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Hood: It’s Not Just The Racing That Has Changed

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 10 2011

Getting news about NASCAR is mighty easy these days. But is that a good thing or a bad thing? (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

Word arrived via e-mail last Thursday that I’m now Facebook friends with Chase Elliott, a 15-year-old who may be the most-talented driver in the country not yet eligible to compete in NASCAR because of

his age.

I go onto Facebook three or four times each week. So I don’t consider myself a Facebook junkie.

When I do log in, one of the first places I’ll likely go now is to Chase’s wall to find out the latest happenings of the son of former Sprint Cup champion Bill Elliott. I’m always interested in what aspiring young racers have on their minds and where they’re racing during the upcoming weekend.

As of this writing, I’ve got 1,616 Facebook friends. Most of them have some link to racing. Nearly all of the rest are folks from my hometown of Madison, Ga.

All of this got me to thinking about the days when I first started following NASCAR around 1980. It was a simpler day and age.

The only social networking in those days was inviting a neighbor over to grill steaks and burgers and churn some homemade ice cream.

When it came to NASCAR, the best way to keep up with the happenings was to actually show up at the track.

There was no Speed Channel. There was no Internet to google the latest NASCAR news. ESPN was in

Jim McKay brought fans racing and swimming in same broadcast. (Photo courtesy ABC/ESPN)

its infancy and there was no NASCAR Now.

The few NASCAR races that aired live on television in the early 1980s were broadcast on CBS.

It memory serves me correctly, the Daytona 500, the June race in Michigan and the July event in Talladega, Ala. were broadcast “flag-to-flag” on CBS. There were no VCRs, DVRs or TiVos. It could be sunny and 75 degrees outside and you had a decision to make: watch the race on TV or get outside and enjoy the weather. I always chose to watch the race.

If you missed the broadcast, you had to hope one of the local television stations would show a few highlights from that day’s event during the evening news. I grew up near Atlanta. So if the Braves, Falcons, Hawks, Bulldogs or Yellow Jackets had done something spectacular that day, you’d be lucky to hear the sports anchor even mention who won the race.

ABC, which began airing clips of NASCAR racing alongside snow skiing and bull roping on “Wide World of Sports” in the 1970s, continued to play a limited role in televising events. But it got frustrating watching 10 laps of NASCAR action from Darlington, S.C. only to hear Jim McKay say they are breaking away to show synchronized diving.

The only radio show I recall back then was Ned Jarrett’s “World of Racing”, a daily five-minute radio program on the Motor Racing Network. Ned is retired today, but the show is still alive-and-well today with other broadcasters reporting the latest NASCAR news.

My most consistent link to NASCAR was the daily newspaper. Back in those days, The Atlanta-Journal Constitution actually had a beat writer that covered the sport on a full-time basis.

If I missed seeing it in the newspaper, there was always the weekly Winston Cup Scene or the monthly Stock Car Racing magazine that arrived in my mailbox to update me on NASCAR.

Looking back, 1980 was a wonderful year to be a NASCAR fan, although I do concede it was

The Legend of Million Dollar Bill was born at Darlington Raceway. (Photo courtesy Darlington Raceway)

somewhat difficult to catch up on the latest NASCAR happenings.

It turned out to be the final year the Winston Cup (now Sprint Cup) Series competed in a full-size car. That season also produced the late Dale Earnhardt’s first Cup championship.

The following season, I was in Darlington for the spring event when my newest Facebook friend’s dad won his first career pole position and finished fourth in the race. Who knew that was just a preview of things to come from three good ol’ boys named Bill, Ernie and Dan Elliott from Dawsonville, Ga.?

Later that summer, a bunch of my friends and I headed over to Talladega, Ala. to watch the stock cars zoom around the track billed as “The World’s Fastest Speedway.”

Funny, but the thing I remember most about that trip was heading back to Georgia on Interstate 20 and seeing all of the NASCAR haulers heading back to Charlotte. I’ll never forget passing the rigs of independent drivers James Hylton and J.D. McDuffie. Want to guess who was driving those haulers? None other than Hylton and McDuffie themselves as they puffed on cigars.

On Labor Day in 1981, a group of us Georgians ventured back over to Darlington and watched Neil Bonnett win the Southern 500 in the Wood Brothers’ Ford.

In those days, NASCAR allowed fans into the pit and garage area following the races. I remember gathering with a hundred or so other folks just outside victory lane and hearing some guy yell “everything’s better with Neil Bonnett on it” (a reference to the old Blue Bonnet margarine ads from back in the day).

On the way back to Georgia that night, we pulled into a Quincy’s Steakhouse in Columbia, S.C. There

In Neil Bonnett's day, you never knew when or where you would run into a Cup driver. (Photo by RacingOne/Getty Images)

was a big commotion at one of the tables. It turned out that Bonnett and his family had stopped to grab something to eat on their way to Alabama. We walked over and offered our congratulations on his victory.

Bonnett was a class act that evening. He chatted with us as if he’d known us for years.

In those days, there were no private jets to cart the drivers from tracks to their homes in record time. There was no cell phone, e-mail, iPhone, Droid or the latest digital thingamajig to capture the moment and communicate with friends around the world.

But all of those moments, like celebrating Bonnett’s Darlington win at a restaurant in Columbia, are still etched in my mind and will continue to be valuable memories for years to come.

And in this increasingly technical day and age, that’s just fine with me.

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, February 10 2011


  • joe says:

    Great story Jeff. NASCAR really made a mistake when it allowed its drivers to act like rock stars. Maybe that’s why the truck series and Nationwide TV ratings do OK and the Cup ones have been going down.

  • John Sturbin says:

    Jeff: You may not be old enough to remember this, but ABC began airing NASCAR races on “Wide World of Sports” in the early 1960s. I distinctly recall being introduced to a young and toothy Richard Petty, his “Petty Blue” No. 43 and the Plymouths that (as a Ford fan) I detested after he won the 1964 Daytona 500. And I don’t Facebook.

  • Phyllis says:

    Yesterday……..in days, long gone, it seemed racing mattered.
    Today, not so much, as it serves no useful purpose.
    Rather than entertain, it bores.
    Drivers, formerly heroes, are now clowns in brightly colored idiot suits.
    Greed, fraud, waste and mismanagement…and the crazy idea that it’s perfectly all right for a sport to be socially exclusive.

    NASCAR. It is what it is: Just about dead.

  • Joe says:

    Think of the coverage today vs. yesterday like a pie.

    You eat a piece, you enjoy it and are hungry for more.

    You eat the whole pie, it turns your stomach.

  • Outstanding piece!

    I have similar conversations with my friends. I have also written about this topic on more than one occasion.

    Many aspects of motorsports have changed for the better. But there are some things that were better “back in the day.”

    Thanks for writing. Nice work!

  • Terry says:

    When race fans today complain ( me included ) about the sometimes lame..mundane…pained…and insane coverage….you have to stop and remember when you could only get a ” little tiny bit of film highlights ” on WIDE WORLD of SPORTS a week later.
    It makes you tolerate DW and others even if they ARE painful to listen to.