For me, March 22 was something of a reunion.
Not a high school class reunion, where most folks congregate mainly to see who has become a success — or failure — who has gained weight, lost hair and so forth.
Rather, it was more of a military reunion, one in which former warriors who served together in conflict come to reflect on old times and remember buddies they have lost.
It does seem a bit far-fetched, but then, aren’t old NASCAR drivers like warriors? They fought battles on the tracks and sometimes among themselves. And we have lost many over the years.
The occasion was the assembly of current NASCAR Hall of Fame members and winners of the Squier-Hall Award for lifetime media achievement. We were going to select a 2023 nominee for the Hall’s Pioneer Class.
I attended for the first time. We would have met at the Hall last year, but the pandemic forced a meeting via telephone.
My first reaction was, well, one of awe. I looked around and saw many competitors whom I interviewed more than once over the years. And I sat and shot the bull and even had dinner with most of them.
I offered my hand in greeting to each of them. And they all shook it with a smile and said, “Hi, Steve.”
I’ll admit it: to have several of NASCAR’s most accomplished and popular figures shake my hand and say my name gave me a sense of pride.
I said so to Waddell Wilson, the legendary engine builder and crew chief who sat next to me during lunch.
“Maybe it should,” he said. “After all, you are one of us.”
I met Wilson early in my career. He was a lifelong friend of the late Tom Higgins, the motorsports writer for the Charlotte Observer and my longtime best friend.
I visited with Wilson a year earlier in the conference room of an auto-related company for which he worked. Yes, he was still working then, but “not any longer,” he told me during lunch. “I am 85 years old and I’m finally retired. Been working since I was eight. Now I just piddle around the house.”
Speaking of age, it didn’t take me long to realize I was the youngest in attendance. Nearly all others were 80 years of age or more. It was just like the start of my career, when I was the “kid.”
But a short while later, Ray Evernham and Bobby Labonte entered the room.
So much for the “kid.”
And still later, Dale Earnhardt Jr. breezed in, decked out in jeans and t-shirt. OK, so here’s the real “kid.”
Earnhardt was fulfilling his first task as a member of the Hall of Fame. He has always had a strong affinity for NASCAR’s past and the people who shaped it.
Some of the HOF members weren’t unlike their military brethren. They were somewhat crippled by wounds, some intensified by the passing of years.
For quite some time, six-time Modified champion Jerry Cook has used a cane to help him walk slowly with a distinct limp.
But there is no limp to his mind.
I told him about the first time I ever met him. I was working at the Roanoke Times, and one day, I was startled to see him poke his head around the corner at the doorway to the sports department.
We sat down and I, a rookie who didn’t know a Modified from a tricycle, asked him one dumb question after another. He answered every one of them.
“Oh, I remember that,” Cook said. “We were at Martinsville and (track president) Clay Earles brought some of us up to Roanoke because you guys were too lazy to come see us.”
Bobby Allison literally shuffles to get around. As you might expect, the silver-haired 1983 Winston Cup champion, and one of the most successful drivers in NASCAR history, moves very slowly.
But, like Cook, there is nothing slow within his head.
“Boog!” he said as he shook my hand.
“Boog!” I answered.
For years, we used the name of former baseball player Boog Powell to greet each other. I don’t remember how that got started.
But Allison and I have never forgotten the piece we did together in 1978, the year he won the Daytona 500 driving for Bud Moore.
I wanted to ask a driver’s opinion of the issues of the day. Allison was a logical choice.
Among other things, I asked about women’s lib (“I don’t know about that, I always thought women should be put on a pedestal.”) and China (“A bunch of thieving bandits!”).
We all went into a separate room to discuss nominees and make our selections. We were joined, by way of Zoom, by Richard Petty, Dale Inman, Red Farmer, Dale Jarrett and Ken Squier.
It was a lively meeting. Opinions flowed often and freely.
Leonard Wood, of the venerated Wood Brothers team, is 87 years old. If I make it to his age and speak as clearly and decisively as he does, suffice it to say I’ll be grateful to a Higher Being.
I trust I didn’t wallow in sentimentality in all of this. After all, we met because we had been selected to perform a task for NASCAR. And we were willing to do it.
But for me, it became something more than a task.
All it took were handshakes with smiles.
And to call each other by our first names.
About the author
Steve Waid has been in journalism since 1972, when he began his newspaper career at the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin. He has spent over 40 years in motorsports journalism, first with the Roanoke Times-World News and later as publisher and vice president for NASCAR Scene and NASCAR Illustrated.
Steve has won numerous state sports writing awards and several more from the National Motorsports Press Association for his motorsports coverage, feature and column writing. For several years, Steve was a regular on “NASCAR This Morning” on FOX Sports Net and he is the co-author, with Tom Higgins, of the biography “Junior Johnson: Brave In Life.”
In January 2014, Steve was inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame. And in 2019 he was presented the Squier-Hall Award by the NASCAR Hall of Fame for lifetime excellence in motorsports journalism. In addition to writing for Frontstretch, Steve is also the co-host of The Scene Vault Podcast.
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