It’s been a fine autumn afternoon here in Lancaster County, Pa. There was barely a cloud in the sky, which was a hue of blue you only get this time of year. Yeah, it was a little brisk out there with a high of 62 degrees, but it is October, after all. It was a fine day for a 200-mile ride aboard a snorting, demonically black Harley Davidson, even if for the first time this season I did pull on a pair of gloves at a traffic light. I hate wearing gloves when riding, doing so only when my digits have gone well and truly numb to the point they limit my ability to operate the Sportster safely. It’s a Harley thing; unless you own one, you wouldn’t understand.
Tim Allen once made a less than delicate comparison saying sexual satisfaction in a certain manner while wearing a condom was like eating a steak dinner with a balloon on your tongue. It’s the same thing riding; I want to feel every nuance that the bike is telling me about the road through the front tire. But riding wearing gloves beats having the bike sit in the garage with a cover over it for winter.
The birds are heading south in huge, noisy V formations. The leaves out here are changing color, and if it’s not peak leaf peeping time, it’s getting close. How anyone can look over their right shoulder heading south on 23 between 10 and 100 and not believe in a creative God with an artist’s mastery is beyond me.
Three tons of wood pellets have been delivered recently to keep this old barn warm through the winter, and tonight, I might have to break into the first sack. It’s autumn here in Lancaster County, and 51 years into my lifetime as well. You can’t help but feeling a little older with the seasons changing and another long, gray winter ahead.
There’s a pub I stop in at the midpoint of my rides to have a Corona and a beef sandwich. The guy who owns the place tends bars in the afternoons before letting the pretty ladies take over to hustle tips when business picks up in the evening. His name is Gary, and though most people guess he’s in his 70s, I’ve determined he is, in fact, immortal; old since the days I still wore an earring. Above the cash register there hangs an autographed picture of Harry Gant in the old Skoal Bandit Buick Regal Cup car. Sitting there today, nursing my libation, I wondered how many fans who read my twice-a-week columns still know who Harry Gant is and why he earned the nickname “Mr. September.” (For the record, Handsome Harry won four straight races in September of 1991; Darlington, Richmond, Dover, and Martinsville, when he was older than I am now.)
So what else might newer fans have missed that us old guys recall so fondly?
You might be getting old if…
- You ever used a Kodak Instamatic (with disposable flash-cube) to get a picture of Richard Petty’s number 43 Plymouth sitting exposed to the world on the back of a ramp truck at a local truck stop. (Yeah, even the King used to haul his car right out there in the open. What happened when it rained? The car got wet.)
- You ever waited in line for an autograph from Davey Allison or Tim Richmond, confident that if you waited your turn they were going to sit right there and greet every fan until there was nobody left still wishing a moment of their time.
- You remember why the track at Trenton, that part of the “Northern Tour,” was kidney-shaped. (One old lady owned a house and property along the back straight and refused to sell. So the track put a kink in the backstretch to avoid her property. As such drivers came off of Turn 2, took another left, then a right to enter turn three.)
- You were part of the crowd in the early ’80s that felt that with Dale Earnhardt driving Bud Moore’s Fords (yeah, Dale raced Fords!) whatever success he had was probably a fluke and he was never going to amount to be the driver his dad, Ralph Earnhardt, had been. (For the record, Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s middle name is actually “Dale.” They were born Ralph Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Ralph Dale Earnhardt III.)
- You ever had to borrow a church key from the guy sitting beside you in the stands to open your beer. (Back in those days, beers didn’t have pop tops. You used a crude aluminum device called a church key to punch a triangular-shaped hole in your beer, then used it again to open a vent hole opposite the drinking hole. But if you drank too fast, the crude arrangement still sucked your upper lip into the drinking hole and left you with a V-shaped cut on that lip to show the world you were hard after it that afternoon).
- You can still whistle ESPN’s NASCAR theme music introduction back from the days before they sucked.
- You’re still looking for the No. 11 car out there on the track vying for wins at the end of the race. No, not the Fed Ex one.
- You saw “Last American Hero” at the drive-in in the back seat of big block Mustang and knew it was about Junior Johnson. Hell, you might be old if you remember when Junior Johnson’s teams were perennial championship favorites, or if you ever bought a Jim Croce LP at Woolworth’s. (Woolworth’s was sort of like Wal-Mart back when we still hated the Red Chinese.)
