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Chasing Tracks Is A Chase That Never Ends

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 5 2009
Chuck Buchanon, track chaser. Here, he poses outside Bill Elliott's old race shop with the car Elliott used to win Darlington in 19??.  

Chuck Buchanan, track chaser. Here, he poses outside Bill Elliott's old race shop in Dahlonega, Ga.,with the car Elliott drove in the 1977 Southern 500.

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

They’re called race track chasers, nomadic types who travel the countryside trying to attend races at as many tracks as they can.

Most hit the road with Allan Brown’s “National Speedway Directory” as their travel guide, marking each new track like a notch on a gunslinger’s pistol.

Some have recorded more than 1,000 tracks in their travels. Chuck Buchanan of Fletcher, N.C., is at 231 and counting, but his journey has seen him visit tracks as competitor, spectator and photographer.

The defining moment in Buchanan’s track-chasing career began the night he realized being a “Rainbow Warrior” wasn’t for him.

Through the 1970s and ‘80s, Buchanan had worked for a variety of race teams, from short-trackers in Georgia to the Elliott family from Dawsonville and on to other teams competing in the series now known as Sprint Cup.

He worked on the cars in the shop then serviced them on pit road during races, often while holding down a regular job elsewhere.

In the early 1990s, then-crew chief Ray Evernham held an informal meeting at a Sandwich Construction Co. eatery near Charlotte, N.C., to talk to some potential crew members for a team he was assembling for his rookie driver, Jeff Gordon.

Evernham laid out his expectations. There would be early morning work-out sessions, daytime duties at the shop and pit stop practices all week long –  a much more rigorous routine than most crew members had been doing.

Buchanan took it all in that night, but on the ride back home he decided it would require more than he was willing to give.

“My daughter was growing up pretty fast, and I was already at a point where as soon as I got home from one race I was already dreading having to leave the next weekend,” he said.

In a time of reflecting on his career, he began to wonder how many tracks he’d visited. He started adding them up, beginning with the first race he’d ever attended, a NASCAR Grand National (now Sprint Cup) race in 1967 at the old Asheville-Weaverville Speedway. He was 8 years old.

Compiling the list led to a desire to run the total to 100.

He wanted that milestone to be memorable, so he chose the inaugural Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 1998, a race won by Mark Martin.

“The next thing I knew it was 200,” he said. That marker was reached at a NASCAR Busch North race on the road course at Lime Rock, Conn.

The latest addition to the list, No. 231, is All American Speedway in Roseville, Calif., a track he visited last year.

Buchanan, who now works as a machinist making gears for tractor trailer trucks, has done his traveling on the cheap, staying with friends, planning track trips alongside family vacations and working as a freelance racing photographer to offset the costs.

 “A lot of people have helped me and fed me and put me up,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”

His favorite stops are an interesting mix.

Tops among the 231 tracks he’s visited is Atlanta Motor Speedway – the old true-oval configuration that was bulldozed in 1997 to make the current quad-oval.

He puts Rockingham Speedway, previously known as North Carolina Motor Speedway, high on the list.

For short tracks, Tri-City Raceway in Washington state is a favorite. “I really fell in love with that place,” he said. And for dirt racing, he said it’s hard to beat Rome Speedway in Georgia and Ventura (Calif.) Speedway. “They’re very racy,” he said.

Over the years he’s witnessed triumph and tragedy.

The best race he’s ever watched is a memorable one for many – the 1976 Daytona 500, where Richard Petty and David Pearson crashed while racing to the checkered flag.

“That’s a memory I’ll have as long as I have a memory,” he said.

Another that stands out is a night at Hickory Motor Speedway in North Carolina when Bobby Allison flew in from the Cup races at Talladega to run both the Modified and Late Model Sportsman feature.

 “He didn’t win either one of them, but he made an impression on me,” he said.

The driver that he admired most over the years was Butch Lindley, the late short-track ace who made several strong starts in the series now known as Sprint Cup. And he marveled at the talents of Jody Ridley, the Georgia short track star who gave journeyman NASCAR car owner Junie Donlavey his only Cup victory, at Dover in 1981.

Buchanan said there have been few downsides to his odyssey.

“My biggest regret is that I never got to see a race at Riverside International Raceway,” he said of the historic California road course that closed after the 1988 season.

So as he moves forward, and road weariness and financial pressures begin to limit his travels, he’s modified his focus.

“I’m concentrating on tracks that may not be around in a year or two,” he said.

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 5 2009
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