The calendar doesn’t specifically recognize it, but today is Motorhead Thanksgiving, the greatest day of the year for people who love cars and take motorsports seriously.
Even though I’m not that much into cars, for many years there was a yearly ritual in my house on this day. Get up in the morning and get the grill/smoker/whatever you cook on outdoors ready at about 11. Watch the beginning of the Indianapolis 500 for an hour. Go out and finish cooking. Come back in the house, have a meal with your family and see the finish of Indy. Nap. Watch the beginning of the World 600. Nap some more. Wake up and still be able to see the last 3 hours of the World 600 since it seems like it went on forever most years.
The holiday, however, is dying no matter how fancy the commercials shown on TV are for the races. Younger generations in general don’t seem that interested in going to any live sporting events, and the older generations that really supported racing over the years are passing away. Television has saturated the market with too much of a good thing, ticket prices have been raised beyond what demand warrants, and the product itself these days isn’t that good. Turn on any live sporting event these days and you’ll see a lot of empty seats. Turn to a race and you’ll see even more.
I was lucky enough to discover NASCAR racing at just about the time it was making the transition from good ol’ boy, gritty, redneck sport that was rarely on television, to one that was the darling of ESPN and growing faster than any other sport out there. A fight – of all things – at the Daytona 500 that involved Cale Yarborough and brothers Donnie and Bobby Allison (above) seemed to capture a lot of people’s attention in the sport. So naturally when a friend said let’s go to Martinsville Speedway and see one, I was game.
Much like Daytona, we weren’t 5 minutes out of the car before we saw a fight…although this was between fans in the parking lot. What were they fighting about? One said “Ford” and the other said “Chevrolet” and next thing you knew, fists were flying. Once inside in our seats, we met dozens of down-home, salt-of-the-earth people with serious opinions on why Cale Yarborough was a good guy and Darrell Waltrip (who would win the race that day) was not. They were fiercely loyal, and they all cheered, booed, threw chicken bones down at the fence at the base of the racetrack and just appeared to have a heck of a time.