TweetThat's History! NASCAR's Checkered (Flag) Past, One Story at a Time: Come Here, Dale IV, and I'll Tell You a Story
Amy Henderson · Thursday September 22, 2005
NASCAR is a storyteller's dream. Racing is a sport whose entire past can be told, often by those who participated directly, as an epic poem or a series of the shortest vignettes. Generations have now been born into the sport, grown up, and started new careers. Despite its rapid growth, one can still feel the old days pervading the sport.
All of which got me thinking about little kids listening to their grandparents telling stories. When I was little, I used to beg my Grampa to tell me stories about growing up on a New York State farm. I must have heard them dozens of times, but it didn't matter. If Grampa was telling, I was listening. Which makes me wonder: what stories do past drivers tell their grandkids, and which ones will future generations ask to be told again and again?
Remembering the stories I used to ask for many times over, I'm guessing that they won't always be the ones about the trophies and the championships. They might be. I bet there either are or will be little Sackses who know all about Grandpa winning the Firecracker 400 back in 1985. But there will be other stories, too. They'll be the ones the kids can relate to, the funny ones, the scary ones, and the sad ones.
I wonder if some small members of the Yarborough clan share at show 'n' tell how Cale once nearly met his maker in the infield (yes, infield) when the car he was riding in, driven by another racing legend, Banjo Matthews, struck a light pole, that Matthews did not see. The car was returned to a rental agency with a "damaged radiator." Damaged, perhaps, because it was practically in the two men's laps?
I really hope some little future Earnhardts don't get in an argument with some small Busches over the time Grandpa Dale tailed Granddad Kurt move for move at Dover in protest to Busch spinning him out earlier. The episode ended with Earnhardt being asked to stop by some convincing officials after filling Busch's rearview mirror for several laps. Although you can practically picture it: "Grandpa says your Grandpa had to order a new uniform!" "Did not! Granddad says he wasn't scares a bit!"
Some won't even have to look outside the family. The Wallace brothers' grandkids could laugh over any of the following: "Hey, did you guys hear about the time Great Uncle Rusty made a bomb in the trash can?" "Yeah, did you guys know that Granddad and Great Uncle Mike left Great Uncle Kenny at a truck stop one time? They forgot him in the restroom!" "When Great Uncle Rusty won his first feature, he got excited he ran headlong into the turn one wall!" Come to think of it, those kids could go on like that for a long time.
On the flip side, some of the stories will be bittersweet. Little Earnhardts will also hear the tales about Great-Grandpa Dale and Neil Bonnett. Davey Allison's grandchildren will have to ask their grandmother to tell them about the would-be champion. Tony Stewart's grandkids will hear about Grandpop's rivalry with racer named Kenny who will stay forever young. Kyle Petty will have a little help telling the next generation of Pettys about their Uncle Adam-his legacy lives on at Victory Junction Gang Camp.
For every win, every loss, every triumph, every tragedy, every funny joke, there is a story. And every story is still best told by someone who was there. Despite the technology that today's media have at their disposal, NASCAR's history remains largely oral. The technology surely widens the audience as millions can hear the story of how a young Jimmie Johnson and Brendan Gaughan used to pretend to be each other when signing autographs during their off-road days, or the time when a young Dale Earnhardt Jr. led his dad on a merry chase on foot through the garage area, having been caught smoking and no doubt wanting to delay the inevitable punishment. But the best stories are in the hearts and minds of the men and women who lived them, waiting to be told. Even if your grandpa or grandma never turned a wrench, if you have the chance, ask them to tell you their stories. In its purest form, that's history.
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