Home / Beside the Rising Tide / Beside the Rising Tide: For Want of a Hot Dog
(Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)

Beside the Rising Tide: For Want of a Hot Dog

While I’m still knocking off the last of the rust and cobwebs after a long offseason, I’m slowly but surely I’m readjusting to the old grind. Part of the job involves a great many press releases that use a whole lot of words to say very little. I have to dig through bushels of chaff to find the occasional kernel that I can somehow morph into the weekly 2,500-word column that will appeal to just enough readers to keep the lights on and the tank in the Jeep half full. Yeah, at heart I’m a half-full type of guy despite any evidence to the contrary.

The pickings have been especially slim this week. The Ford teams are off to a better-than-expected start this year and the blue oval drivers are well pleased by their successes. The Hendrick Camaro contingent is off to a slower-than-expected start which has left them concerned rather than panicked. All parties involved are pleased that Chase Elliott no longer attempts to climb into the No. 24 car at the start of every practice because William Byron was threatening to punch him right in the yap if he did it again, which would have been incredibly awkward. On the Toyota front Kyle Busch is irritated about something or another. Busch’s default emotional latitude is a petulant, sneering, self-centeredness that goes over like bacon cheeseburgers at a Bar Mitzvah. Busch seemed pleased with winning the truck event Friday competing against series regulars something that comes as easy to him as stealing change from the blind newsboy. He was somewhat less pleased after a poor run in the XFINITY Series on Saturday, pointing out the fact he hadn’t won was proof enough something was wrong with his car, his team, NASCAR, and the universe in general. Reality 101 break. Even three whole races into a 36 points race season it’s still probably just a titty-bit early to make any hard and fast predictions for the rest of the season.

Oh and they painted the walls yellow at Las Vegas because the title sponsor of Sunday’s race was Pennzoil, in what I believe was actually the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 Presented By Jiffy-Lube At Las Vegas Motor Speedway on FOX with a Special Guest Appearance by Coca Cola Outside of Gatorade Victory Lane. You know when it takes longer to recite the name of a race than some stages of that race last, something has flown over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And one would hope if Phillips decides to sponsor a race here in the future they won’t have the walls painted fecal brown.

Somewhere mid-stack, below the empty sausage sandwich wrapper but above the spilled coffee on my desk I did find a gem announcing that after an unexpected and unwelcome hiatus, the traditional Martinsville hot dog provided by Jesse Jones will make its triumphant return to the track this spring. The tradition of these bright red wieners at Martinsville is not only older than most of the drivers who will compete in the race it’s also older than some of their fathers. The first Jesse Jones hot dogs were served at Martinsville in 1947, predating the founding of NASCAR by over a year.

And that’s Jesse Jones to you newer fans. Read carefully. It has no relations to an infamous western outlaw, the whack-job with the Kool-Aid in Guatemala, the cranky car customizer on Monster Garage, Kevin Harvick’s sponsor or the driver of the No. 48 car.

It’s not just the meat tube that is important here. The traditional Martinsville hot dog comes slathered in chili, piquant mustard and topped off with a toxic level of onions served up on a steamed bun.  Yep, the Breakfast of Champions. Full disclosure here. I have never consumed a single full-on Martinsville hot dog though I have the diet of a vulture. Because of a food allergy, a single hot dog with these condiments could kill me. But every time I have been to Martinsville I’ve had at least a couple hot dogs, plain for me thanks, at least partially because it is traditional and I want to respect that tradition. It also has to do with the fact every convenience store and fast food emporium within an hour of the track is horrifically busy the entire weekend of the race. Anyone who will wait two hours for a table at the local Waffle House is out of their fricking mind. Oh, and at two bucks, the Martinsville hot dog is one of the few treats you can buy at a race track, not usually hot spots of gourmet bargains, for two bucks. No need to fill out a second-mortgage application just to pay for lunch for a family of four.

Over the years, I have heard many sane people singing loudly and devoutly the praises of the Martinsville hot dog. I have in fact officiated (from a safe place outside the splatter zone) multiple contests that pitted friends seeing who could swallow ten Martinsville full-alarm hot dogs the fastest. I think at one point Elliott Sadler espoused an idea that anyone who doubts the existence of a kind and benevolent God must never have had a Martinsville hot dog.

