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Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014

NASCAR memories from the good old days

Posted Wednesday, September 5, 2007, at 10:33 PM

I have no problem with those who feel change is good because I feel exactly the same on many subjects.

NASCAR is one subject on which I have mixed emotions. I have many fond memories of the days when the top division was known simply as NASCAR Grand National. This was before it became Winston Cup and more recently Nextel Cup.

During those Grand National days it was more driver against driver rather than team against team. The driver was out to win over other top drivers, not a certain driver's entire team getting in the act by blocking for him and drafting with him.

Of course it's a huge money deal today. Big corporations are shelling millions out there to get their name before the public each Sunday afternoon and owners and drivers are receiving much bigger paydays.

I wish today's younger race fans could have seen such drivers as Fireball Roberts, David Pearson, Richard Petty in his prime and one I always admired that may surprise you. That driver was Ralph Earnhardt, father of Dale and grandfather of Dale Jr.

He wasn't likely to win because he simply didn't have the equipment. I remember Ralph driving a Dodge in the pre-Hemi days and staying with the leaders for a couple of hundred laps or so until his engine came unglued.

And then there was Dale. I recall the time he won the pole position for one of the 500-milers in Atlanta. Would you believe he almost seemed embarrassed by all of the attention he was getting that afternoon.

Some of the sponsors were rather interesting in those Grand National days. A top driver may be sponsored for a given race by some garage in that area and the name was hurriedly painted somewhere on the car. One I always wondered about was a driver, whose name I can't recall, being sponsored one Sunday by a funeral home. But those little sponsors got their name before a big crowd the afternoon of the race.

One of the most appropriate sponsors was Leggs pantyhose for Janet Guthrie, a really talented woman driver from the Indy ranks.

I knew the so-called good 'ol boys had accepted her when I heard a member of one of the pit crews remark, "'Ol Janet is really hanging in there today."

The huge payoffs weren't there, fans couldn't always see the races on television but the excitement and memories of those days will live forever.

I intend for my blog to dwell on many subjects, only occasionally sports, with pats on the back for those I feel deserve it and perhaps a kick somewhat lower now and then.

For instance, do you ever get tired of athletes who can't speak two complete sentences without inserting "you know" one or more times and sometimes twice in one sentence or highly-paid professional athletes or college players, often seniors, who when asked by a television announcer to tell what happened on a given play and he starts his answer with, "Well, I seenů.."?

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

Hey Bo! Nice to see you writing again. I grew up reading many of your stories in the T-G.

Now back to subject. I used to be a huge NASCAR fan and remember the Grand National days. I became a fan when my dad used to take me to the old Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway (Worlds Fastest 5/8 mile or at least they billed it that way). Remember the 2 Nashville 420's they ran there each year? Well Dad and I would ride down on his motorcycle to those races and also the regular Saturday night races. Darrell Waltrip was track champion at the time and he was just breaking into Winston Cup.

My Dad had grown up with one of the pit crew members of Bobby Allison's crew. We got to go into the pit areas where I met Bobby & Donnie Allison (my favorites), Richard Petty (if Allison's didn't win I was for him), Darrell Waltrip, Coo Coo Marlin and Cale Yarborough, whom for some reason I disliked on & off track..maybe he beat my favorites too much.

Needless to say none of these guys are racing today and most recently about the only one still racing that I cared for was Sterling Marlin, who I met, when he was a boy in his dad's pit.

Anymore I just don't care about any of them and I guess I really am not interested anymore in watching cars go around the track over & over for several hours. Perhaps I grew up and just lost interest or perhaps it's a combination of that and I don't have a personal relationship with any of the drivers today. The drivers of yesterday were not so over run with fans like they are today and they had more time to spend with fans and especially kids. Either way I just don't care anymore.

I look forward to reading your future blogs and I know you will tell it like it is and I always appreciated you for that.

Till next time.


-- Posted by HorseGentler on Wed, Sep 5, 2007, at 11:16 PM

I guess it was probably 17 years ago, around the time I was ten that I met Richard Petty. It was in Talladega and I had a few of his cards, as did my Daddy and my sister and we wanted him to sign them. I yelled out his name beside his bus to get his attention. He came over and I asked "will you sign our cards" he said "I sure will honey if you promise me that you will keep drinking that gatorade and get inside one of these buildings pretty quick, it's hot out here." Of course I promised. One of my best memories of childhood. =)

-- Posted by sambntn on Thu, Sep 6, 2007, at 7:56 AM

I don't have a NASCAR comment, I am just giddy about seeing Bo Melson writing for this paper again. 15 years ago, when I was just a young coach in a new sport, he was so encouraging to me. He and Sonny Grey came to my home and away games and made me feel like I was important even if no one else knew. I am thankful for this opportunity to say a HUGE thanks to the best journalist I have personally ever known. No offense to anyone else, I know you agree. Bo thanks from Neal Gordon and all the other coaches you have encouraged over the years. I hope we haven't let you down.

