Clinton, S.C., Saturday, April 12, 2014, 10:24 a.m.
I started attending races at Darlington Raceway in 1970 – and stopped in 2013 – but the first time I wrote about one was the CRC Chemicals Rebel 500 in 1981. Darrell Waltrip won it, and a young driver, Bill Elliott, started on the pole.
What I most remember about that race was the realization that the only driver I’d ever seen who reminded me of David Pearson at Darlington was Elliott, who would not win a Winston Cup race anywhere until two and a half years later. He wound up winning five times at the track.
That spring afternoon made me an Elliott fan. The first time I saw Elliott win, as in, being there, was at Charlotte in 1984.
I’m sure when I wrote that I’d covered a race in 1981, several writers who are covering NASCAR now thought, Gee, I wasn’t even born then.
That’s okay. The next generation has fully arrived. Bill isn’t racing, I’m not going to the track to write about it, and Chase Elliott has won consecutive Nationwide Series races.
On this morning, I’m more cognizant than normal of the concept of age.
Chase Elliott, 18, still has to do homework. I’d claim he has to recite poetry or diagram sentences, but I’m not sure they do that anymore.
I’m old. I adapt to new technology at precisely the moment when everyone else already has.
I have never met Chase Elliott and possibly never will. I can tell, though, that he is no clone of his father. Chase is the beneficiary of the preparation that all racers receive in NASCAR’s modern, corporate age. When Bill came along, racers were alarmingly what they were.
Bill was moody. He had an icy stare, and when his ass was on his shoulders, he would have considered a query on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity ignorant. (Not that I would ever ask such a question, or that he would’ve been wrong if I had.) On the other hand, when in a cheery mood, Bill would walk up and shoot the bull a while. Most everything is in between now. No one bites heads off, but it’s hard to prove because they seldom have conversations with media types who are rumored to make less than $100,000 a year.
Perhaps the last driver who gets pissed off and lets people see it is Tony Stewart. Dale Earnhardt was excessively guilty of honesty, too. Those two made the job … interesting. Earnhardt distributed his mood, regardless of the situation. Most of the brats of today just blow up when they lose their tempers, which happens when they lose. They’re all jolly good fellows when they get their ways.
A world of difference in personality spans Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. So, too, I suspect, is there a difference between Elliott Original Recipe and Elliott Extra Crispy. One obvious reason is that sons benefit from the experience of fathers, and they have advantages their dads didn’t. No one’s ever looked down their noses at them. Racing has become a respectable profession, which often happens when populated with the affluent.
The trick is to capitalize on the expertise and advantages of the world-famous daddy without succumbing to the wretched excess of opulence.
By George (Bill’s late father), I think Chase Elliott’s got it.
If you’d like to read my more literary offerings, give wellpilgrim.wordpress.com a look every now and then.