I was 12 or 13 years old, I forget which, the first time I went to a stock car race.
I didn’t come from a racing family. In fact, I didn’t even know anybody who raced cars. It wasn’t part of the lexicon of my universe, and to say that race car drivers were some kind of mythic warriors that existed on another plane somewhere wouldn’t even be fair — I didn’t even really know there was such a thing.
Then my parents, on a pure whim, loaded the us all into the back of a station wagon (without seat belts in those days, of course) on an early-July night for a trip to Unity Raceway. We were promised fireworks, but it rained before we ever got that far into the program.
All I saw were a bunch of heat races, but it was more than enough to hook me for good.
Look, it pained me to go to Unity the last few years as a card-carrying media member and have to see the place in such despair. It was at its lowest two years ago this July, when Gary Norris Jr. won a PASS Outlaw Late Model race in front of absolutely nobody in the grandstands.
I want to believe the Nason family when they say they truly are taking just a year off to feel things out and resurrect the place. I want to hope that somebody with deep pockets in a bad economy will walk in and lease the place and give it a desperate facelift. I want to believe that low-buck, high-fun racing can exist there in Unity.
Like I said, I want to believe all that. The fan in me really, truly does.
But if you press me for my opinion, and enough people have in the last few days, I’ll tell you this. I think we’ve seen our last race at Unity Raceway. That’s just the media guy in me talking.
* Michael McDowell’s crash in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying at Texas last week says two things to me, two things that are probably on the controversial side.
Not that I’ve ever shied away from that.
First, in the absence of any obvious equipment failure during the run, it speaks to the dangers of having young kids who haven’t “paid their dues” hopping into Cup cars because they can pay the steep asking price for a coveted seat behind the wheel. McDowell was all over the track in every corner before the mishap.
Second, why are we not using these cars in other NASCAR series? If it’s about safety — which, seeing McDowell walk away unscathed, it truly is — how can it not be in Nationwide and Camping World Series competiton each week? If it’s about protecting drivers, why on earth is NASCAR not doing everything it can to protect its drivers with the least amount of experience? And don’t tell me it’s about the cost. This COT thing was supposed to save teams from themselves, save them money by not forcing them to build as many cars.
Those Nationwide and Camping World teams are building new cars every off-season, some even as the season progresses. So what if they’re building a car to different specs — they’re still building race cars.
* “Deadliest Catch” returns Tuesday night. Yeah, I’m all in.
* Talked to Oxford Plains owner Bill Ryan today. He said he is “confident” that his track will open as planned on April 26, though he was wary about running an open practice a week earlier — the same day that PASS North is slated to open its campaign a few miles away at Beech Ridge Motor Speedway.
How much rain the area gets this weekend will likely have a say in whether or not there’s racing in Maine next weekend.
* Sox-Yankees, baby. But really, it’s all got a different feel now. I can’t place it.
Maybe it’s because I know we can whoop up on them when it really counts...
* And while we’re on the subject of sports, don’t expect me to write a single word about the American-Canadian Tour for the next couple of weeks, at least not until the end of the Bruins-Canadiens Stanley Cup Playoffs series.
That pencil-pushing, four-eyed, blithering blah-blah PR director for ACT — and you know who you are! — proudly wears a Canadiens ballcap around the offices over there in Vermont. I hope he gets another 2 feet of snow, in his driveway alone, sometime in the next week.