NASCAR: In The End, It’s All About The Wheelman

The momentum may seem to be in Harvicks favor, but he has Kyle Busch to get through.

The momentum may seem to be in Harvicks favor, but he has Kyle Busch to get through.

In the end, all things being as equal as they can, it’s really about the driver. The wheelman. The competitor.

If you try and break down what is happening in NASCAR at the moment you can only come to a few conclusions: (1) Toyota has found a way to pull more horsepower and save fuel, which puts them in the hunt. Particularly with Kyle Busch, a true wheelman. (2) Stewart-Haas Racing has found something in it’s handling, but it’s two real advantages are Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch. (3) Ford, meaning Penske, has faltered slightly but they have Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.

We can try all we want to make it something else, but they’ve finally gotten it down to where the last races remaining will be against these drivers. Note I didn’t say teams, they’ve managed to draw them very close to one another in performance.

Yes, the very tiny things from an engineering point of view matter when you have drivers of this caliber on each other with the voracity we’re seeing, but it has narrowed down to sheer willpower and who can make the best decisions regarding the utilization of their talent.

Harvick at Dover beat everyone like a Minnesota mule, but that was Dover, that doesn’t mean he’ll be dominant at Charlotte, it could be any one of the aforementioned drivers whose team have taken their equipment and passed the engineering minutiae wand over it.

No one is taking this next round lightly and everything they can do to win or stay in the hunt until there are four will be done, no matter how aggressive they get. Conspiracy theories will be rife among the regular racing media and particularly among the fan base.

This hasn't been the final year Gordon was looking for. He seems to be resigned to retirement.

This hasn’t been the final year Gordon was looking for. He seems to be resigned to retirement.

A fistfight isn’t out of the question and if it happens don’t expect points penalties to handed out, NASCAR needs the excitement. The ratings are not improving, nothing beats a good brawl to attract more viewers.

How many Toyotas does it take to win a championship? Conventional wisdom would say all four of them, but that isn’t the case. It’s really Kyle Busch who has the confidence and skill to make that trophy his. All of Gibbs‘s gang are talented drivers, but Busch has the bit in his mouth and the willpower to take on General Motors and Penske/Ford.

With Ford, it’s the ‘Little Train that Could’ with Keselowski and Logano. Both of these drivers are strong and fearless, but with a two car team how much interference will they run into when the field narrows? A hell of a lot.

Hendrick? Their star, Johnson, is out and that doesn’t bode well for the manufacturer’s anchor team. GM knows it so look for heavy attention to be thrown on Harvick and Busch. The irony is that none of these drivers really care very much for each other, Busch brothers included. Only Gordon and Earnhardt have any hope at all in the Hendrick camp. Hope floats and so does that thing in the YMCA pool.

Once the next two races are in the books look for NASCAR to frisk them before they get into their cars for weapons. This is a serious fight that this crop of drivers are willing to wad up their cars over.

What about Earnhardt? It remains to be seen if he can mount the mental challenge and drag talent up from the depths to take this UFC fight on wheels to the finish. When it comes down to it, however, the rest of the Hendrick crew will run for Dale Jr, should he make it to the final race. It just seems that Gordon has resigned himself to retirement.

This is going to be a dogfight and the losers are not going to be as gracious as Jimmie Johnson was at Dover.

This time around, enemies are going to be made and they won’t forget it.

 

Most Chase Leaders Qualify Well, But Race Is Different Matter

Jeff Gordon won the pole for the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte. It was his second pole of the season.

CONCORD, N.C. – As a rule, qualifying results seldom indicate which driver will win a race.

To be honest, practice sessions usually lend more evidence of driver strength – but they don’t guarantee anything, either.

Nevertheless, when a driver wins the pole or even qualifies well, not only does it provide a sense of accomplishment and confidence, it also suggests to many the driver will be one to watch during the race.

Let’s face it, after qualifying any driver would prefer to be at the front of the field than at the rear – especially if that driver is in contention for a championship.

The Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway is the fifth race in the 10-event Chase for the Sprint Cup.

As it stands at the halfway point of the Chase, five drivers realistically have a shot at the championship. Three of them qualified in the top five, one made it into the top 10 and another barely cracked the top 20.

Jeff Gordon, fourth in points, won the pole. It was his second of the season, ninth at CMS and 74th of his career. He’s 32 points behind leader Matt Kenseth.

He’s in good company. Kevin Harvick qualified second and at least gave himself a good start toward his second consecutive victory of the season. He won six days ago at Kansas.

