Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
Writer’s Note: This article was originally run on the Father’s Day weekend of 1996, and I run it again every year at this time in memory of my dad.
The 1973 Daytona 500 probably doesn’t top most fan lists as the greatest running of the real Great American Race. Its outcome was not decided by a last lap wreck like the classic 1976 or 1979 events, nor did it feature two drivers nose-to-tail heading for the stripe, as in 1993 or 1996. But it is, and always will be, the most memorable running of the February classic in my book, because it was the first NASCAR event I attended.
My dad took me.
I had been a fan of stock car racing since I was five years old, though living in the Northeast, coverage was spotty at best, limited to an occasional segment of a race shown on ABC’s Wide World of Sports or a small blurb in the newspaper Monday morning I would reread a dozen times. Nor do I come from a family involved in any way with the sport. In fact, my preoccupation with fast loud cars was considered a bit worrisome, and everyone hoped it was just a phase I was going through. To be truthful, I guess some of the family is still waiting for me to outgrow it.
In the fourth grade, my class was given an assignment to write a paper on our favorite sports hero. Most of the class wrote about a member of the New York Mets who, in 1969, were on their way to the World Series in what was considered a bit of a miracle. I chose to write mine on Richard Petty, my hero. When it came time to read our papers and I announced who I had chosen, a baffled teacher looked at me and asked, “Who?” When I explained, I was told race car drivers were not athletes, and I should sit down and redo the assignment that evening.
Dad was of the old school. He drove conservatively-colored big land barge Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs while I was growing up, with big block engines of course, but saddled with tons of luxury options that rendered them comfortable but dog slow. When I suggested he purchase a 442, I got the same bemused look I did when I suggested we have hot dogs for breakfast. Dad wore a tie seven days a week, even on weekends, and to him a great Saturday or Sunday afternoon was relaxing in a recliner and reading a novel or the New York Times. He always watched Wide World Of Sports, no matter what was on, as a creature of habit. If stock car racing came on, he’d bury himself back in the Times and try to ignore my cheering and occasional leaping about.
Fast forward to 1973. I was 13 years old, and like many boys that age, a bit of a trial, smart-mouthed, cynical, and difficult. And still very much a gearhead, of course. Dad announced he had a special surprise for the family shortly after Christmas at Sunday breakfast. He was taking my mom, my four sisters, and I to Disney World. My sisters were thrilled. I rolled my eyes, and announced I had no intention of going on such a lame kid’s trip to see a giant rat. I asked if I could stay with a friend instead. Not the sort of reaction Dad was hoping for. I continued my campaign to be allowed to stay home, until Dad made another surprise announcement a couple weeks later. If I would go along on the Florida vacation and promise not to be a pest, he would take me to see the Daytona 500 while we were down there. I may have been the first person in history to scream, “I’m going to Disney World!”
I recall hearing Dad tell Mom that he was surprised how expensive seats were for the race, but Dad was the sort of man if he gave his word, he kept it. I don’t think Dad had any idea just how big a deal the 500 was. When we arrived at Disney World that Friday, he picked up a phone book and called Hertz to arrange for a rental car. Of course, none were available. Same deal at Avis, Budget, and the rest. Someone finally explained to dad it was Speed Weeks, and there was not a single rental car to be had in the state of Florida. Dad was not a man to shrink from a challenge, so he even resorted to trying Ryder, U-Haul and other truck rental places, looking for anything with an engine and wheels that would get us to Daytona. No deal.
Meanwhile, I had grabbed the phone book in despair thinking my trip to the race was about to be canceled. I pointed out one agency dad hadn’t tried. The ad listed “Dune Buggies For Rent.” For those of you who have forgotten, dune buggies were horrible misshapen little fiberglass abominations every bit as embarrassing to recall as ’70’s hair cuts, clothing and music. With great reluctance, dad made the call. The rental agent said while they had thought the whole fleet was rented, the mechanics had just finished repairing one, and it would indeed be available. They could even drop it off at our hotel in the Magic Kingdom Sunday morning. When dad suggested 10:30 AM, the guy laughed and told him, “Mister, if you’re going to the 500, you better plan on leaving a lot earlier then that. Unless you’re going to next year’s race, I mean.”
