Winter maintains its icy grip over a large swath of the nation including here in Guthriesville. I just wanted to clear some things off my mental desk before they find my coyote gnawed carcass here at Eyesore Acres in the spring. West Brandywine township workers are nailing up the “Wooly Mammoth Crossing” signs on the …
Editor’s Note: A legend returns. Please join our happy Frontstretch family in welcoming back Matt McLaughlin for a Mark Martin-like “limited schedule” of columns! This one runs on Tuesday but you never know when he might pop up. Somewhere on the seedy side of Daytona, where the streets have no names, where vermin, two legged …
Regretfully, gentle readers, this will likely be my last commentary column, at least for the foreseeable future. I’ve been at this NASCAR writing gig for sixteen years now and trust me, it’s tough to walk away. For all my cynicism, bitching, and occasional panic if I’d be able to find anything interesting to write after a boring race, I’ve loved every minute of it, being able to provide many of you with a few minutes of enjoyment or making you think on various issues while reading my columns. Your comments, both positive and negative have made a better writer out of me after a near hopelessly amateurish start to my so-called career.
It’s been over a decade now since Tim Richmond last competed in a Winston Cup race. There’s little mention of him in NASCAR’s official literature, and if you’re a new race fan, sadly, you may never even have heard his name. But for those of us privileged enough to have watched Tim Richmond drive a race car, during that all too ephemeral time that marked the peak of his career, there is no forgetting the magic. The tragic circumstances of a young man’s passing, and the way NASCAR officialdom dealt with it, is the subject for another article. Instead, my purpose here is not to mourn Tim’s passing, but to celebrate his life and talent. For if there ever was a “natural” at driving a race car, it was Tim Richmond. Lap after lap, fans watched in wonder as he hit the same mark time after time – but when it came time to get around another driver, it was like the laws of physics themselves stepped aside a few moments, content to be suspended and watch in wide-eyed wonder at what Tim could do in a race car, driving the line everyone else thought was impossible. And it was impossible, for everyone else.
After Sunday’s race, as I sat down to write my recap I was on edge because I was already hearing rumors some fans had been struck by lightning and some of those individuals were badly hurt. (Tragically, we know now that Brian Zimmerman, a 41-year-old married father of three lost his life.) I immediately focused on that story and began calling friends I knew had been in the grandstands to ensure they were safe. But elsewhere on the Internet and in Twitterville (which I am rapidly learning is a lot less friendly place than Who-ville or Margaritaville), a cauldron was boiling over as more fuel was added to the fire by people hiding behind funny screen names. (I’ve been asked, so my Twitter handle mcmatt76 was chosen because “Matt McLaughlin” and “Mcmatt” were already in use. The “McMatt” part should be obvious. The 76 was added because a picture of my 1976 Trans-Am hangs over my desk.)
While I enjoy stock car racing at Pocono, race weekends at the track are also tinged with a bit of melancholy. For more years than I care to recall, all my best buddies and I used to attend one of the Pocono races together, gathering from near and far for the annual “male-bonding weekend.” (Which is a polite way of saying drinking a truly epic amount of beer, carrying on outrageously and, in general, reinforcing every negative stereotype of stock car fans we could manage.) I can’t say whether I’ve been to more races at Dover or Pocono, or that the best races I’ve seen have been at this track, but I can say I’ve had more fun at Pocono than any other track on the circuit.
Some of you might not realize but after Sunday’s race at New Hampshire, the Cup regulars get a weekend off before the Brickyard 400; that off-weekend will be the last one of the season. Right now we’re in the midst of a 12-day heat wave that has sent temperature soaring into the triple digits, and by the time the Cup season ends I’ll likely be burning my wood stove. I’ve said it before and I’ll reiterate: the Cup schedule is simply too long and needs to b e shortened by 25 percent, with a few off weekends added during the summer especially.
So before my week off, I wanted to comment on a few topics causing a buzz amongst the fans right now.
When I started writing about racing four score and seven years ago I dreamed of writing columns like the late Joe Whitlock, who I grew up reading at a tender age. I wanted to debate the burning issues in the sport and make my readers think about the differing points of view on issues. I wanted to recount the magic of summer Sunday afternoons in terms so well written, fans would be moved to come out and join me for the Magical Mystery Tour that used to be the NASCAR Cup season and join what was then more of a cult than a sport. I wanted to craft imagery so magical that it would allow those who had not seen the race to be able to envision it as if they were there. I wanted to write stuff like, “Two cars, belly to the ground, heading off side-by-side into the setting sun off of Turn one…”
While it didn’t have quite the seismic kick of Junior kissing his girlfriend in victory lane, most of NASCAR nation was surprised to learn Tuesday morning Matt Kenseth is leaving Roush Fenway Racing at the end of the season. Kenseth has, after all, been with the organization for 12 years, and he’s the only member of the current RFR squad that’s won a Cup title. During the 1998 and 1999 seasons, Kenseth’s car owner was officially listed as Robbie or John Reiser, a satellite operation to Roush Racing. That alliance began when he was the surprise winner at the then-Busch Series race at Rockingham in 1998, after knocking some guy named Tony Stewart out of the way exiting turn four on the final lap.
There’s a tremendous amount of buzz in Hollywood right now about director Ron Howard’s film on Formula One racing slated to be released next year. If you haven’t heard about it, _Rush_ will tell the story of the 1976 Formula One campaign and the spirited title bout between McLaren’s James Hunt and Ferrari’s Niki Lauda.
This is a big budget film and Howard has surrounded himself with talented personnel, many of whom have won Oscars for previous films. Race cars from the era that have survived have been pressed into service (including a still bizarre looking six-wheeled Tyrell P34) and replicas of other cars were carefully reproduced right down to the correctly placed decals. When possible, filming took place at the same tracks where races were held in 1976.