Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, January 3, 2018, 10:54 a.m.
Football season is winding down.
Alabama clobbered Clemson, 24-6, in the BCS, meaning the Crimson Tide will advance to take on the Georgia Bulldogs for college football’s national championship. Georgia survived Oklahoma, 54-48, in the best game that defense ever forgot, at least until overtime.
Here in South Carolina, talk of a Clemson dynasty has subsided until next fall, but the Carolina Gamecocks won the Outback Bowl over Michigan, 26-19, and, on Wednesday, when I went to the post office to mail some books, half the people in line were wearing garnet and/or black.
The Carolina Panthers (11-5) are in the NFL playoffs, but, based on a dreadful performance in Atlanta, they aren’t a team likely to hang around long. Perhaps Cam Newton will regain his superpowers in New Orleans, but, on Sunday, it looked like someone had hidden some Kryptonite in Atlanta.
Football isn’t exactly kaput, but it’s diminishing in the hearts and minds of fans whose pro teams of choice will gradually limp to a season’s sidelines.
So there’s room for racing, and the Super Bowl will be done by the time America, Fox, and Ol’ D.W. are ready for the Daytona 500 to commence.
Vroom. Ruh! Ruh-ruh! Ruhruhruhruhruhruhruh … ruuuuuuuuuuuuhhhhhh!
Old memories of Ken Squier openings drift into my mind.
Forty-two automobiles, decorated in every color of the rainbow, have been rolled onto the starting grid here in Daytona Beach, Florida, the Birthplace of Speed, for the Great American Race.
The earnest drawl of Ned Jarrett. Barney Hall’s comforting tone. Chris Economaki’s urgent staccato. David Hobbs’ droll wit. Jackie Stewart’s indecipherable brogue. Benny Parsons’ calmness in the storm. Neil Bonnett. Bob Jenkins. Larry Nuber. Mike Joy.
Oh, to be young again. Maybe it’s just that. Godforsaken age. Maybe it’s because I got to know all the drivers, and somehow they became less folk heroes and more just gifted men. Maybe racing became a job instead of an obsession. I don’t know. I get tired of analysis. I just know how I felt then and how I feel now. Mine is not to wonder why. Mine is just to put into words what my eyes can see. And my mind can remember.
I still recreate the sensations.
Riding on the Ferris wheel, in the infield, after midnight, as headlights zip through the darkness during the Rolex 24, back before the speedway had lights.
Watching a cold rain fall, and the Atlantic boil, from the condo north of Ormond Beach. Taking the elevator to get a copy of the Daytona Beach News-Sentinel before the machine runs out. Buying a small, battery-operated slot-car set at the Family Dollar so that we can amuse ourselves while the real track is closed. Breakfast at Alfie’s on the way to the track and Halibut Night on the way back at day’s end.
Parking in the horseshow of the road course. Thousands of sea gulls taking flight when the first engine fires in the garage. The strangely metallic and vibrating rumble that comes from a line of cars speeding through turn four. Gaps in the traffic filled by the constant prattle of the public address. Joining a busload of senior citizens for an afternoon matinee at the Regal Ormond Beach Cinema 12, just off Williamson, conveniently on the pathway to and from the track.
Beers at the Boot. The IROC luncheon. The often laughable drawing of starting positions for the Busch Clash and its descendants. Driving up to St. Augustine to watch my friends Those Guys playing music.
It will be five years since I spent most of February in Daytona Beach (and thereabouts) for Speedweeks. I still watch the races on TV. What I miss are the sensations, and I’m not sure why. I can still conjure them up.
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