Second Fiddle: Around the Busch and Craftsman Truck Series · Toni Montgomery · Friday June 16, 2006
I’m moving next month, so I’ve started going through some old drawers and boxes in an effort to clean some things out. In one drawer, I found a stack of old race programs, including one for the first Busch Series race I ever attended, the GM Parts 300 at Pennsylvania International Raceway in Nazareth, PA. The year was 1989, so this column might end up looking more like an edition of our That’s History feature, but I want to share some of the really neat things I found when I took a good look at this old program.
I have to admit I was there, but I don’t really remember much of the actual race for some reason. I’m thinking it’s just been so many races at so many tracks, including Nazareth, through the years that they’ve blurred together somewhat unless something really unusual happened to set them apart. I do remember being there and I remember souvenir shopping, show cars, and getting Harry Gant’s autograph. For those of you who also read our Life at the Track feature, this would be the infamous day I purchased the Dale Earnhardt shorts to escape the heat when I was overdressed. According to the starting lineup in my program, Earnhardt did run that race, explaining for me once and for all how I managed to get three-time champion Dale Earnhardt shorts at a Busch Series event, or, in the parlance of the day, a Busch Grand National Series race. Incidentally, I didn’t misprint on the name of the track back in the first paragraph. That was only the second year of NASCAR racing at the track and at the time, it was called Pennsylvania International Raceway, or PIR for short. It was later changed to Nazareth Speedway to avoid confusion with the nearby Pocono International Raceway, which is also known as PIR.
I also remember the reason I was really there. My Winston Cup driver, Davey Allison, was running. Yes, I have to admit it’s true; I showed up solely to see a Buschwhacker. In a case of “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” there were always Cup drivers running in the Busch Series. In an overview of the series for 1989 in the program, it actually says, “As usual, many Winston Cup drivers will also compete in selected races on the series, adding to the already-competitive fields.” The starting lineup for this particular race contains eight full-time Cup drivers, although I have to confess it was a bit tricky to determine because in addition to drivers such as Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, and Ken Schrader, I also had to remember drivers like Bobby Hillin, Jr. and Rick Wilson. On top of that, I had to determine that drivers like Jimmy Spencer and Rick Mast were still on the way up and were not in Cup full-time yet and others like Jeff Burton, Kenny Wallace, and Bobby Hamilton were rookies who were just getting started.
Busch Series legends like Tommy Houston, Tommy Ellis, and Jack Ingram raced that day. Houston won the pole and Ellis was the defending Busch Series champion. Rick Mast was defending his win in the inaugural Busch race at the track in 1988. Bobby Hillin, Jr. was the winner for 1989, according to my journal from the time. It seems even then the Cup drivers ruled the roost. My favorite, Davey Allison, finished fifth.
Perhaps even more interesting is what has changed over the years. The overview boasts that all the cars will be modern in 1989 because NASCAR had phased out older-model cars that had been competing on the circuit since the late 1970s. All cars in 1989 would be 1986-1988 models of Buicks, Fords, Pontiacs, Chevrolets, and Oldsmobiles. They would almost all have V-6 engines as most of the V-8s had also been phased out in favor of the “engine of the future.” Apparently the future has passed as the V-6 is long gone.
There were 30 races on the 1989 Busch Series schedule, and NASCAR was pleased to announce as many as 14 of them would be televised, many of them live on ESPN. At least 14 were also scheduled to be carried on national radio, many of those live on MRN. Next time you complain about the TV package, give that point some thought. Less than half of the Busch Series races in 1989 were televised.
The wildest thing I found out was that at the time, the Busch Grand National North Series (which is now known as the Busch East Series as of this year) was starting its third year and ran several “combination” events with the regular Busch Grand National Series. There were nine of these combination events, meaning the races were part of both series’ schedules and regulars from the North Series got points for running in them. Eight of those drivers appeared that day, including defending champion Jamie Aube and Kelly Moore, father of current DEI development driver Ryan Moore. He wasn’t there as part of the North Series, but just as a point of interest, Martin Truex, Sr. also ran that day.
There is one more case of “the more things change” scenario. There is an article in the program on Chuck Bown, who had recently made the move from the North Series to full-time competition in the Busch Grand National Series. This was big for the drivers in the Busch North Series, who saw Bown as their big hope to gain some respect from the southern division. Bown was seen by them as the driver that could pave the way for more of the North drivers to make it into the big leagues. It’s funny, because you could take out Bown’s name and substitute Martin Truex, Jr. and rerun that same article today. The North (now East) drivers are still looking for that respect, only now it’s Truex that they hope will pave the way for them.
The moral of the story here is hang on to those old race programs. This one (which cost all of $3.00 by the way) turned out to be a fantastic time capsule of the old Busch Series. Sadly, many of the drivers featured are long gone. Some had promising futures that never materialized, while others have retired or passed away. Nazareth Speedway is also long gone, facing a future as a shopping center or housing development; but its history lives on, hidden between the covers of that old program book.
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