to watch the Busch race.  After the race, which was a good one of course, they stayed and watched Bill Elliott’s Pit Crew win the competition.  After that, they all went back to the heavens to try their hand at that new game washers, to eat some Bar B Q, play some poker and drink a few cold ones.  They partied long into the night having fun listening to each other try to top the other one with stories from the old days. 

Sunday morning found the racin’ gods and the boys smiling broadly.  The skies had cleared and it was a beautiful but cold day at the Rock.  In the end, Mother Nature had come thru for the race fan.
She told the racin’ gods “that rain was my tears at the thought of yet another race date leaving the roots of our sport.  I got it out of my system & I feel better.  I’ll be joining the party.  By the way, I throw a mean horseshoe.”

The racin’ gods had something they wanted to tell the boys before they all went down to the track.
“Terry gave us an idea when he won the Last Labor Day Southern 500.  He said ‘I was running with Bill Elliott, and I thought to myself, I hope one of us two wins it, because we appreciate this place a lot more maybe than some of those young guys do.'   Well, we think that it is only right that an older driver who appreciates the Rock win the final fall race there,” announced Darrell.  “Problem is who,” he questioned the boys

“Well, ya’ll know I want my daddy to win” shot out Adam.

“I’ll second that” cried out Lee.

“I’ll vote Schrader again” yelled out one of those Myers boys.

“Hey, ya’ll. Rusty is running the paint scheme that he won the championship in.  How about him?  That way I get to laugh at him because I always told him he brought bad luck onto his self by changing paint schemes.  He’ll hate it because he’ll believe I was right” chuckled Dale.

Once again the racin’ gods knew it would be difficult to decide which older driver should win.  So once again they decided just to alter the race a little to allow the most dominate older driver to rise to the top.  With that the racin’ gods & the boys hopped down to the sand hills of North Carolina to watch the last fall race at the Rock.

The race was thrilling with the drivers acting like it was Saturday night local short track racing.  Darrell announced that he had brought along a god of the future, Billy Bob, to help them know who to throw the troubles to.

Billy Bob told them “That Gordon boy is gonna win if ya’ll don’t do something”

“Robby Gordon is gonna win?” asked a confused Curtis Turner.  “I didn’t think he got around this track that good.”

“Naw, that other Gordon boy, Jeff” laughed Billy Bob.

The racin’ gods told Dale to go into Gordon’s car and slow him down.  Around lap 86 Gordon and one of those young guns started beatin’ & bangin on each other.

“Look at them boys go at it,” yelled an excited Tiny.

All of a sudden Gordon came over the scanner and announced “that was enough of that” & dropped kicked that Newman boy.  For his efforts he was penalized by NASCAR for rough driving.

Dale reappeared and asked the racin’ gods “Is that what ya’ll was looking for?  I kept whispering in his ear ‘don’t let that punk get away with that.  Do what I woulda done’. And he did!”  

With that the racin’ gods, Mother Nature and all the boys roared with laughter knowing that Jeff would never have lost his temper if Dale hadn’t been whispering in his ear.

Billy Bob spoke up “Well I don’t see him winning the race now.  You took care of that one.  Now, I see something I don’t understand.  I see a Keebler Elf in victory lane.”

The racin’ gods started laughing because they knew who he meant even if he didn’t.  They looked over and picked out Neil to go into the race and take care of that problem.  A battle between Dale Jarrett & Casey Mears proved to be Busch’s downfall. Neil got back and could tell by the look on Davey’s face he needed to apologize for getting a Yates car caught up in the wreck.

“Sorry Davey.  I didn’t mean to get into Jarrett,” said an apologetic Neil Bonnet.

Davey started to laugh and said “heck even after we're dead we say we didn’t mean to get into somebody.” 

Billy Bob announces “ya’ll took that one out of the running.  Now I see that other Jeff Boy in Victory Lane.  Oh yea, take care of that other Gordon too while ya’ll are at it.”
It was Little Joe’s turn to take care of business which he did quickly.  When he got back he told them “I just kept jumping from the 99 to the 31 and tell them both 'don’t forget what he did to you.'  Heck I wasn’t sure either of them has ever done anything to the other but it worked because they both keep getting rougher & rougher.”

Each time Billy Bob, the god of the future, told them who he saw winning the race and each time they sent one of the boys to take care of it.  It was decided with 100 laps to go they would quit intervening.  What would happen would happen.

Late in the race some one retook the lead that excited the racin’ gods & the boys.  Million Dollar Bill was leading again.  All day he had a strong horse.  Heck, he started dead last and was leading before halfway.  As the laps wound down after final pit stops, he was in contention.  When he took the lead, the racin' gods & the boys all cheered wildly.  This was a perfect winner for the last fall Rockingham race.  Bill started his Cup career right here in Rockingham 27 years ago.  He loved all the older tracks & heck even Terry Labonte had pegged him to win the Southern 500 if he himself couldn’t win it.  It had been 50 races since Bill won, not as long as Rusty & Schrader but long enough.  Besides, he had the fastest car & the fastest car needed to win races not the car with the best gas mileage.

When Bill took the checkered flag the racin’ gods, the boys, Mother Nature and all the fans in the stands were on their feet cheering for the good old boy from Georgia.  Million Dollar Bill was Awesome once again.  For good measure, Kennseth took the last Winston Cup Championship at the sight of his first NASCAR Busch win in 1998.  The Rock was also where his owner, Jack Roush got his first Cup win with Mark Martin in 1989.  It seemed fitting to the racin’ gods that the last Winston Cup Championship be won here at this great track nestled in the sand hills of Tobacco County.

With the fans cheers ringing in their ears, the racin’ gods, the boys and Mother Nature flew back up to the heavens to finish the party.  There was Bar B Q to eat, beers to drink, shoes & washers to throw and stories to tell.

As I sat in the grandstands as I had for so many years at this great race track, I too cheered for the good old boy from Dawsonville as did every fan there.  When Bill came by us we all cheered wildly.  When Matt did a burnout on the back stretch, we all cheered again.  And at that moment, we all silently thanked the racin’ gods for smiling on the real race fan that day.

This story is the third in a series.  There will be more as the racin' gods continue to work their magic for the Real Race Fan! PART 1          PART 2

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