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

Silly Season

Although 1994 started off on a tragic note with the deaths of drivers Neil Bonnett and Rodney Orr while practicing for the Daytona 500, my interest in the sport began to recover. By the time our family went to Sears Point for the second time in 1994, Miles and I had witnessed the after-effects of what is called "Silly Season," where drivers, teams, and sponsors shift their loyalties for varying reasons. Derrike Cope had lost his ride in his Purolator car number ten, moving to the black car number ninety-eight. In Cope’s place was Ricky Rudd, a mild-mannered Virginian who bought Cope’s team and brought on Tide as a sponsor. At the time, I assumed Cope had simply been replaced by Rudd, so my allegiance stayed with the "Tide Ride" and its new driver.

Miles’ attention shifted from Terry Labonte to Sterling Marlin, fresh off his first career win in the Daytona 500 as part of his first full year driving the familiar Kodak car Ernie Irvan used in his Sears Point win two years prior. Irvan became the first full-time driver in the twenty-eight car since Davey Allison’s death, allowing Marlin to step into the Kodak car’s empty seat. The race at Sears Point was interesting once we were able to pick out our drivers in the field. Derrike Cope got in a tremendous crash with John Krebs, causing his car to end up in an embankment. As Cope walked behind our seats at the top of the grandstands, I instantly noticed him and called out his name. Cope, his back facing us and frustrated at his misfortune, only returned a one-finger salute. I did not blame him, though: he hadn’t won since 1990. Ricky Rudd and Sterling Marlin stayed near the front, but were unable to grab the lead away from the dominant car of Ernie Irvan, who went on to win the event for the second time.

I took pictures of the racing action at Sears Point for the first time in 1994, finding pictures of Rudd and Marlin as well as the green Chevrolet of Harry Gant. The reason for my interest in Gant was, like Richard Petty, Gant was in the midst of his "Farewell Tour," his final season on the circuit. Although I did not know it at the time, Gant was a fan favorite among the crowd, having become the oldest driver to win a race at the age of 52 in 1992 and is still one of only a few drivers to ever win four straight races.


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