Harvick ranks third in points, 25 behind Kenseth.

Kevin Harvick won at Kansas last week and his second-place qualifying run at CMS may increase his chances for a sweep.

Then there’s Jimmie Johnson. The five-time champion qualified fourth and, like the others, has given himself at least a good head start toward overtaking Kenseth, whom he trails by a mere three points.

Kyle Busch, fifth and 35 points behind Kenseth, will have to work a bit harder than the others to get to the front of the pack after he qualified ninth.

And then there’s Kenseth. The points leader qualified what was surely a disappointing 20th. Again, it must be said that where a driver starts by no means indicates where he’ll finish.

Kenseth, however, clearly has some work to do.

“We just weren’t very good,” said Kenseth, who has won seven races in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing. “We got out first in qualifying but I don’t think the draw meant a thing. It was cloudy all day.”

Kenseth clearly understood his dilemma. He’s going to have to race his way to a decent finish.

“At Dover our performance was pretty good, but then we slipped a little bit and Kansas was off,” he said. “To have a legitimate shot at winning this thing you have to be in the top-three or top-five, I think.

“You have to be in that group. And I hope our car is good enough to get us there Saturday.”

Kenseth has been first in points over the last five races and during that time, Johnson as steadily gained on him. He is a six-time CMS winner but hasn’t won since 2009 and has finished out of the top 20 four times.

“It’s a little different now than it was five or six years ago,” Johnson said. “That was when they resurfaced the track. So we’re still trying to find that magic we lost.

“I still feel we’re in that top-three or top-five group week-in and week-out. As long as Matt isn’t winning then a top three or five wouldn’t be too bad this weekend.”

A top-three or top-five wouldn’t be bad for Harvick, either. In fact, it would probably intensify his quest for a championship in his last season with Richard Childress Racing.

“Winning the pole at the race at Kansas and qualifying well here gives us a lot of confidence,” Harvick said. “That’s confidence in the things that we can do and need to do in order to keep ourselves in position to race for this championship.

“We’ve got a good shot here and we need to take advantage of it. As the schedule goes toward the end of the year the race tracks get better for us.

“And we can move right on down the line.”

Gordon, four times a champion, is winless this season yet he remains a title contender. In other words, his “Drive for Five” is indeed alive.

“It’s been a while since we’ve won a pole at Charlotte as well as doing it in the good fashion we did,” said Gordon, who has finished sixth or better in three of the last four races. “We needed to have a strong qualifying effort. That hasn’t happened a lot this year.

“A lot can happen but qualifying well, starting at the front and having a good pit stall makes for a good start to the race and a good start to the weekend.”

Gordon effectively summed up the value of a good qualifying run, even though it does not assure victory.

Let’s face it, every driver in the garage area would agree with Gordon – without hesitation.

 

 

The Numbers Give Chevrolet The Edge At Charlotte

Jimmie Johnson is a six-time winner at Charlotte Motor Speedway and comes into this weekend’s race just three points out of the lead in the standings.

CONCORD, N.C. – Chevrolet is a 36-time NASCAR Manufacturers’ Champion on the Sprint Cup circuit and the odds are it will earn its 37th title this season.With six races remaining, Chevy holds a 10-point lead over Toyota (206-196).

That’s not insurmountable but it is formidable.If Chevy does win another title, it will mean that it has won it 37 times since its full-time return to NASCAR in 1972, 41 years ago.

Return?

Oh, yes.

While Chevrolet competed regularly in NASCAR’s formative years, during most of the 1960s – the decade in which NASCAR raced into its superspeedway era – Chevy was out of racing.

As far as NASCAR was concerned, General Motors was a non-entity. Chrysler and Ford held sway with such dominant teams as Petty Enterprises (Chrysler) and Holman-Moody (Ford).

Thing was, Chevrolet was far and away the most popular car in America.

As the oft-told story goes, one of NASCAR’s most successful drivers and team owners realized this and thought something could be done about it.

Junior Johnson was a Ford man during the ‘60s but when the 1970s began, he found it difficult to acquire the necessary funds and technical assistance he needed from the manufacturer.

At the time, Ford was backing several successful teams and it is safe to say its pockets were only so deep.

In 1972, Bobby Allison drove a Chevrolet built by Junior Johnson to 10 wins, which cemented Chevy’s return to racing.

Johnson’s last hurrah with Ford came in 1969, when Lee Roy Yarbrough won NASCAR’s “Triple Crown” with victories at Daytona, Charlotte and   Darlington.