I must have missed the memo at the time, but I’m told that Americrown, the food concession vendor of NASCAR and International Speedway Corporation (wink, wink. Two totally and separate entities that share only an address in Daytona and the division that once bought the website I worked for just to fire me a month later and then refuse to pay me), held a contest of some of the most popular at-track meals and the fans voted the Martinsville hot dog the top dog in the contest. This not only led to the return of Jesse Jones hot dogs at Martinsville, but the somewhat baffling addition of Martinsville hot dogs to the menu at Daytona a few weeks back. Can you have a Martinsville hot dog anywhere other than Martinsville? (I mean without it being really, really cold and partially coagulated) Isn’t that like having the Fourth of July All-American fireworks in Havana?

So why did the Jesse Jones hot dog, so beloved by so many, disappear from the menus at the track albeit in hindsight briefly? Well um, Smithfield foods and their subsidiary Valleydale Processed Pig Parts were the Official Something-or-Another of NASCAR, and given that NASCAR could make a few bucks off the move, they kicked Jesse Jones to the curb. I think they rather hoped that nobody would even notice, but the difference between the Jesse Jones dog and the new one was like the difference between Sadie Hawkins and Sophie Hawkins. I mean damn…I wish you stained my bun red. That source of income must have dried up, so it’s now back to the traditional hot dogs. (Hmmmm….there are possibilities here. How about every time a FOX race broadcaster uses the term “paper clip” that weekend they must immediately finish a Martinsville hot dog before speaking again.)

So why all the hullaballoo about a humble hot dog, you may ask? Well, who is really going to get all that upset over the death of a mainly ornamental semi-domesticated bird? Well when said bird is the canary in the coal mine, its sudden passing tends to cause great alarm. The fact NASCAR was willing to jettison a traditional at-track favorite snack meant that things of greater import were also left by the roadside like an abandoned homely puppy. (That was of course almost immediately picked up and given a forever home with a family that loved it. No dogs are ever actually harmed in my columns, just canaries).  You know just little things, like Rockingham or North Wilkesboro. Oddly enough, these two long-term pillars of the race schedule lost all their dates to other newer tracks for not selling enough race tickets. But now that those newer tracks aren’t selling out anymore either no one is talking about shutting them down and moving those race dates back where they belong: back at the tracks that once served as annual vacation destinations for families and reunion points for former high school classmates. In their drive to “modernize traditions” (I kid you not. NASCAR’s Mike Helton routinely used that phrase without a hint of irony), NASCAR shit-canned their longtime fans in search of new, younger, more affluent fans who by and large stuck around a year or two then washed their hands entirely of the sport. You know, the sort who want to make Pokémon-Go an Olympic sport.

Surely nobody was going to stop attending a race just because Martinsville hot dogs were off the menu, right? I, in fact, have a long time reader who decided to do just that. He told me that he’d been contemplating cutting back to just one Martinsville race rather than going to both, but when the great hot dog massacre occurred he decided to stop attending either. So Doc, if your hip has healed up, the Martinsville hot dog is back!

If NASCAR offers its soul to the highest bidder, there’s no one with more chips on the table than the TV networks that present the sport. In an era of greatly downsized title sponsor dollars and “official sponsors” of NASCAR’s it’s the TV people’s dollars that keep the Good Ship Lollipop with enough Tootsie Rolls to burn heading against the tide. And of course that means that when the TV types decided they’d get better ratings starting the races later in the day rather than at the traditional one o’clock start time that meant, church, breakfast, stock car racing for so many fans on Sundays. Obviously the ratings have dropped rather significantly but I’m told that fans will eventually adjust to the later start times. And Maureen McCormick will finally get an Oscar too, eventually, I’m sure. As it turns out, even the Left Coast fans who are supposed to be the primary beneficiary of the later start times preferred the earlier start times than meant the race was over by 1 or 2 their time, giving them the rest of the day to enjoy other pursuits. Now I’m told that while the TV ratings are down for the races they’d be down even more catastrophically were it not for the later start times. It’s a wonder that somehow or another NASCAR and its fans managed to muddle along before FOX and NBC came aboard to show everyone how covering the sport was done.

