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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Driven to the Past: Fuel Windows & Debris Cautions Back in the Day

All the talk about fuel-mileage strategy over the past couple of weeks brought back some memories, which is not unusual – just about anything brings back memories for me after more than 50 years of watching these race cars go round and round.

One night over a couple of beers at Daytona in the mid-’60s, a driver with whom I had become friendly noted that some of the bigger teams with factory support frequently handed down used engines and other parts to the lesser-fortunate racers who happened to be running the same brand. When I inquired as to whether it was out of the goodness of their heart, he replied, “Well, they always seem to get a caution flag when they need one.”

A couple of years later, that statement came back to me when I was on one of my trips south and helping a friend’s team by keeping track of fuel mileage. This was before they referred to it as a fuel “window” and before computers. Heck, it was probably before hand calculators.

We had stayed out while everybody else had pitted under green, and the crew chief was starting to sweat. He asked how much we had, and I said, “About three laps, but let’s wait that long.”

He asked why, and I said, “Because (name withheld) stopped at the same time we did, and he hasn’t come in yet.”

About the time he was asking me what that had to do with our strategy, one of those “lesser-fortunate” guys spun out by himself in the first turn. We came in on the caution and got a pretty good finish out of it.

On the subject of debris cautions, I’ve heard that on one occasion Big Bill France, while sitting in his car in the first turn and watching a boring race, got out and threw his wristwatch on the track, then pointed at it. Presto, debris caution.

Back in those days of the Firestone Darlington and Goodyear Blue Streak Stock Car Special tires, I’m not sure a wristwatch would have been a problem to worry about. Of course, Big Bill probably called in the debris himself – definitely making Race Control aware of the fact that The Man wanted to see a caution flag.

I dropped a watch once in an ARCA race. I was in the flagstand at Salem, and had been having trouble with a cheap watchband. I should have remembered it, but about 75 laps into a 100-lap feature, the watch slipped off and fell on the track.

Before I could react, a couple of cars hit it and started it bouncing. About the third time it got hit, halfway between the flagstand and the first turn, it came out from under the rear of the car and bounced up about windshield height and exploded. Literally.

The next car along happened to be Benny Parsons, who was leading the race. All these watch parts just bounced off his windshield. Since there was nothing left on the racetrack, we just kept on racing.

After the race, I went down to the trophy presentation to congratulate Benny on his win. Upon seeing me he asked, “What the dickens did I run into? I thought it was birdshot hitting my windshield.”

I held up my left arm, where you could see the untanned line where the watch had been and said, “What time is it?”

It wasn’t seen by as many people as the time I lost my cowboy hat and everybody ran over it. Didn’t go yellow for that one, either.

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