-- Posted by gordo1965 on Thu, Sep 6, 2007, at 10:02 AM

The names of Richard Petty and Bobby Allison, also one of my favorite drivers, reminded me of an unusual incident at a Saturday night NASCAR race in Nashville.

Unusual in many ways, not the least of which was the race winner wasn't officially announced until the following week in California.

All of the sophisticated timing devices weren't in use at the time. Petty was leading the race and had lapped the field multiple times when his engine let go between the third and fourth turns and oil went all over the track. He skidded down to the inside the track.

A big pack of cars went into the third turn, went up to the top of the track between the turns and right into the oil.

I happened to be taking pictures right in that area and snapped about a dozen of that bit of action.

For a short time only the caution flag was out and then the red flag came out because the track was blocked. Some cars suffered heavy damage, others only minor damage.

When racing finally resumed a mistake apparently took place on the number of laps.

As i recall the scoreboard displayed the laps Petty had completed...but the race leaders were, as i recall, two or more laps back of the number on the scoreboard. In other words the race leaders were two laps behind the number displayed on the scoreboard when racing resumed.

Bobby Allison eventually took the checkered flag and pulled into victory lane. Moments later Cale Yarborough pulled his car immediately back of Allison's car. No harsh words were exchanged. They just discussed the matter.

NASCAR announced they were reviewing the matter and checking the scoring records. Apparently both drivers had pulled out of the oily mess between the third and fourth turns and passed the flag stand while the race was still under caution.

Since I didn't have a paper until Monday I left the track and returned to Shelbyville.

I went to the Times-Gazette office, wrote the majority of my story (all except the winner) and printed two pictures, one of the wreck that started the entire thing and one of Bobby and Cale discussing the matter in victory lane.

About that time I received a call from Nashville. They wanted to know if I had been taking pictures in the area where the race took place. I told them I had been and had a lot of pictures.

They didn't ask, say please or anything, just informed me they were coming down after my negatives. They did. I never got them back.

The next NASCAR race was the following Sunday afternoon in California. As I recall either Monday or Tuesday NASCAR announced from California that Bobby Allison had won the Nashville race.

-- Posted by bomelson on Thu, Sep 6, 2007, at 4:28 PM

I just wished good ol Dale was still around...

I miss the days of less corporate sponsorship and corporate naming of racing events... Remember when they actually tried to win races as part of their dream job, rather than who can get the most money from the most sponsors?

One thing I do like though, is diversity.. I am glad to see Toyota and of course Dodge back in the picture.

-- Posted by nascarfanatic on Thu, Sep 6, 2007, at 5:53 PM

Well Bo you just reminded me why I disliked Cale, but if I remember correctly it was the 1974 Nashville 420 and they declared Cale the winner.

Now I can't say if Cale really was the winner, but all that mattered to me at the time was that I thought he was trying to steal the race from my favorite driver (Bobby).

I don't know where to find this information, but is there anyway you could look up an archive from that race? I asked my dad and he thought he remembered Cale being declared the winner.

Either way thanks for the memory.


-- Posted by HorseGentler on Thu, Sep 6, 2007, at 6:27 PM

Bo, good to see your name in print again. The world has been made right......

-- Posted by Tim Baker on Thu, Sep 6, 2007, at 7:27 PM

I could not agree with you more. I have been involeved in racing for over 40 years, and today it's all about the money. Long gone are the passionate drivers of the past, replaced by the robots of today.

-- Posted by Chef Boy R.D. on Thu, Sep 6, 2007, at 10:00 PM

The Old Days Are Gone Forever But The

Memories Live On I Remember The First Nascar Race I Went To At Nashville In July 1977 Petty's Dodge Was Backing Firing Through The Exhaust Dumps Man It Was Pretty Those Days Are Gone But The Memories Of The Good Ole Days Will Live On And Bye The Way That's When They Ran Real Cars when cars were steel, bumpers were chrome and men were iron...

-- Posted by kitbuilder on Sun, Sep 9, 2007, at 11:12 AM

I probably go back a little further than most of you. My first race at Nashville was in the '40's during the State Fair. It was run on a 1 and 1/8th mile dirt horse racing surface.

I first got interested in NASCAR when NASCAR sanctioned a race on the new half mile paved track. I can remember that Rex White was on the pole and he became my favorite driver at that time. Rex was driving a Black and White two door hardtop '57 Chevy. In those days they ran both hardtops and convertables. Joe Weatherly won that race in a Holman-Moody '58 Ford.

As I am sitting here typing this a lot of good memories are flooding my mind such as Hart Hastings and Brooks Tune along with George Tune building and running cars at Nashville. Some of the more noteable drivers were Freddie Fryar, Charlie Griffith, Donnie Allison, and others who drove a race or two for Hart such as Darrell Waltrip.

I have seen a lot of changes in NASCAR through the years and I did not always like the changes that were being made, but you can not argue with success. Look where they are now.

-- Posted by leeiii on Sun, Sep 9, 2007, at 6:10 PM

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Bo Melson is a retired sports and police beat editor of the Times-Gazette. He passed away November 15, 2014, at age 81.
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