After a couple of seasons running a part-time schedule Johnson was approached by millionaire Richard Howard, the president of Charlotte Motor Speedway, prior to the 1971 season.

Like Johnson, Howard knew that Chevy was out of racing. Being the keen promoter he was, he figured fans would turn out in droves at CMS to see a competitive Chevy on the track.

So he approached Johnson and said if the team owner from Ronda, N.C., would build a Chevy Howard would pay for it.

The deal was struck and Howard was listed as the owner of the Chevrolets Johnson built. “Chargin’ ” Charlie Glotzbach was hired as the driver.

Howard’s hopes were realized at the World 600 at CMS. Glotzbach won the pole and, in front of a huge crowd, led the most laps until a blown engine forced him to a 28th place finish.

Soon after, Glotzbach won at Bristol. That made it official – after many years, Chevy was a winner again.

Knowing full well Chevy’s impact, Howard and Johnson required promoters to pay a fee of thousands of dollars if they wanted the car in their races.

Some refused to pay. Many others did not.

In 1972 Howard and Johnson decided to run for the Winston Cup championship. They wanted to keep Glotzbach but had to accept a better offer.

Looking for work, Bobby Allison came to Johnson and Howard with a Coca-Cola sponsorship of $80,000 – a significant sum for the day.

In a red-and-gold Chevrolet Allison helped make NASCAR history. He won 10 races but, in a season-long war with Richard Petty, lost the championship by 128 points to his rival.

No matter. Chevrolet had a firm foothold in NASCAR. Success continued with Johnson, who became the team owner again after Howard’s departure following the 1974 season.

With Cale Yarborough aboard Johnson’s Chevy won three consecutive championships in 1976-1978.

That stood as the NASCAR record until Jimmie Johnson – yep, in a Chevrolet – won five in a row from 2006-2010.

Johnson is in a fight for a sixth championship. There are five drivers who have a shot at the title as the season moves to the Bank of America 500 at CMS, but the most intense battle may be waged between Johnson and points leader Matt Kenseth, who has had a superb season in Joe Gibbs Racing’s Toyotas.

Kenseth leads Johnson by a mere three points.

“The track has been really good to us,” said Johnson, who has six career wins at Charlotte. “I certainly need another strong outing the way things are going in the Chase right now.

“I know our setup will be different here than it was in the spring. I feel we’re better off now.

“Of course, the whole field is better, too.”

For Chevrolet, the numbers are strong at CMS. Chevy drivers have won 41 of 109 races at the 1.5-mile track.

That includes three of the last five – Kevin Harvick (Coca-Cola 600, 2011-2013) and Kasey Kahne (600, 2012).

“It was good pit strategy that we hit on the last race here,” said Harvick, the winner at Kansas last week who is currently third in points, 25 behind Kenseth. “Gil Martin (crew chief) made the right call at the end to put us in position to have a good restart.

“Once we were in the right spot we were able to hold the lead.”

While it appears the numbers and the odds favor Chevrolet at Charlotte, there are certainly no guarantees – hardly.

Heck, even Chevy drivers will tell you that.

 

 

Hendrick Teams Differ In Season Performance, But All Able To Win 600

Although he hasn't won since Michigan in 2008, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has enjoyed a revitalized season in 2012 and has become a strong suit at Hendrick Motorsports. But he has yet to win.

CONCORD, N.C. – While Jimmie Johnson is considered a strong favorite to win the Coca-Cola 600, and thereby continue the resurgence of his Hendrick Motorsports team, his teammates won’t share his status.

Make no mistake, certainly they would like to win and it’s very possible that one of them will.

But, truth be known, they would likely be very pleased if they could finish among the top five – maybe even the top 10 – in the longest race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit.

Unlike Johnson, who has won the last two NASCAR events within a week, his three teammates have experienced different results this year.

Critics would give them “mixed” reviews.

One of them has had a solid year, but he still hasn’t won.

Another started his inaugural season with Hendrick horribly. But he has rebounded with top-10 finishes in each of the last five races.

The third has had such an uncharacteristically poor season that he’s even joked about it. Unless things improve dramatically he won’t make the Chase and get a shot at a fifth career championship.

Along with Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be considered a potential 600 winner. He, too, has been on a streak of sorts.

He won the Sprint Showdown and one segment of the Sprint All Star Race, won by Johnson. In the 600, Earnhardt Jr. will race the same Chevrolet in which he won the Showdown.