Some of the jettisoning of tradition is not only irritating; it’s downright disloyal. Trust me when I say that NASCAR’s future was even more precarious back in 1971 when Ford and Mopar pulled out their factory teams than it is today. In rode Winston, writing outlandishly large checks for the era to keep the sport alive. But as Todd Rundgren once sang;” those days are through”. To the best of my knowledge, there’s not a single Cup race left on the schedule a smoker can attend. Yeah, I know some folks are really up in arms about second-hand smoke, but the way the tracks have been tearing down  seats by the thousands you’d think that they could have left some remote island of seats well away from the happy, shiny people where smokers could have their own little social leper colony. Think this is a non-issue? Go do a little research as to when Bristol banned smoking at the track and when the two races stopped selling out. Hmmm. As it turns out not many people like cigarettes these days but those who do, really, really like them.

Occasionally the brakes have been applied before another tradition was ditched to the detriment of the sport and the track. Not too many years after it opened, the folks at Texas Motor Speedway decided they were going to go ahead and institute a ban on coolers being carried into the track with whatever snacks, pop, and adult beverages (except those in glass bottles) fans had traditionally lugged along with them. Set aside the cost of buying grub and suds at the track (which is not inconsiderable, trust me on that. You can get prime rib and two 16 ounce drafts at the Longhorn cheaper than you can get two burgers and a Bud at most race tracks), stock car racing is one of those few sports Americans watch that doesn’t have scheduled times out from the action. Go stand in line to get your kid a Fatso-Pop and some ostrich fries and you may miss the key pass of the entire race. So anyway, in this case, the GM at Texas had an issue. In whatever wayward backward county the track is located, a sporting venue (and my guess is they were the only one) could not allow fans to bring in beer and also sell it to folks who forgot or ran out. In fact the county was dry at the time. I’m not sure whose idea of a joke it was to locate a race track in a dry county. Isn’t that like opening a strip club in Salt Lake City?

So anyway, I think that the change was about to fly under the radar, intentionally or unintentionally, which was going to create a disaster the likes of which this sport might never have seen. Only Jayski got ahold of the story, and that particular day it got my Irish up a bit (not hard to do) and I wrote a column with a title of something along the lines of the “Great Texas Cooler Massacre” on the topic, which, not unexpectedly, the folks at the track didn’t care for. Track GM Eddie Gossage requested I call him. Once we got past all the lawsuit and defamation of character pleasantries, Mr. Gossage and I had what I’d term a polite if a bit terse conversation. We had different points of view on beer. I liked drinking it. He liked making money selling it. Because I liked drinking beer, I’d have preferred it be free or at least very cheap. He preferred I shut the hell up. Neither of us were in the mood to sing Kumbuya. Neither of us were swayed by the other’s opinion. So in closing, one thing I believe we both decided was long overdue for that chat, I suggested to Mr. Gossage that since he had the phone numbers of his season ticket holders perhaps he ought to have a chat with them on the issue. (Yes, back in the salad days tracks sold season tickets. You had to purchase tickets to a race you didn’t even want to attend like the IRL events to get seats to the Cup race. A lot of tracks had the same sort of deal back then, particularly the newer ones, but from that well no more.)

To his credit, Gossage decided to do just that. And apparently he got an earful, some of which I guess wasn’t particularly polite based on the notes I received from some TMS season ticket holders. But most of them admitted they were impressed that the track GM reached out to them and asked their opinion on the matter even if he bore bad tidings at the time. Whatever those folk said, Gossage eventually decided to forego selling beer at the track so that fans of that era could continue bringing their coolers. I just checked. You can still bring your cooler to TMS. (And buy beer and wine at the track. How’d that happen?) Just no glass. And don’t try to bring it to the suites or Victory Lane. Or the Village of Champions, whatever the hell that is. And leave your drone at home. Well the website says that you can’t bring remote control aircraft but I think they were going for drone anyway. But if droning is illegal how does Darrell Waltrip get on the track property? If you want to get up in arms about something at Texas these days ask track management why they don’t have a designated parking area for motorcycles.

