Sunday, I did something I had not done in about a year.
I watched a stock car race. Almost every lap. The race at Darlington, the legendary speedway nicknamed the “Lady in Black” and “The Track Too Tough to Tame.”
It marked NASCAR's return in a season red-flagged in mid-March by the coronavirus crisis.
I was curious. No fans in the stands. Just drivers, pit crews, several members of the media, Fox Sports television crew — and masks and social distancing. Commentators Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon called the race from Charlotte.
I found it weird and rather boring. Kind of boring like the others over the past decade or so.
Yes, The Rolfeman is down on NASCAR, along with Formula One and IndyCar.
My passion for NASCAR began its slow death that horrible day in February 2001 when “The Intimidator,” Dale Earnhardt, my idol and hero, lost his life on the final lap of the Daytona 500 — a race won by Michael Waltrip.
NASCAR's retooling and makeover of an established multi-generation sport that wasn't broken and, therefore, needed no fixing ushered in this bizarre world of the infamous chase-and-stage racing. Total insanity.
Formula One was fun back when they raced at Watkins Glen up to 1980, and in the 1970s, 80s and 90s when those speeding through Monaco, Brands Hatch, Imola and Montreal for the world title were guys named Fittipaldi, Hunt, Piquet, Prost, Senna, Mansell, Schumacher and Villeneuve.
IndyCar racing, I never quite fell in love with, although Mario Andretti has always been one of my speed-demon idols, ranking alongside Earnhardt and Ayrton Senna.
Before my internal engine soured on motorsports, let the record show I was a motorhead from way back.
Dale Earnhardt, Davey Allison, Neil Bonnett, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace and Dale Earnhardt Jr. — over time I collected an assortment of their souvenir hats and shirts. I subscribed to AutoWeek and NASCAR Scene.
My NASCAR coverage beat took me, and assorted shotgun cohorts to Charlotte, Martinsville, Dover, Watkins Glen and, of course, Pocono — that tricky triangle carved out of a spinach patch in the heart of the Pocono Mountains.
Down-and-back, same-day road trips with Slip (Ric White) to races at Pocono are, well, shall we say — legendary. I may be wrong, but I think lead-footed Slip may have hit speeds on I-81 that rivaled those during green flag racing on Pocono's front straightaway.
On the few times I went to Pocono solo for Sunday's race, like in the early 80s, there was the pitstop to deliver a Mangialardo pizza — made the night before on Sayre's Eastside — to one of the Bodine brothers.
NASCAR's annual August stop at The Glen was a royal reason to party hearty. Read on for more highlights.
In 1979 and 1980, we covered the final two U.S. Grand Prix races at Watkins Glen. I got to sit next to Emerson Fittipaldi in a press conference. Now that was cool.
In 1983, four of us brave, adventurous souls ventured to Indianapolis for the 500. Hospitality there was incredible. Just several blocks from the speedway, we stumbled upon a wonderful family who for $20 the entire weekend allowed us to camp in their backyard, take showers and basically have free run to their home. Heck, they even fed us and directed us to a nearby drive-thru beer barn where we got our first taste of Buckhorn Beer at a bargain-basement price no less.
Much closer to home, many weekend nights were spent at local short tracks. Sharpsteen and Chandler were among my favorites.
It is Watkins Glen that tops the highlight / lowlight reel.
Okay, my first experience at the Glen was Summer Jam in 1973 to see the Grateful Dead, The Band and The Allman Brothers. That trip is somewhat foggy for obvious reasons.
So were some of the Bud at The Glen racing weekends.
It became tradition while covering Saturday's action to visit the locals' camp site. Plenty of beer and vittles.
On one occasion, I stayed far too long, and needing to restock my film supply for Sunday's action I had to get back to the Valley. I left, probably around 1 o'clock in the morning, but for reasons still unknown to this day took a wrong turn at Alpine Junction and wound up lost in Newfield, of all places on earth to be lost at 2:30 in the morning.
Back in the Valley an hour or so later, I gathered supplies, changed my clothes and headed back to the Glen, finding a prime-time parking spot next to the Watkins Glen International press tower just before sunrise. Not long after I was awakened by none other than Terry Day, of WETM-18 Sports. With virtually no sleep race day was an excruciatingly long day.
In the 1991 race, I by chance ventured down the backstretch — something I had never done previously — and witnessed J.D. McDuffie's fatal crash. It wasn't until after the race I learned J.D. had died. Talk about a real bummer.
Most painful of all was the mega-party that led to a bloody mouth, a flip off a fence during a sight-seeing excursion, a visit to the infirmary later that night — and an appointment with my good doctor, Ed Jones several days later.
The bloody mouth occurred when I chowed down a couple dozen shrimp. Apparently, I did not realize they had not been peeled.
As dusk was about settle in, our gang went visiting. The shortest of the crew, I had difficulty climbing over a cow fence. With a sideways, summersault flip, I landed on my left side, with Coors Light still in hand and I don't think I spilled a drop. Breathing, however, was extremely difficult, but I carried on.
Later that night, intense pain invaded my left side and my campsite host — yes, there's that Slip White guy again — carted me off to the infirmary. I was given a bushel of Nuprin.
Several days later, my good doctor informed me I had either broken or severely bruised the ribs surrounding the spleen, which could spell trouble in the coming days, weeks and even months. I was informed to be on the lookout for passing blood or abdominal bloating.
After six months all was well.
And the next year, it was race coverage only for me at the Glen. I had learned my lesson the hard way.
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