I began viewing NASCAR racing way back in the very late 1960s when but a few select races were televised. NASCAR's television appeal was heightened in 1979 when the Daytona 500 was nationally televised for the very first time.
It was a thrilling finish—when on the final lap—race leaders Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison made contact on the back-stretch and both went spinning into the infield in turn three. The duo was one-half of a lap from tasting victory when things went bad.
Richard Petty, who had been far behind the leaders sailed by and went on to take the checkered flag. This was not the reason for NASCAR's sudden gain in popularity. No sir.
The reason was that even before the dust had settled, Yarborough and Allison climbed out of their rides and began duking it out right there on the spot in front of millions who were watching at home on their televisions. Many of these folks were tuning-in for the very first time. Prior to the PC police setting up shop in this country it was healthy to fight for what you believed was right.
I dearly miss those good old days. The drivers actually had to "pay some dues" in order to reach the sports pinnacle. This was achieved by proving themselves in the lower divisions such as ASA, ARCA or the Grand National division.
I can remember for the longest time it was called the Busch grand National division. Now that corporate America has gobbled up every major sporting event known to man, I can't—nor do I care—to keep track of what they are calling any of NASCAR's racing classes these days. The names change far too often for me to even want to notice.
Compared to the lack of personality the top drivers of today display, the old-school guys were a little "rough around the edges." That being said, their life experiences surely added a dimension which NASCAR is sorely missing these days.
Long gone are the likes of the fun-loving persona's of the late Benny Parsons, Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough. Even the nose-to-the-grindstone types like the late, great Dale Earnhardt Sr. could always make light and pull a good prank once in a while.
Today it's like watching robots who seriously lack personality. If you look good in front of a camera, are well-spoken and have marginal talent driving a race car you get to pass go and get right in a seat. Of course there are exceptions to every rule.
It completely blew my mind when NASCAR decided to do away with the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway which had cemented it's rightful place in NASCAR tradition. It was automatic on every Labor Day weekend for me to tune in. What a shame as this was a "must see" annual race which was never short on excitement. There was a reason that NASCAR drivers named this place "the Lady in Black."
This race first lost it's appeal when NASCAR reconfigured the track by switching the front straight with the back. This move made absolutely no sense to me. Why fix something that is not broken? Unfortunately, NASCAR seemed to forget who and what had got them to where they had reached. Darlington, S. C. was forsaken in the name of corporate profits.
The thing which really ruined it all for me was losing Dale Earnhardt. I realize NASCAR had no control over this horrible development. I was a fan of Dale's from day one, and feel he was the greatest talent in the history of earth. NASCAR lost a lot of it's luster on that fateful day back in February of 2001.
I will never forget he had won the final race he had ever finished, which was the 125 mile Daytona qualifier three days prior. My wife and I were on a ski trip in Maine, and she was upset that I went back to our room to watch that race on that afternoon. I am quite thankful I did, and in hindsight, she is happy and realizes I made the right decision.
I still tune into select NASCAR races, but do not avidly follow anymore. NASCAR has "sold out" to the corporate world, and I firmly believe I am not the only old-school fan who holds these views. I sorely miss those "good ole boys" from those "good ole days" and eventually, NASCAR will as well.