Minter: Let’s Raise A Cup to Cup
Well it’s New Year’s Eve. Another year about to end. Time to sing “Auld Lang Syne,” a familiar tune but one that’s sad in a way even as it’s sung at what is otherwise a festive welcome to a new year.
A little research on the Net shows that the old Scottish lyrics talk about raising a toast and remembering days gone by and the fun adventures shared with friends. The song’s name itself translates to something like “old long since” or “days of long ago.”
I find myself humming the tune as I go about my daily chores on a rainy day in Georgia, and I’m thinking over the last year on the racing circuit. Several days gone by immediately came to mind.
For starters, the two days spent in the media center at Daytona International Speedway during Preseason Thunder, which continues as a fan and media event even though there’s no thunder from testing anymore.
It’s a time of interviewing drivers for the first time of the season and a time to visit for the first time of the year with fellow reporters. For the most part both the drivers and the media folks are a friendly lot, and it’s a great time, work-wise and socially.
For the most part, the drivers are far more relaxed than on a race weekend. And it’s nice to do interviews in a setting where you have your laptop and other equipment before you, and the interviews are conducted in an orderly fashion. It’s far distant from the often-unproductive pushing and shoving scrums behind the haulers that will occur later in the year.
Speed Weeks is another fond memory. The dragged-out schedule offers some chances to visit in the garage with those who can be the best story sources – the crew chiefs, mechanics and others with mechanical expertise – and they’re just fun folks to visit with too.
The first trip of the year to a short track, in this case Martinsville Speedway, is always good for the soul. The tight, noisy confines of the track seem cozy compared to the monster facilities like Daytona. Martinsville hot dogs are like Grandma’s cooking compared to the fare at most places. I find myself buying two at a time and wanting more about 30 minutes later.
Any trip to Talladega is special. It’s like a home track for folks like me from neighboring Georgia. The roar of 43 cars accelerating off the fourth corner is something that gives me a rush even after hearing it thousands of times. I’m not a fan of restrictor-plate racing, but I am a fan of Talladega, which is something I wrestle with a lot.
The twice-a-year trips to Bristol Motor Speedway are always highlights. They start with a nice dinner for the print media folks, hosted by Lori Worley and the PR folks from the track. Lori and her crew are old school when it comes to such events. Most tracks have long since dispensed with events like that, which is a shame.
Seeing a large crowd on hand for Atlanta Motor Speedway’s first scheduled nighttime Cup race was memorable. Track president Ed Clark and his staff had the heat on them, after several attendance-challenged events, but they were rewarded with a great crowd, great weather and a great race.
Any trip to a local dirt track is like going to a covered-dish family reunion at the old homestead. It’s a chance to see old friends and celebrate a style of stock car racing that was the foundation of the sport yet continues to thrive.
But no matter where the travels carry me or what I see and report, in the end it’s the time spent with friends that matters most.
It’s a long chat with Terry Labonte in the outside garage stall at Atlanta, where he was assigned when driving for a team at the bottom of the owners points standings. It’s talking about old tractors with Ryan Newman or Missouri farmland with Carl Edwards. It’s listening to fellow reporter Monte Dutton play his guitar or hearing Humpy Wheeler’s take on the state of the sport, and hearing it over the roar of cars at Martinsville. It’s a great interview with Denny Hamlin, conducted in the garage at Talladega long after his peers had cleared out. It’s visiting with crew chief David Hyder as he prepared the cars Bill Elliott will drive, and it’s opening the e-mail from someone who read something I wrote and liked it.
There also were some sad times, like losing a friend like David Poole, who left a great void in the sport, and seeing other friends suffer with illnesses.
But all in all it was a good year.
I’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgNo Comment