Sunday morning, I woke up to a torrential downpour of the sort they never show in Florida tourism ads. And, in fact, the weather forecast was not good for the rest of the day, with heavy rain supposed to linger until the next morning. While we were waiting outside for our chariot, a guy told dad and I not to worry. It never rained out the Daytona 500. Bill France had a special arrangement with the Man Upstairs. Of course, he probably would have sounded a lot more believable had he not been in a Mickey Mouse suit. Our rental unit finally arrived, and I recall Dad gasping as he saw it. Not only was it a dune buggy, but it was hot pink, with a flowered roof, and oversized tires mounted on purple-painted rims. Dad was aghast. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. Dad tried to negotiate for a more sedate-looking blue unit that had served as chase for the rental agent, but he explained that was his boss’s private vehicle, despite an offer of a large bribe. My sisters were as delighted as I was by the beautiful pink car, but for some reason Mom was laughing out loud. She pointed her camera as Dad attempted to climb aboard. He looked her, and said in a voice that showed he was clearly not amused, “You take that picture, and you may well end up divorced before this trip is over. “ I think he was kidding.
And so it was off to Daytona in our pink dune buggy, driving along rain-soaked stretches of interstates. Dad, of course, was wearing suit pants, a starched white shirt, and a skinny tie which had some other drivers stealing second looks. While I professed to be an expert on cars, I had some insane notion dune buggies were fast. Not with a VW engine they weren’t. We got passed by everything on the road including, I seem to recall, a couple grannys in Gremlins on their way to Sunday service. The roof leaked copious amounts of water into the car’s interior. The defrosters didn’t work, so I was assigned the task of keeping the windshield clear with my windbreaker’s sleeve. The exhaust note was a loud, unpleasant tone not dissimilar to the sound one might expect to issue from the south end of a large hog facing north that had been rooting in the bean fields all night. Conversation required screaming.
“Cool car, huh dad?” I bellowed. “Can we get one someday?”
Dad’s stare made it hard to believe there would ever be such a vehicle in the McLaughlin family garage. Traffic was pretty bad, but as we waited to get into the lot the rains stopped. With race time approaching, I was constantly checking my watch and growing nervous. When we finally parked, we had to jog through the mud to get to our seats on time. Not much of a problem for me in my high top Converses, but a bit of a challenge for dad in his wing tips, which were to end up in the trash that night. When I first saw the track, I was knocked speechless, which anyone who knew me then will tell you took some doing. It was so huge, it was beyond my imagining with those high-banked corners that looked like walls and that big old lake in the center. Even Dad was impressed.
Our seats were one section to the left of the start/finish line, only three rows up from the fence. To this date, they were the best seats I’ve ever had for a race. There were no jet dryers in those days, so tow trucks were dragging tires around to dry the track as the crowd hustled to their seats. We ended up with some stereotypical good ol’ boys sitting right behind us, a bit intoxicated even before the race began. One noticed my hand-lettered “43 Richard Petty” T-Shirt (no kids, there were no souvenir t-shirts in those days) and slapped me on my back congratulating me on my wise choice. Then, he offered me a beer. Dad about died. I thanked the man as politely as I could, but explained I was too young to drink, which set the whole crew to laughing.
“Where you from, boy?” one of them asked me.
If seeing the track for the first time was a thrill, it was nothing compared to when the cars took to the track for the pace laps. The colors were so much brighter than on TV. The sweet thunder of unmuffled race engines echoed around the track. And not those small block engines like they use today, either. The real deal. Chrysler Hemi’s. Boss 429’s. Chevy Rats. It was a sound you felt as much as heard, and a sweet music like we may never hear again. In those days, the drivers wore open-faced helmets, so you could see their faces as they prepared to do battle. Most looked steely-eyed and determined. Richard was smiling and occasionally waving at the crowd, seemingly as relaxed as if he was going for a Sunday drive. And when the green dropped and 40 cars accelerated wide open for that first turn, the music reached such a crescendo that at that very moment, I became hooked for life on stock car racing. The whole crowd rose to their feet cheering. Well everyone but Dad, who thought such a display a bit unseemly.