To date the largest skirmish of the war between tradition-hugging fans and the fast-buck vampires that are destroying our sport has involved the Southern 500. Forget all the hullabaloo about the Daytona 500. The Southern 500 predated the first Daytona 500 by a decade. It was the first NASCAR race held on an oval of more than a mile in length. It was the longest, biggest, baddest race on the schedule. And it was held at the track in Darlington SC every Labor Day weekend. Until the powers that be decided Darlington was a nasty old dump frequented by low buck fans and the whole affair could be held far more profitably at the newer track in Fontana. That went over like New Coke. Fewer seats were sold at Fontana than had been sold back in the Sand Hills of South Carolina. NASCAR eventually beat a quiet retreat to at least the correct geographic zone moving the Southern 500 to Atlanta on or about Labor Day weekend. Finally in 2015, the Southern 500 returned to its spiritual roots at Darlington on Labor Day weekend and it has returned to its status as one of the most anticipated high-profile race weekends of the year. Race weekends incidentally that center around nostalgic throwbacks. You wouldn’t think the powers that be would have to be all that bright to sense a trend there. But the race is now held at night rather than the afternoon. We’re working it. Yeah, it’s hot in South Carolina on Labor Day weekend despite all the Prisuses that have been sold. It’s supposed to be hot on Labor Day weekend. That’s what separates the vein and tendons for breakfast drivers from the Nancy-Boys. That’s what separates the lifer fans from the faint hearted transients. You want air-conditioning?, I’m sure there’s a ping-pong tournament that weekend somewhere around Charlotte. Just remember; “Lamps must burn with wipers on” if you’re going to either.

But I’m so far off the trail, the dogs would need a map to find me. Yes, it’s just a hot dog. But it’s a little victory in a decades long battle. For the want of a hot dog, a fan was lost. For the want of a fan, a family was lost. For the want of a family a generation was lost. For the want of a generation a race date was lost. For the want of a race date, a sport was lost. Stop children, what’s that sound?, everybody look what’s going down.

 

 

 

 

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About Matt McLaughlin

Matt McLaughlin
Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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23 comments

  1. Avatar

    Here is a quote you should remember Matt. “Editors are failed writers, but so are most writers”

  2. Avatar

    And speaking of nothing to write about: how about the Great Harvick Rear Window Bowing Issue? How much downforce is he getting from that? And will NASCAR do anything about it?

    • Matt

      Well it would seem the “collapsed” roof, which the team says was caused by a failed brace, would have increased drag. But so don’t believe in coincidences. It also would have put more air on the spoiler. I put on my reporter’s cap and I’m told any penalties will be announced today. Not that it matters. If NASCAR encumbered the win Harvick already punched his ticket to the playoffs at Atlanta. Seeing as how playoffs are still 6 month’s a way that’s sort of sad.

  3. Avatar

    Matt, I realize we have the internet now and i use it all the time. A great invention. Im just saying it would be nice if print or tv media would go to race teams mostly in Charlotte north carolina not at every state in the union and sit down with crew chiefs or owners or other team members and ask good solid questions not dumb bs questions. Kind of like cole perion. I have been watching nascar since the 80s. Yes im old 56. But never heard of him it wwould have been interesting to find out how he started where he worked privously and maybe some personal stuff just something different than the same questions from the same teams and drivers. This is just a suggestion not a personal stab at how you do your job im sure like other jobs if you could do what you wanted it would be great but that isn’t possible we all have a boss

  4. Avatar

    Great column, Matt. It’s gotta be tough to write about racing on a weekend when the races are runaways, so thanks for meeting the challenge head-on.

    • Avatar

      The NASCAR Beat Writers of the 70’s and 80’s wrote about racing when plenty of races were runaways. Guess what? There was still plenty to right about. We don’t need a doctored great finish every week to make the sport interesting. We need an interesting sport that is made even more interesting when the magical finish happens.

      Nice job this week Matt!

  5. Avatar

    This is the other Mike…

    …BZF is to Bill France what Commodus was to Marcus Aurelius. BZF/Commodus don’t/didn’t share their fathers’ work ethic. Both see the day-to-day management of the institution as tedious. Leisure ‘n’ pleasure are/were more urgent than the care ‘n’ feeding of the empire. And are key contributors to the respective institutional downfall.