All of this seems to bode well for Earnhardt Jr. Additionally, even though his record in the 600 hasn’t been particularly good over the past several years, he was en route victory last year when he ran out of gas.

“You definitely feel you let one get away,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “When you come close to winning a race you definitely think about what you might have done different, or ‘If only this or that.’

“But you don’t think about that too much. You can get distracted and not really be thinking about what you’re trying to do that moment.”

Earnhardt Jr. was once the weakest link in the Hendrick chain. No longer.

This season he has finished out of the top 10 only twice and has five runs of seventh or better – including two runnerup and two thirds.

He’s been hovering near the points lead for most of the season. Going into the 600 he was in third place, just 14 points leader Greg Biffle. He’s two positions and 25 points ahead of Johnson.

Earnhardt Jr., who earned his last win at Michigan in 2008, has been flirting with victory so often that many supporters say it’s now only a matter of time.

That time could come at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I think we’re confident,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We know what kind of potential we have and we are all expecting to improve over some of the things we did last week.

“It’s (crew chief) Steve Legate’s and his group’s job to get together and squeeze a little more speed out of the car. We need to try to work harder to go better and to go faster.

“If the car is good enough and we do everything we need to do, we’ll be right there with an opportunity to win a race. That’s what you have to concentrate on.”

Hendrick teammates Jeff Gordon (left) and Kasey Kahne have had their struggles this season. Kahne is making advances but Gordon is still slumping.

Team owner Rick Hendrick was among the many who thought Kasey Kahne would be a perfect fit at his organization.

After all, Kahne, who replaced the departed Mark Martin, came with excellent credentials. At age 32 with eight full seasons under his belt, he had won 12 races, including one with the lame duck Red Bull team last year at Phoenix.

But his season started miserably. Because of several misfortunes, his best run was a 14th at Fontana. He finished 29th or worse in four races. By the sixth race of the year he was 31st in points.

He been on a rally ever since. He came to Charlotte with a five-race string of top-10 finishes. He has climbed to 16th in points.

Obviously Kahne would like keep his good roll going at Charlotte.

“To me, the season hasn’t been great,” said Kahne, who will make his 300th career start at CMS. “But I do think some people may have thought it was much worse than what it was.

“I feel like we’ve been running pretty well since the start of the season. But we really haven’t made those big gains yet. We have speed and it’s obvious it’s right there. We just need to put it all together.”

Kahne isn’t sour about how his season started. He believes it was a result of certain circumstances.

“I am happy for everybody at Hendrick Motorsports over what’s been accomplished so far,” he said. “And as for the way we’ve run, I don’t think it’s necessarily me. Our team isn’t running as well as we would like – for now.

“But it is nice to know that everything we need is right there. We have the same stuff everyone else has and we’ve been able to use some of it to get better.

“If we hit on things hopefully we can run as good as the No. 48 (Johnson) has been running.”

Jeff Gordon is now in his 20th NASCAR season, all of which have been spent with Hendrick.

He has won 85 races and four championships. He was, without a doubt, the star player at Hendrick until Johnson’s rise, marked by five consecutive titles.

In 2012 what was once Gordon’s “star” has become a black hole.

He has only two finishes among the top 10 and seven of 20th or worse – including four beyond the top 30.

He’s been hammered by a series of improbable, unfortunate incidents that include everything from engine failure to poor pit stops to a tire that goes flat not once, but twice.

Gordon’s luck has been so bad Hendrick declared on national TV that he wouldn’t get in an airplane with him.

Even Gordon has been upbeat in post-race interviews following another disappointing race. He said there is a reason for that.

“What are you going to do other than keep your head up and work hard?” Gordon said. “You go to the next race and try to change it.

“We’ve got too good of a team and too good of a race cars to try to get down on ourselves about the way things are going. It’s tough.

“The timing gets tougher and tougher all the time because the more races that go by that we don’t get the results, the harder and harder that mountain is to climb.

“We just have to stay positive and say, ‘Hey, this is our week, this is our week.’ You can do that for only so long. We’re still doing it. Hopefully, we’ll see the results.”

For Gordon, who is 24th in points and in need of at least one victory to have any chance at the Chase as a “wildcard” entry, the results could come in the 600. He has won five times at Charlotte, one less than Johnson.

“I am excited about this weekend,” Gordon said. “At the All Star Race we learned a lot and also learned from Jimmie’s bunch, who dominated the race.

“We learned, as a team, on what we can do to be really, really good this weekend.”

In the 600 there will be four Hendrick teams on four different levels of performance. All of them, of course, hope for a good, productive outing.

