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A Solution For NASCAR Off-Season Blues
by Jan Bazen, TCGOB Staff
Last week I posted a humorous top ten list to comfort NASCAR addicts during the off season. This week I have found the ultimate solution for NASCAR withdrawal.... ESPN Classics, a look back into NASCAR Winston Cup's classic past every Saturday night.
I settled in Saturday night with the house to myself... a rare treat. I started early by reading all the updated NASCAR news, then continued on to my NASCAR games. I quickly gave up from the frustration of not being able to make it off pit road without running head on into the wall (B.P. come to the rescue!). Thus began the endless flipping through the television channels.
"Whoa! Wait a minute! What did I just see?" I whispered excitedly. "It is! It is! A NASCAR race is on!" As I quickly switched to the appropriate channel, I found I was in for a special treat...the 1987 Busch 500 at Bristol International Speedway. Take a trip with me back in time to a piece of NASCAR history.
Picture this...it is 1987 in Bristol, Tennessee and the sun is just beginning to set behind the Bristol International Speedway. The luminous track lights are on and already you can see the brilliant colors of the Winston Cup race cars reflecting in those lights. The stands are jammed with excited fans just waiting for those famous words..."Gentlemen, start your engines!".
All the historically great drivers are present. Dale Earnhardt is driving the #3 Wrangler Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Richard Petty is in his infamous #43 blue and red STP ride. Also present are Alan Kulwicki in the #7, Neil Bonnett in the #75, Bobby Allison in the #22, Harry Gant in the #33, Benny Parsons, and Darrell Waltrip in the #17.
The 30-something drivers crowd was there. Bill Elliott in the ever present #9 Coors T-Bird. Terry Labonte in the #11 Budweiser ride, Ricky Rudd in the #15, Rusty Wallace in the #27, Sterling Marlin in the #44, and Ken Schrader.
The youngsters at that time? Kyle Petty, 27, drove the #21 car while a 24 year old Michael Waltrip drove the #30 car.
The race cars are lined up on pit road and the drivers are lingering around before the race. A playful Dale Earnhardt sneaks up to the #27 car and swipes Rusty Wallace's steering wheel. Somehow Dale must know that Rusty is going to be his most fierce competitor that night.
What I found most exciting about this race were the camera shots from the cars. The cars were wider and bigger back then, which meant the front and rear windows were much larger. With the rear window angle, you could actually see the embankment of the corners as the cars ran at an average speed of 111mph during the race. From the front window angle, you felt as if you were actually in the car sitting beside the driver. In fact, I actually felt the beginnings of motion sickness as I "rode" the track for two laps with Alan Kulwicki! But what a great ride it was; driving into the corners, feeling the bumps, getting loose, and almost being able to actually feel the wind blowing past the car.
How strange, however, to see pit stops lasting from 15.95 - 43.50 seconds. Instead of used tires being handed off during the stop back over the wall, the tires were left laying where they fell, until the driver was back on the track. There were only 8 or 9 caution flags during the race although an enormous amount of paint was traded among the cars; compare that record to this year's 16 cautions.
What was not different about the race? The number of commercials. When commercials were over though, you got to really see the race. No graphics of what "loose, tight, or wedge" means for the 1000th time and earlier interviews were shown in little boxes in the top right corner of the screen to prevent interference with the race, and commentary was limited to meaningful discussion of race events.
It was exhilarating watching Earnhardt battle for the lead with Terry Labonte, and finally obtain it only to have to try and hold off Rusty Wallace for the last 50 laps. Earnhardt would be as much as 1.5 seconds ahead, then suddenly Wallace would be in his rear window again. No one had to explain loose to me as I watched car after car slide into the corners only to speed away again on the stretches.
Bristol 1987 was racing at its best. Oh, who won the race? Dale Earnhardt, of course, followed by Rusty Wallace, Ricky Rudd, Terry Labonte and Richard Petty. Ken Schrader got out of his car and into Neil Bonnett's ride about halfway through the race, when carbon monoxide fumes leaking into the #75 ride began to make Bonnett ill. Dale Earnhardt, already leading the points race that night, went on to win his third Winston Cup Championship at 36 years of age.
Well, I found my solution to NASCAR withdrawals, and now I hope you have found yours as well.
See ya on Saturday nights during the showing of the NASCAR Classics!
Jan is an RN who lives on the North Carolina coast with her husband, three children and her dog. When not watching or reading about NASCAR, she enjoys fishing...any kind of fishing. She also enjoys gardening and reading. Although Jan is new to the sport of NASCAR, she was exposed to NASCAR from the early, tender age of 5 by her older brother, Fred, who has always been a diehard NASCAR fan. Jan welcomes any comments or opposing views. You can contact her by clicking on the North Carolina tag above.
2001 Car Guy of Benchfield