    The Martinsville hot dog fiasco is a fitting metaphor for what nascar/bzf/isc has become. Screw stuff that has worked for decades and that make our customers happy. Hail Caesar.

    • Avatar

      This happens often in American business. Only about 11% make it to third generation ownership. Why? Because the first generation lived the passion. The second generation didn’t have a choice and developed the work ethic to keep it going. However, the third generation grew up with a silver spoon (not. always their fault) and the sweat and grind of day to day business isn’t that attractive when they have a padded bank account and financial freedom.

  6. Avatar

    Glad the Jessie Jones dog is back at Martinsville, but having had both I couldn’t taste the difference. The toppings more than the dog make the Martinsville Hot Dog. I consider it a failure if I don’t down 10+ over a trip to the Paperclip.

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    For the record, Kyle Busch was effusive after the race in praising his crew for the improvements they made in his car during the course of the Cup race on Sunday. I guess you missed that particular press release, but Busch is always your go-to guy when you have nothing else to bitch about, Matt.

    I would say your own default emotional attitude is a petulant, sneering, hatefulness that only works because you choose your targets so carefully. The only difference between you and Kyle is that Rowdy is the best at what he does and you’re not, so he has earned the right to expect to win every time he straps into a race car. Maybe Chase Elliott should hang around the JGR group rather than the HMS drones in the hope that some of that “in your face” arrogance rubs off on him. I would love to see Chase throw a hissy fit and demand a crew chief change. That might trigger a change of scenery for Chase as it did for Kyle, and we all know how that worked to Kyle’s advantage and led to his sure election to the HOF without benefit of an MPD trophy.

    • Avatar

      Kyle Busch is a dick. He’s the go to guy when there is nothing to bitch about for a lot of fans because,,,, he is a dick.

      • Avatar

        There are a lot of dicks in the world (and on this page), but not too many can drive a race car like Rowdy Busch – or create news when absolutely nothing is going on. The NASCAR PTB should get down on their knees and thank God for the petulant one every night!

  8. Avatar

    The Martinsville hotdogs are special but the best I’ve had were at Oswego.

    It should be mentioned that the Southern 500 originally was run on Labour Day Monday, which made it interesting for me in 1980 to be back to work in Toronto for Wednesday. I defy anybody to predict the winner with two laps to go in that real “race” with real race cars. Which brings me to another huge problem with NA$CAR…the cars Brian is forcing them to use.

  9. Avatar

    Excellent my friend! Standing “O!” Just one teensy-weensy oversight! Matt, you forgot the slaw on top of the mustard, onions and chili! That amounts to sacrilege. I’ve gotten more than one column out of hot dogs dressed that way. However… call me a traitor… but I’ve never been able to get down one of those dyed red “things” that lurk beneath all those delicious condiments. They really DO stain the bun red. Can that possibly be good for anything going on within the human body? I guess they were never famous for theirs, or they might still be on the schedule, but North Wilkesboro had all the same toppings, but with an actual wiener underneath. I was younger then, and could consume enough of those in a day that one hand ran out of fingers for counting. At Martinsville, I learned in early days that the same toppings could be had atop a burger… actual meat rather than something that necessitated dying to conceal what it might have started life as.
    Enjoy the racing! That’s the reason the older folks among us went to the track. I see that Sally and Janice have beaten me here on that point, but it’s a point worth making. If I wanted to see a rock concert, I’m pretty sure they sell tickets to those things. They did when I was young… I didn’t go then either.
    CHEERS!

  10. Avatar

    The main problem is coverage of nascar. Print and television. Most print reporters dont go out from behind the desk and find stories anymore they wait for some pr person from nascar or front running teams to give them something to print. Why dont they do a series about all teams and behind the scenes real reporting its out there all you have to do is get off your butt and go get it. 5 paragraphs about hotdogs in a racecar article says it all

    • Avatar

      Mike,
      I am just using common sense here because I have no idea about the nuts and bolts of running an internet website, but I think the answer to your question is very obvious…. Because they don’t have the budget to travel to the races and get the stories firsthand.
      This is a free website for people like us. The advertising is unobtrusive and minimal and I doubt that the number of visitors to this website would attract large advertisers willing to pay megabucks. So, are you willing to pay so that the reporters can get out from behind the desk? I didn’t think so. Neither am I.