One of them may have the ultimate performance.

That’s because any one of them could win. That’s a given.

 

Yarborough Smoked The Bristol Field In The Snoozer Of 1977

Cale Yarborough had a superb 1977 NASCAR Winston Cup season. He won nine races and the second of his three consecutive championships.

Among his victories were the Daytona 500 and six of that season’s 10 short-track races.

Make no mistake, that Yarborough dominated the half-milers – he never finished out of the top-five in any of them – was a key element to his title, which he claimed with two races remaining in the 30-event season.

One of the reasons Yarborough was so successful on the short tracks was that he was driving for Junior Johnson.

Well before 1977 Johnson had figured out how to win on the half-milers, just as the Wood Brothers routinely whooped up on the competition on the superspeedways.

Johnson cars won very often at Richmond, Nashville, North Wilkesboro (which was just a stone’s throw from Johnson’s home), Martinsville and Bristol – especially Bristol.

After Daytona, which Yarborough won partially because big-track stalwarts David Pearson (driving for the Woods), Richard Petty, Neil Bonnett and Bobby Allison all suffered engine failure, four of the next seven races were conducted on short tracks.

Yarborough won all four of them.

He won at Richmond, North Wilkesboro, Bristol and Martinsville.

To simply say he won at Bristol is a vast understatement. Yarborough dominated like few other drivers have ever done at any race in NASCAR’s history.

To set the stage, what was then known as Bristol International Raceway wasn’t remotely close to what it is today. The only thing that remains somewhat the same, not entirely, is the track’s configuration.

In 1969 the track was converted from a half-mile to 0.533-mile and the banking was increased from 22 degrees to 36. It became the high-speed hippodrome that it essentially is today.

Yarborough came into the Southeastern 500 on April 17, 1977, the eighth race of the season, as, of course, the odds-on favorite.

He won the pole, led 495 of 500 laps and crossed the finish line seven laps – that’s right, seven laps – ahead of the late Dick Brooks.

Brooks, then driving Junie Donlavey’s Ford, came up with the best quote of the race: “The only way I could have beaten Cale was to have someone in the pits shooting his tires out.”

You can just imagine how unexciting – OK, boring – the race was. More than half of the fans, and there weren’t all that many of them there to begin with, were long gone before Yarborough mercifully took the checkered flag.

The media in the press box, I think there were 13 or so of us, quit taking notes about halfway through the race.

The only real news that would come out of this Bristol race was if Yarborough crashed out and handed the victory to someone else. Which, of course, didn’t happen.

As I recall, we told some pretty good jokes.

Tom Higgins, then the motorsports writer for the Charlotte Observer and my good buddy, was as bored as everyone else.

Now, in the press box at that time, the radio booth was adjacent to the writers’ area and separated only by a pane of glass.

In that booth the late Hal Hamrick, with the Universal Radio Network, was babbling excitedly.

“What the heck can he be talking so much about?” Higgins asked me. “There’s not a durn thing going on in the race. Cale is running away with it.”

With a gleam in his eye Higgins scribbled something on a piece of paper. He then pressed the message against the glass so Hamrick could read it.

Once he did, Hamrick broke out in loud laughter. Trying to keep his radio composure, he said, “Ladies and gentlemen … Ha! Ha! Ha! … Please excuse me, but … Ha! Ha! Ha! … Tom Higgins is trying to break me up here and … Ha! Ha! Ha! … He’s doing a darn good job of it!”

Tom’s message? It was, “This race is about as exciting as artificial insemination!”

As the race wore on some of us became conspiracy theorists – which is a bit more than cynical. We’ve always been that.
Some figured Johnson, known to be “creative” when it came to car preparation, had found some secret to short-track setups, or perhaps engines, that enabled his Chevrolets to outperform all other models.

“He’s got to be doing something,” one cynic said. “Ask me, a monkey could have won in that car today.”

If Johnson indeed had created a super short-track car by some diabolical means, and was successful with it well beyond 1977, we never found out about it – and neither did NASCAR.

Yarborough won the second Bristol race of the season, the Volunteer 400 on Aug. 28, but he didn’t dominate.

That’s largely because he was leading when light rain started to fall. The last 34 laps were run under caution, which meant no one could improve position.

Darrell Waltrip finished second, the only other driver to complete all 400 laps.

Waltrip, by the way, finished 19th, 79 laps down to Yarborough, in the snoozer that was the 1977 Southeastern 500.

