Race Tales: Celebrating Ten Years of NASCAR Memories (2001)

Here, in its unedited entirety, is "Race Tales," a story I wrote in late 2001. On this page, you will find out more about my NASCAR fandom than you ever would care to know; it surprises me in hindsight! I have yet to revise it at all since then, but while I might update it later on, I felt the need to post it in the meantime. All 23 segments are included and presented to be read from top-to-bottom, including ten race reviews and the original side-notes written to aid its flow.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

"Picks of the Week"

Ever since July’s Pepsi 400 at Daytona, NBC has been broadcasting races as part of an agreement they reached with Fox in the off-season. While NBC’s reporters have done a decent job, maintaining Fox’s silent lap three of each race, they did not maintain Fox’s tradition of the announcers predicting each race’s winner before the start. To fill this void, Miles and I decided to begin this tradition anew with the Southern 500, the Labor Day classic run at Darlington’s egg-shaped oval. Though Miles and I are still very partial to our own favorite drivers, we now predict which driver will win each race based upon past races at the same track, calling it our "Picks of the Week." For the Southern 500, I told Miles the Thursday before the event that I predicted that the winless Johnny Benson would win the event as he had a strong run the year before. The same day, Miles told me that he believed that Dodge driver Ward Burton would win the race, considering that Burton had won the 400 mile Darlington race the year before.

Unlike Fox’s picks, we decided to complicate things by making our selections before qualifying. After viewing the Southern 500's qualifying results, it looked like I had the advantage. While Johnny Benson had qualified in the top twenty-five, Ward Burton had only managed to qualify thirty-seventh in the field of forty-three cars after hitting the wall during his timed lap. We both started to think that Burton’s chances for victory were sunk as the race began that Sunday. The event proved very interesting, featuring many spectacular passes for the lead as well as an unusual amount of accidents on the track, causing many of the 367 laps to be run behind the pace car. As Benson remained in the top ten through much of the race, my "gambling driver" Robert Pressley slammed hard into the inside wall, causing his car to lift up and skid on the driver’s side wheels before coming to a stop. Though dazed upon exiting his car, Pressley was okay.

Somehow, Ward Burton had clawed his way through the field up to the leaders, taking the lead on lap 309. At one point, Jeff Gordon, a frequent visitor to Darlington’s victory lane, made a strong challenge on the inside of Burton in the middle of a turn, gaining a slight advantage on Burton’s yellow and black Dodge. Then, remarkably, Burton gained an extra push and drove past Gordon on the outside for the lead. Yet another accident brought out the caution on lap 329, dropping Burton to third place after a slow pit stop. Burton then moved up into the second position when a wreck brought out the caution twenty-two laps later. Then, when the race restarted, Burton again took the lead with eight laps to go as a three-car accident slowed the field once again. To prevent the race from ending under caution as the wreck was slowly being cleared, the race was temporarily stopped with Burton still up front. The previous two Southern 500 races had been shortened by rain, yet even as a group of dark clouds approached, it looked like this race was going to complete all 367 laps. Would Burton be able to hold on?

When the race restarted for the final time, Burton stayed out front, holding off any further challenges from the rest of the drivers. As Burton lengthened his margin, Dave Blaney’s Dodge made a risky pass on a large group of cars, setting off an accident that severely damaged Ricky Rudd’s car along with several others. Burton raced to the line, holding off second-place Jeff Gordon by a comfortable margin for the win as the final lap was run under caution. Johnny Benson, on the other hand, ended up finishing well behind the lead pack as a result of the final two accidents. Miles and I were speechless!

The next race would be the Chevrolet Monte Carlo 400 in Richmond, Virginia, both the last short track race and the last night race of the season. Entertained by the experience the previous week, Miles and I again selected our "Picks of the Week" early that week before qualifying for who would win the race. I told Miles it would be best for me to stick with what I know, so I picked Ricky Rudd to win that race as Rudd ran very well in the spring race at Richmond. Miles, on the other hand, decided to go for another driver by selecting Terry Labonte, who nearly won a race at Richmond the previous year.


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