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Minter: Trips To Tracks Produce Loads Of Winners

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, December 29 2009
It is not just people and vehicles which fill the infields of race tracks. It's memories. (RacinToday file photo by Tony Bush)

It is not just people and vehicles which fill the infields of race tracks. It's memories. (RacinToday file photo by Tony Bush)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

When my RacinToday boss man Jim Pedley wrote recently about Road America and smelly feet, he accomplished what all columnists set out to do in the beginning – he got people to thinking. At least that’s the effect it had on me.

As I read about Pedley and his pals piling into a Winnebago and going to Road America on a shoe-string budget (http://www.racintoday.com/archives/12872), my mind wandered back to similar trips in my early years.

I thought about all the trips to Charlotte, Darlington and Talladega, packed like a sardine in Wesley Stubbs’ old Ford. About the smell of home-cooked fried chicken and biscuits that we brought from home. About the arguments, friendly of course, about the route we’d take or the best ways to maximize gas mileage. This was in the days before interstate routes to the tracks were complete and in a day when the trip carried you through a dozen or more small towns, each interesting in its own way.

I thought about all the times Andy Cash and I took an old pick-up truck, its bed filled with lumber and groceries, and headed out to the infield at Atlanta International Raceway. We’d buy the cheapest pass available – one for the infield – and drive under the cross bar intended to limit the height of vehicles parked near the track. Then we’d use the lumber to build a scaffold that, while somewhat rickety, gave us a great view of the track.

I can still picture Dale Earnhardt, sitting low in the seat of the No. 3 Chevy, head leaned hard left, sawing on the steering wheel as if he was about to spin out. And that scene never changed even when he built a lead of several hundred yards.

I remembered taking my young bride and child to Darlington, spending the night in the only available motel  –  one with a busted main window and a green ring around the bottom of the bathtub. And of her insisting that we make alternate plans in case the roaches carried one of us off during the night.

I recalled a poor decision on my part, in a effort to avoid post-race traffic at Atlanta, to cut across a freshly graded field. It was all going well until the left front tire picked up a chunk of tree root and slammed it against the fuel pump of the truck. Andy Cash, whose innovative ways allowed him to later put two kids through college with money earned from racing a Hobby car, figured out that if we wedged a piece of wood and the floor mat between the remains of the fuel pump and the frame, the pump would continue working. The wedge fell out a couple of times on the way home, and the look on the faces of those who stopped to help, only to see us drive off again, was one I’ll never forget.

I also remembered, from more recent times, the nights my colleague Monte Dutton and I would leave a Cup track on Saturday afternoon and go find some short track race to watch. Some of my most cherished memories from my time following the Cup circuit are the late-night rides from Martinsville to South Boston, Va., and back to our hotel in Eden, N.C.

Boss-man Pedley’s piece also made me think, because nowhere in the story does he mention who won the races that long-ago weekend at Road America.

It made me realize that it’s the adventure, not the event, that makes the memories. It’s a lesson NASCAR and its track operators should pay attention to.

Maybe it’s too easy to attend races today.

Would we have had as much fun back in the day if we’d had a hotel/airline/ticket package? Would we have had as much fun in a suite as we did in the infield, grilling burgers on a rack sitting atop a stack of bricks and watching the race from our perch on a home-built viewing platform?

For the most part, I’d say the answer to those questions is “No.” But I’m encouraged when I think back to some of my conversations with the current prez at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It seems Ed Clark has spent considerable time visiting with the folks in the campgrounds at his track and at Bristol Motor Speedway. And he seems to have come to the conclusion that it’s the adventure, not just an auto race, that people are really after. And he says he’s intent on turning his Labor Day weekend event into a combination of auto race and state fair.

I hope he succeeds. Just the thought of it makes me want to start accumulating scaffolding lumber.

Happy New Year, everyone.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, December 29 2009
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