It’s Sunday. You flick on the TV and the NASCAR logo flows across the screen, usually with an aerial shot of this week’s location in the background. The grandstands, shape of the track and familiar buildings rise up out of the trees, desert, hills… whatever the iconic signature of the area might be today. We’ve been here in the past and the TV commentators begin to feed you the images and sounds of races that came before.
This last Sunday ESPN regaled us with the 1992 Hooters 500 at Atlanta and all that momentous day brought; Alan Kulwicki‘s improbable championship, the end of Richard Petty‘s career and the start of Jeff Gordon‘s. Yes, it was 20 years ago, and yet every time the circuit returns to this track, we still recall those days of glory. It feeds into the anticipation of the drop of the green flag and all that occurs today, in the hopes 2012 will bring memories to draw upon in future years.
However, I wasn’t there in 1992. And not every snippet of yore will ignite a spark of passion in the avid fan. For the ’92 Hooters 500, I have little more than warm fuzzy thoughts, all created from the comfort of my couch. At the same time, I have visited Atlanta and so those wide shots of the track displayed before the AdvoCare 500… now, there are memories I do have: a spring thunderstorm, the scent of mowed onion grass in the campground, Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning, Tina Gordon‘s wreck and Bobby Hamilton winning in the trucks.
Visiting a track even once heightens your awareness of everything broadcast – the new pylons, how full the stands appear, exactly how a car sets as it runs through the corner… and the noise. Oh, the noise. Did you know every track has its own signature hum of a race? It’s kind of wild.
At Atlanta, the cars wind up and never really get out of the gas, except when they’re sliding around. But unlike a short track, the hum dwindles across the backstretch from your view in the grandstands. Bristol now ain’t called Thunder Valley for nothing. Your seat vibrates beneath you, and when the field cranks it up, you had better be good at lip reading. The sound remains an unending roar for the duration of the event, focused on the fans by the bowl shape of the stands set atop the mountain.
In Darlington, while you walk to the track the soles of your shoes are grabbed by that old asphalt that gave the track its sandpaper reputation for so many years. Pocono’s frontstretch vanishes toward turn 1 as you shield your eyes in an attempt to keep the ant-like cars within sight. At the Glen, it seems like you can reach out and touch the cars from the fence line as they roar toward turn 11.
Yes, ESPN always does its best to sell you on those quirks of the track on the circuit, but it’s impossible to replace the feel of Indy’s yard of bricks under your wandering fingers with more short segments on the history of the track. You will never truly understand the towering banks of Dover until you climb them. The exact angle of the track, how high above the pavement you sit, the tinny sound of the announcer over the PA system… it all creates a precise snapshot in your mind that no amount of reporting will ever duplicate. And you watch new races with a curious blend of nostalgia and a desire for more.
As we look forward to the final meet of the regular season, classic Richmond races will be pulled out of the scrapbooks. I will happily reminisce with the talking heads on TV and even appreciate some stellar commentary. Unfortunately, when the sun goes down and the cameras go live on Saturday night, I will not have my own personal experiences to increase my pulse when the inspectors raise their hands and the tower gives the command. I am still wondering what it is like to be there, at that moment in that place.
Are there awesome seats all around the D-oval? Can I buy cotton candy? How many miles would I have to hike to find my seat? Exactly what will the engines sound like, there, up close and personal, as they attack the short track with the big attitude? I want to know. I need to know. My bucket list of visiting all the tracks on the Sprint Cup circuit is not complete. And never will be.
20 years ago NASCAR experienced the pinnacle of its existence in that Hooters 500. 20 years from now we’ll look back on the Federated Auto Parts 400 and learn who snared that final wild-card spot for the Chase. TV will do a fine job of recalling stats and drivers, but it will be the 80,000 fans sitting in the stands who will truly be able to share that ethereal essence of the moment you can only find when you’re really there. I’m wishing I was.
What memories have you stored up over the years at your favorite track? I’d love to hear.
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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