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September 21, 2014

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I needed a NASCAR fix

My family says I’ve been crankier than usual. My mom was convinced that I wasn’t myself over the holidays. Even my friends in the newsroom, a place known for its curmudgeons, think that I’ve been extra curmudgeonly lately.

At first I didn’t think much about it. If I’m a little cranky, that usually means that I’m in a good mood. But I have noticed that I haven’t been myself lately. So what gives?

After a few days of thinking about why I had reached a new level of irritability, I realized what was really eating at me. It’s the NASCAR off-season and I was going through withdrawals.

Man, I hate the off-season. I’ve been desperate to watch a little qualifying. I’ve missed Happy Hour. Life seemed a little more boring without some double-file restarts. I needed my NASCAR fix! I’ve been so desperate for a little racing action that I actually considered creating some of my own, either by purchasing a slot-car set or spinning a few doughnuts in my pickup truck.

But as of today much of my off-season blues have faded. Why? Because of the ESPN Classic channel.

Earlier this week I recorded ESPN Classic’s rebroadcast of the 1982 Richmond 400. And last night I sat down to enjoy this NASCAR race that had plenty of fender banging, spins and competitive racing in cars that actually looked like the vehicles that were driven on the streets in 1982.

The lineup for the race included a 23-year-old Mark Martin and a 25-year-old Terry Labonte. Martin, who was sporting a moustache, was driving a Pontiac. Dale Earhardt was driving a Ford Thunderbird and Darrell Waltrip was in a Buick.

The event had plenty of the color and charm that you don’t see in today’s Cup events. As the green flag dropped a huge cloud of dust engulfed the grandstands. Seems that there was too much dirt on the track from all of the people and vehicles crossing the track to enter the infield before the race. I guess this was the pre-jet blower period in NASCAR racing.

Within the first couple of laps the announcer in the booth announced that one of the drivers, Gary Balough, was racing even though he had just been indicted for his alleged involvement in a Miami drug-smuggling ring. (Balough was later found guilty for his involvement in a marijuana-and cocaine-smuggling operation).

There were no soft walls. Heck, there weren’t even cement walls, just the garden-variety guardrails you would see on any highway. Fans in the infield seemed to be dangerously close to the action on the track and pit crews weren’t even separated from the pit stalls by a barrier.

The original ESPN broadcast had an ‘80s version of Jamie Little, a pit reporter named Leandra Reilly. She was the only person reporting from the pits.

Rain eventually shortened the race and Dave Marcus was the winner.

Everything about the race, including the condition of the track, the look of the cars and the campy feel of the broadcast gave the event a certain charm that was exclusive to that time period.

I can remember watching these races in the ‘80s, but I don’t remember appreciating--the way I did this week--the color and character of the tracks, the cars and the drivers. What was most striking was how much NASCAR racing has changed since 1982.

This week's StockcarToon

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