The Frontstretch: That's History! NASCAR's Checkered (Flag) Past, One Story at a Time: Past Perfect by Amy Henderson -- Thursday August 4, 2005

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A couple of things got me thinking this week.  One, I saw my first-ever dirt race on Sunday night at Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Illinois.  It was amazing; I had no idea cars could even DO that!  It was also much more relaxed than the frenetic pace at a NASCAR event; from the stands to the pits, everyone, including NASCAR drivers Kenny and Mike Wallace and Ken Schrader, was there to race for the love of racing.

Second, I wrote a few weeks back pondering what parts of this NASCAR season will be remembered years from now.  I’m sure that while many drivers and events will outlive the present, some will fall into obscurity until someone like me who wishes he or she could have seen them and brings them to life through personal rediscovery. 

So I got to thinking about some of the people and events from years past that, like dirt racing are both a part of NASCAR’s history (Oh, yeah, they raced dirt.  For points.) and, many regretfully, likely to live only in the past, never to return.  We’ve already looked at some of them, like the Southern 500, Langhorne Speedway, and many of the drivers who raced a few races or entire careers without the media blitz that follows NASCAR wherever it goes these days.  Maybe many of them would have preferred it that way.

As great as the competition on dirt is, it’s not likely to ever again appear on NASCAR’s season schedule.  Of course, capacity at tracks is surely an issue, but that’s not the reason.  In these days of multimillion dollar sponsorships and television rights and the official everything of NASCAR, racing-good racing-is simply a means, no longer an end in itself.  In these days where a race fan will, apparently, buy anything with a driver’s number on it, the racing has become secondary.  Until everyone stops watching and buying, it will remain such.  So dirt racing, and much of the real racing that once happened at places like Rockingham and North Wilkesboro, will now exist only in the record books.

It’s not due only to NASCAR’s abandoning of its roots that parts and pieces fall away, much is due simply to the passage of time, and to whatever fate chooses deal.  It’s likely that in a few short seasons, the name Petty will be found on a racecar only as the car owner.  Once Kyle retires, the family reign of over fifty years will come to an end, dictated by a cold New Hampshire tragedy. 

Already in obscurity, single-car teams are falling farther and farther behind their multi-car competitors in terms of equipment and research and development.  A few will always stick around, running sometimes for backmarker money, sometimes on a fast setup and a dream for glory.  You never know when one might even surprise everyone and take home a checkered flag, but the time of single-car teams competing for championships, or even enough points to be guaranteed in the field every week is fading.

NASCAR’s history is indeed checkered.  Many of its former cornerstones are now simply ruins of another era, when racing, and life, were simpler.  Change has helped the sport grow, without a doubt, and many changes have been nothing but positive.  But while many of the sports names and places will be forever in the past, they will always have a place, if race fans like me just look for them.  They’ll always be history.

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