Buddy Baker in his orange K and K Dodge was the class of the field that day, seemingly ready to lap all comers. Country Singer Marty Robbins in his purple and yellow Dodge crashed right in front of us, and I remember the wide-eyed look of panic in his eyes as he drilled the wall and spun by us. At one point Richard almost got lapped and my heart sank, but a well-timed yellow saved him from going a lap down. With 12 laps to go, Richard came into the pits for a splash of gas. There were no speed limits on pit road back then and he kept the STP Dodge floored until the last moment, then locked up his brakes, smoke billowing off all four tires as he skidded directly into his pits, lined up perfectly.
Baker had to pit for fuel as well, and his stop took a bit longer. Petty was in the lead, but Baker was reeling him in, closing noticeably on every lap… but the laps were winding down. Everyone was on their feet screaming for their favorite driver, and even dad was standing up, transfixed by the drama of the moment. The finish was a bit of an anticlimax. With six laps to go, Baker’s engine let go on the back straight in a huge cloud of smoke . Richard Petty coasted to victory two laps ahead of Bobby Isaac, who finished second. Thankfully. I’m not sure how much more even a thirteen-year-old’s heart could have taken that afternoon. My very first stock car race, I got to watch my hero win while I was jumping up and down in my seat cheering wildly.
As he took his victory lap, Richard was once again smiling and waving at the crowd, and of course to the kid in the third row I was certain he was looking right at me, the only race fan from Pennsylvania, as he drove by.
Before the Victory Lane ceremonies finished, the drizzle began falling again. It did seem indeed Bill France had some sort of deal after all. The entire ride home, between swipes of the windshield, I was chattering away, “ Did you see when… “, or “ Remember when…” at Dad over the noise of the engine. And he was smiling. Dad enjoyed the race after all, but more importantly, he’d later tell me, I had enjoyed it more then he could have imagined, and that made the trials of getting there worthwhile.
Dad did not become a huge NASCAR fan, but after ’73, when the races came on he’d lay aside the Times and watch with me. In 1979, when CBS began broadcasting the Daytona 500 live, we’d always watch it together, and I remember Dad actually pumping a fist in ’76, willing Richard to get his engine refired and beat Pearson to the line while I was going nuts on the sofa.
Dad passed away some eighteen years ago. We watched part of the Bristol spring race in his hospital room the last Sunday of his life.
To all you fathers reading this who might have a son who has a passion for racing, may I suggest you watch the race in Sonoma with him this Father’s Day and maybe ask a few questions. You’ll see what’s chaos to an untrained eye is actually an art form. To any sons whose father might be race fans, while you can’t quite understand what the fuss is all about, why not sit down with Dad and try to figure out what everyone’s raving about. It won’t be hard to see. And to you fathers and sons who share an interest in the sport, enjoy it together this Father’s Day. Because even if you are 13, and you think spending an afternoon with dad when you could be with your friends is hopelessly lame, there’s a day coming down the road you’ll wish you two spent more time together while you could. Trust me.
Happy Father’s Day.
©2000 - 2008 Matt McLaughlin and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
Thanks Matt. That is my all time favorite, and it’s still as good as the first time I saw it 10 years ago.
Actually it was in ’76 that Petty and Pierson wrecked coming to the line and not ’79.
Thanks for a good read, Matt. My dad took me to my first race when I was 11 years old. He said it would be a one-time thing, but of course we were both hooked and have been ever since.
Thank you, Matt, for running this article again. This has to be one of my favorite articles, ever.
Man you are one hell of a story teller. I love to read your stories. Happy Fathers Day to all the dad’s out there.