Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, August 16, 2015, 12:34 p.m.
It occurred to me recently that the restoration of Darlington to Labor Day weekend means the restoration of what was, for years, my favorite stretch of the season.
To be fair, I enjoyed going to Michigan, but not as much for the racing as the fact that I just loved going there. I always thought the people who worked at the track were the friendliest in the Sprint Cup Series, and in the latter years of my time as a NASCAR beat reporter, Michigan built my favorite press box. It affords a wonderful view of the action.
In addition, I used to play my silly songs twice each year on Friday and Saturday nights at Captain Chuck’s, the lakeside bar and grill about 10 miles southwest of the track. A dozen regulars probably watched me every time I played, and friends in the business like Ron Lemasters Sr. (who died earlier this year), Nate Ryan, Dean McNulty, and Brad Winters were among those who stopped by on occasion, as did, in a complete surprise, Brad Keselowski, who came unannounced, for obvious reasons, but who graciously signed autographs for everyone there who wanted one.
The restoration of Darlington Raceway to its proper and righteous place lines up Bristol, Darlington, and Richmond. NASCAR just doesn’t get any better than that.
Bristol was where I first saw a major NASCAR race. Darlington was where my daddy took me every spring. In my boyhood, the Southern 500 was actually run on Labor Day, which was Monday, and in one of the more traumatic aspects of those years, I couldn’t go because I had football practice. Under the harsh direction of Keith Richardson and staff, I worked as hard, though not as well, as any of the race-car drivers.
Who knows? Maybe that’s why Darlington is and always will be my favorite track. I appreciate it.
At Bristol and Richmond, back when the NASCAR media had far more adventurous camaraderie than, as best I know, it does today, many of us partied in the parking lots after the night races. The best night was when Mojo Nixon and I swapped my guitar and took turns playing raucous songs at Bristol. To borrow the late George Gobel’s line, I felt like a brown pair of shoes matched with a tuxedo, but it was still fun.
Richmond was consistently better, but it got too big, and, as a result, died. First came free food, then respectability, and respectability signaled the end.
I used to call it the Perfect Crime because, when the crowd cleared out, so too did the cops.
Having to face the deadline pressure of a night race without the promise of beer and raucous war stories defeated all worthwhile purpose in the endeavor.
If times hadn’t changed, I dare say I’d miss them more. The money never was much, and now it’s the damn profession’s respectable.
Please consider reading my three novels — The Audacity of Dope, The Intangibles, and, still less than a month old, Crazy of Natural Causes — none of which are respectable but, if the idea of playing drunken songs in parking lots appeals to you, you can’t go wrong by ordering one or more here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1