      BTW, I had the exact opposite reaction as you to the 5 paragraphs about hotdogs. I was kind of impressed that he could write that much about it and, IMO, I enjoyed reading it.

      • Matt

        By way of clarification, FS does have boots on the ground on most race weekends. It’s a bit harder on the West Coast swing because most of us choose to live on the Right Coast to escape the institutionalized insanity that is Calufornia.
        The media world has changed and not just in racung.i started in print. When the paper folded we went the internet route, sort of the wild, wild West of NASCAR back in the 90s, a train pulled along by my bud Jay and the Jayski website. Back then NASCAR wouldn’t credential on line types. Now they call us the Citizen Journalist Corp or something creepy Orwellian like that.
        BREAKING NEWS. The old days of ace cub reporter Jimmy Olsen hanging out at the precinct house hoping for a scoop are over. The world is on line for better or worse. Take a simple example like wishing to share a photo with a friend who lives 1000s of miles away. In the old days you’d take the picture, have it processed at the drug store, put it in an envelope and mail it. Elapsed time-acouple weeks. Nowadays that can be done in minutes. Which is why you get to see what someone you haven’t spoken to in years had for breakfast today.
        One further point. I am not a reporter. We’ve got lots of those here. They tell you who won the pole, what team went belly up and the traditional whio,what,why and whatever. I write opinion columns. I’m not always right but it’s always my true opinion based on over 50 years following the sport with a Moonie like devotion.Glad you enjoyed it Bill. Sorry to let you down this week Mike.
        Sauerkraut? Is that what that is Patti? I thought it was mechanically separated maggots sauteed in onion.

        • Avatar

          and i know how na$car loves matt and his opinions!

          i hate sauerkraut……ate too much of that fermented cabbage as a child in a german heritage household!

  11. Avatar

    Thank you for so eloquently saying what so many of us feel. Nascar has been twisted into something unrecognizable these days. They are so busy dancing, trying to figure out a way to get/keep fans that they have lost sight of what got them there in the first place. I used to attend the night race at Bristol…when it was impossible to get tickets. Didn’t need any ‘entertainment’ other than the cars on track, and people watching. even found folks to play euchre with until the stands opened up. And it was all FREE! One the ‘chase’ made the racing too polite, I gave up my seats. No regrets.

  12. Avatar

    i’ve noticed at tracks they have entertainment venues where they have monster trucks and activities for those folks who have the attention span of a gnat. years ago when i attended races in person, you didn’t need an entertainment venue. you walked the souvenir riggs, met drivers, ate food that was not on the american heart associations’ diet plan, and went to your seat to watch the on track activities while waiting for the cars to be pushed onto the grid and the day to start. you’d sit in the stand and talk to your neighbors about gordon vs. earnhardt (sr) or earnhardt vs. wallace (rusty) or earnhardt vs. labonte (either brother), or how much did dodge pay to get elliott (bill) in the car. we didn’t need to have a go-cart track where the handicapped parking lot use to be, to keep us entertained. several of the non-na$car owned tracks are converting suite areas into a sports-bar type venues. guess track food and bud or miller and coke isn’t good enough for younger fans.

    i keep waiting for ams to fall victim to the ax, our weather is just flat out crappy last week of february.

    these 3 pm start times, well i forget about the race cause i get busy doing things around the house. my brain is still programmed get home from church, eat a quick lunch, and turn on the race.

    yes i’m old and change isn’t something i like, but the youngsters all these changes are geared towards haven’t picked up the torch and ran with it to keep it going.

  13. Avatar

    It’s amazing what traditions those in power are willing to sacrifice in the name of making a buck.

    “Great Texas Cooler Massacre”… you should write a song about that Matt… in four part harmony.

  14. Avatar

    Matt, thanks for bringing up the move of the Southern 500. This was the decision that started the snowball rolling down the hill. The fact that it took NASCAR over a decade (rather than a millisecond) to right this wrong steamed more folks than anything. Everyone (rightfully so) points to the Chase and many other things as key catalysts in the NASCAR decline. The Southern 500 move gets overlooked sometimes.