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Minter: Road To Nashville Lined With Memories

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 12 2009
Nashville Superspeedway may not attract the fans in big numbers, but it has good racing, The Guitar and a lot of good memories. (RacinToday.com photo by David M. Vaughn) 

 

Nashville Superspeedway may not attract the fans in big numbers, but it has good racing, The Guitar and a lot of good memories. (RacinToday.com photo by David M. Vaughn)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

For reasons that no one can fully explain, Nashville Superspeedway, one of the finest facilities in motorsports, struggles to attract paying customers. Saturday’s 300-miler was no exception.

But if everyone’s Nashville memories were as cherished as mine, the grandstands would be overflowing.

On two occasions in the past, I’ve chosen Nashville races to do a ride-along story, one where the reporter stays with the team from the time it leaves the race shop through the trip back home.

The first such adventure was with Ron Young, an occasional Nationwide Series competitor from Conyers, Ga. We made the trip in his dad’s toter home – a combination tractor-trailer and motor home.

It was like traveling back in time in many respects. Where today’s top drivers stay in luxury motorcoaches at the track and travel back and forth by private jets, Ron did much of the driving himself. We stayed at a Microtel – two, three and four to a room. We ate mostly at fast food joints. Our big meal was at a Cracker Barrel.

Ron ran respectably in the race, in large part thanks to the cunning of his crew chief, Ricky Pearson. Pearson is the son of the legendary David Pearson, and even though he’s spent most of his career working for lower-tier teams, it’s clear from spending time around him that he inherited his father’s competitiveness and racing instincts.

Though Young ran well in the race, the difference in the way the haves and have-nots approach racing was brought home to me in a big way when Young spun in Turn Four. While his car was still sliding, Ron keyed his radio and said: “Well there goes 1,700 dollars.” That was the price at the time of the set of tires he’d just ruined.

The other memory that stands out from that trip was a late-night stop on the I-24 on-ramp at Manchester, Tenn. It was there that I witnessed the camaraderie that lures drivers and crew members to the sport even when the financial reward never comes.

Ron pulled the truck to a stop, locked the air brakes, and as the big Caterpillar engine idled, Young and the crew piled out onto the shoulder of the road.

Jerry Young unlocked the door to the transporter – where the car Ron just raced was riding overhead – opened the refrigerator and began slicing a tomato and making sandwiches on plain white bread. 

There, in the middle of the night, standing in the dim glow of the orange marker lights, munching sandwiches, was a grimy, sweaty race team that had finished 20th, four laps down. But they had been on the big stage, at the big show.

 Another Nashville trip was with ARCA driver Mark Gibson, the brother of Ryan Newman’s crew chief Tony Gibson.

Mark Gibson, now a team manager for Cunningham Motorsports and occasional competitor, spent most of his driving career getting by with hand-me-down parts and pieces that he picked up during regular rounds to the back doors of the big NASCAR shops in Charlotte.

Like Young, he drove his own transporter and lived on the cheap on the road.

Gibson has raced in all of NASCAR’s elite divisions, but only briefly. He ran two Cup races – at Dover and Daytona – seven Nationwide and 13 Truck events. He’s won twice in ARCA, where his 315 career starts are second only to Frank Kimmel’s 371.

It was from him that I learned that despite the steel front that many drivers put up, the sport’s tragedies do have a lasting effect on them.

As Gibson steered the tractor trailer truck through Chattanooga, he pointed out the exit that leads to the church where the funeral services for Grant Adcox were held back in November of 1989. Adcox was a contemporary of Gibson’s. He lost his life in the fall Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

 Little else was said that day about Adcox, but in the years since, I never pass that stretch of roadway without thinking of Adcox and Gibson and others like them who are the backbone of the sport.

It was also at Nashville that Mario Gosselin robbed me of a chance to be in the background of a Victory Lane photo.

To cover an ARCA race in 2003, I had taken a position on pit road with an unobstructed view of the JumboTron.

I hadn’t been there long when a crew member from the adjacent pit came over with an unusual request: “Can you help us on our pit stops?”

I couldn’t pass up that chance. I filled the role of front tire carrier, but since the team didn’t have a helmet to spare, the tire changer carried his own tire to the right front, then rolled the take-off toward the wall so I could retrieve it.

When he ran around to the left-front, I rolled the fresh tire to him and leaned out over the wall and grabbed the cast-off tire.

Despite a mind-numbingly slow pit stop, the driver soon found himself in the lead, in large part due to the pit strategy of Trent Owens, who I still consider one of the most underrated crew chiefs in NASCAR.

Soon, the TV crew was in the pit box wanting to know how to pronounce the driver’s name. Several crew members, all last-minute recruits, didn’t know. It was his first race with the series and first on a track that size.

Finally one came up with it. The name was Bowyer, as in Clint. It’s pronounced “Boy-er.”

Bowyer led 47 laps and was trying to hang on with old tires (his only option given the slow speed of his crew) but couldn’t hold Gosselin off in the closing laps. He surrendered the lead on Lap 143 of 151. Bowyer finished second, but Richard Childress was watching, and the rest as they say is history for him.

I came up nine laps short, but with another Nashville memory.

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 12 2009
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