At The NMPA Hall Of Fame The True Message Was Delivered

This time, at the National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall of Fame ceremony on Jan. 22, it seemed everyone realized what it is all about.

The capacity crowd at the Hilton in Charlotte seemed to recognize, and appreciate, those from NASCAR’s past, their contributions to the sport and their suggestions that what happened years ago helped bring the sport to what it is now.

In other words, they got it.
There were many times they didn’t. They would socialize, have dinner, listen to a few speeches, offer cursory applause and leave.
But this year they were enraptured by the words they heard; by the messages they were sent. I believe they left with a keener sense of days gone by and the contributions of men who competed when racing was far more a sport than a corporate entity.

I think much of that was a result of the inductees, and others, who spoke so passionately – not about themselves or their accomplishments, but about how they lived, played, worked and shared in a bygone era.

The inductees were Dale Jarrett, the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup champion and winner of 32 races, including three Daytona 500s and two Brickyard 400s.

Waddell Wilson, the long-time engine builder and crew chief whose cars won 109 races, 123 poles and three championships.
Tom Higgins, who covered motorsports for the Charlotte Observer for nearly 40 years and is the winner of too many writing awards to mention. He is also the recipient of the NASCAR Award of Excellence.

All of them did much more than say a string of “thank yous.” They told tales. They verbally painted pictures of the past. They told everyone how it was during a time when you worked hard, didn’t make much money and yet shared with rivals.

A couple of them spoke at great length, which in the past could have had folks nodding off or heading for the door. Not this time.
“I could have sat there all night long and listened to those stories,” said Ford’s Dan Zacharias. He wasn’t alone.
The erudite Kyle Petty, who inducted Wilson, stressed, that while Wilson the man deserved the honor for his accomplishments, he did so much more.

“You have to understand what he brought to others and the sport itself,” Petty said. “He was a teacher. He brought innovation to racing. His skills made those who worked for him, and others, better. He helped grow racing, which today, without men like Waddell Wilson, wouldn’t be what it is.”

Jarrett gave an example of that.
“When Waddell would be testing with his teams he would invite me to join them when I had a Busch Series team,” he said. “I didn’t have to pay a cent.

“Whatever he could do for me, he did. I learned so much from him. He didn’t have to do that.”
Wilson, always shy of attention, admitted he never thought the day would come when he would enter a hall of fame.

“When I started out with Holman-Moody (in the 1960s) I had to have a job to put food on the table,” he said. “I worked from eight in the morning until 10 at night. I got paid $1.50 an hour and took all the overtime I could get.

“All I wanted was having the fastest car possible and I pushed the envelope to do that.”
By pushing the envelope Wilson meant that there were times when he would build, and rebuild, an engine – by himself, late into the night – until he got what he wanted.

The goal was to beat the other guys. But Wilson added everyone knew they were in racing together as something of an extended family.
“I remember throwing away some parts,” he said. “Wendell Scott (the late African-American driver who is also a member of the hall of fame) asked me not to do it.

“They were good parts that he could use. I gave them to him, certainly. Everybody liked Wendell – and that’s what you did back then.”
Higgins’ recollections of his most memorable moments in racing included tales of the great, Dale Earnhardt, and the not-so-great, Johnny Ray. They were funny and poignant.

Higgins also reflected on how the media operated in the past. There weren’t that many of them and they certainly didn’t work in as nearly competitive, or high-tech, age.

“I understand how it is today,” Higgins said. “It’s always a scramble not to get beat on a story and that’s difficult.
“But while we tried to do the same thing, we were somewhat protective of the drivers. If you were sitting there with a gin and tonic in front of you and saw a driver doing the same thing, you couldn’t rightly or fairly report that you saw a driver drinking – or any other thing you were doing as well.”

Yes, I fully understand NASCAR isn’t remotely like it used to be. And it can’t be. It had to grow; to change with the times and technology if it was to survive.

I fully understand the new, expanding media – I have been around a long time and have my own tales to tell – but, hey, I’m still part of it.

I think that on that night in Charlotte, a trio of men so vividly reminded us all of how it used to be and how the achievements and sacrifices of many, who often interacted, raised NASCAR to what it is today.

They said far more than “Thank you.”
Higgins summarized it best:
“Today’s drivers, with their motorhomes and jets, every time they see any hall of fame member in this room they should hug them around the neck,” he said. “Then they should say, ‘Thank you for making all of this possible for me.’ ”

Everyone fully understood that on a night when no one nodded off or bolted for the door.

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