I am so excited about today’s Daytona 500. Not.
Can’t wait to see Dale Jr., Danica and the rest of the gang back on the track. Not.
Truthfully, I am happy to see NASCAR here because it means baseball season isn’t far behind. And being even more truthful, I’m not knocking NASCAR, or any other motor sport at all because the millions and millions of people who love it can’t be wrong. It’s just, I don’t get it. I’ve tried, I really have, and I guess I will try again today for awhile, but as my ever-growing list of mechanics will tell you, I don’t get cars.
As Bill Cosby once said, “Fill ’er up. That’s what I know,” and now that’s barely applicable.
I’ve tried to get it, but I just don’t. Not can’t or won’t. Don’t. My friend Bob Gornall even tried to help me. He took me to a race, inviting me to bring my date, who had made me dateless with her relocation to Baltimore, for a weekend bus trip to Rockingham, N.C., for the 1992 GM Goodwrench 500. Bob really wanted me to get into this, as he also paid for a year’s subscription to a NASCAR publication that he said was the Bible of stock car racing and would change my life forever.
“After this weekend, you’ll never want to go to another baseball game again,” he told me.
Well, as I have told everybody who has cared to listen for the last 21 years, Bill Feeney, who went in place of my date (it wasn’t the same) and I had a great time. Great bus trip down and back, great barbecue while we were there and, best of all, the greatest fans you could ever want to be around. Everybody was so nice and so hospitable, and so eager for a novice such as myself to learn all I could about their sport.
Those fans, both on the bus and at the track, taught me many things about racing that weekend, with “Racecar is racecar spelled backwards,” seemingly the only thing to stick all these years later.
The tailgate was better than any NFL tailgate I’ve been to, and during the race, Bill and I sat a few seats down from Bob, who was wearing his red headset so he could listen to the pit crews or something.
“Whatever you do, “ he told me, “don’t watch the leader. You won’t be able to follow the race if you follow the leader. You have to follow the middle of the pack to gain full appreciation for what’s going on.”
And, he added, “Once the race begins, and they come around the third turn full throttle, you’re going to hear a roar like no other you’ve heard before.”
Right. Got it. Watch the middle of the pack, soak in the roar from the third turn, watch the middle of the pack ... Okay, I can do this.
I watched the middle of the pack, although I didn’t know what I was watching. So I listened to what everybody around me was saying, but that proved to be as beneficial as watching the middle of the pack.
Bob let me listen to what the pit crews were saying in his red headset. Greek.
Then Bill and I took turns pointing out weird people in the stands (it’s what we do), and then we watched them throw empty beer cans and chicken bones off the screen surrounding the track. That we could relate to.
As for the field coming around the third turn in full throttle, Bob was right. I have still not heard a roar that compares to that one. It was very exciting. So exciting, I just wanted to stand up and roar right along with it.
It was all very exhilarating. Problem is, once your ears adjust to it, once that roar becomes a deep steady hum, and as you sit in the warm sun somewhat sedated by what was in those empty cans now on Chicken Bone Alley, watching something you couldn’t possibly understand, it also becomes very soothing. Very relaxing, actually.
In fact, it became so relaxing, I fell asleep for about 20 minutes, which did not sit well with my once gracious host.
Bill’s left elbow to my right rib cage jolted me awake, and he pointed down to our right, where Bob, his face now as red as his headset, was leaning forward shooting me a glare that would be the envy of any Charlie Lattimer shot an official.
After he accused my parents of not being married when I was born, then called me a couple of other names, one starting with the word “rat,” the other one ending with a word that rhymed with the second word of the first name, he said. “I’m never taking you anywhere again.”
I did see the end of the race, which Bill Elliott won, and then proceeded to try to suck up to Bob for the rest of the weekend, which he would have none of. And, true to his word, he’s never taken me anywhere again, although he did send me to Game 6 of the 1997 American League Championship Series in a stretch limo with his wife and father-in-law.
The Orioles were eliminated that night by the Cleveland Indians in what was a gut-wrenching, depressing loss that kept me awake for weeks, and triggered 14 straight losing seasons by the Orioles.
Aside from Bob still calling me the name that begins with the word “rat,” which I actually take as a great compliment, I’d say we’re even.
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org