- You used to watch races in 20-minute snippets on Wide World of Sports and got pissed off when they used to cut away from the race just as it was getting interesting to show gymnastics or log-splitting competitions.
- You used to worry if Chevy was ever going to win another Cup race, as dominant as the Oldsmobiles and Buicks were.
- You gave a sh*t when Tim Flock died.
- You ever went home from a Grand National race with a mudline along your gums.
- You got into a fistfight in 1985 to settle an argument whether Bill Elliott or Darrell Waltrip deserved to be that year’s Winston Cup champion.
- You traded an almost empty pack of your favorite smokes for two packs of Winstons, courtesy of the busty and beautiful Winston chicks who used to work every entrance to the track. And if you pretended you didn’t want to give up your favorite brand, they weren’t above handing out hugs and kisses to get you to change your mind.
- You’re not so engrossed in the mileage your Hyundai gets to forget the Plymouth Superbird Hemi was once the baddest car ever to roam the streets here in the Free World.
- You remember back when Cup car tires still had treads and Firestone was still a major player in the NASCAR game.
- You remember the team initials LPE. (Lee Petty Engineering)
- You ever bought a meal and a brew from a concessionaire’s truck and not a booth on the concourse, paying less than five bucks for a burger, a brew, and French Fries.
- You recall the days when STP, Purolator, and Holly Farms were the big sponsors in the sport, not a bunch of home improvement megastores and prescription required medicines.
- You were at a race at Darlington when they still started and concluded the Rebel 400 with the waving of a Confederate flag.
- You ever watched a Kawasaki ad during a Cup broadcast. (Let the good times roll!… you right into a pine box.)
- You ever watched Rick Hendrick, his very own self, at the wheel of Cup car, not on a pit box during a race. (Or remember the infamously slow pit stop he helped perform once Jeff Gordon had clinched a championship).
- You still get heartburn remembering the way Big Daddy’s BBQ sauce put Bud Moore out of business after decades in the sport. Or how Speedblock, for all intents and purposes, ended Darrell Waltrip’s driving career.
- You ever arrived at Darlington and either parked in somebody’s yard, getting a ride to the track on a flatbed trailer behind a farm tractor, or slept under the stars in the town square.
- You got lost on the way to a Cup track and used an ESSO road map to find your way to the location, not a GPS.
- You’ve ever had a North Carolina state trooper ask, “You ain’t from around here, are you boy?” while writing you up a speeding ticket.
- The singing grilles BBQ sauce ad was your first indicator you needed to find something more productive to do with your Sunday afternoons.
- You ever won Benny’s (Parsons) Hat of the Week, or visited an establishment during a race weekend because it was featured on “Buffet Benny’s.” For real old-timers, remember the qualifying show where Benny got a stern phone call from his wife for “hiring” a buxom blonde to be his bodyguard in the garage area? But those were the days… inviting Bob, Ned, and Benny into your living room every Sunday afternoon to discuss the race with you. Even if you watched alone, it was like you had your three best friends on the couch with you talking about the race and explaining the nuances you didn’t quite grasp yet.
- You can still remember where you were and who you were with when Richard Petty and David Pearson wrecked coming to the checkered flag at the end of the 1976 Daytona 500.
- You still refer to Darrell Waltrip as Jaws. It seems incredibly appropriate nowadays, given his tsunami of words in the broadcast booth. Please, just one weekend let Cale Yarborough take his place during the broadcast to add a few quotes that educate rather than irritate the viewers.
- You remember the “Earnhardt Curse” at Daytona. Bonus points if you can remember the Waltrip, Bobby Allison, or Buddy Baker curse at the same track.
- You recall seeing one of the “box-cars” at Michigan draft past the leader on the last lap.
- You ever watched a race with Jackie Stewart as a commentator; his infamous rolling the orange up the banking at Daytona, or his incorrect “he’s out of petrol, he’s out of petrol!” call.
- You know who Bill Broderick was and his significance as the original “Hatman” in Victory Lane.
- You used to watch the entire team piling on the hood, fenders, and roof of the winning car for the ride to Victory Lane. (Back before drivers were too afraid of having anyone touch their aerodynamically tweaked play pretties to get them through post-race inspection).
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