Wednesday, February 25, 2015

February 18th, 2001

As many of you recall, I grew up in a televisionless house. It wasn't for any religious reasons or my parents concern about the decline in moral values, we just never had one. We were farmers and put in long hours and when it came time to doing something for free time, we read or did hobbies. The latter explains why I have a thousand and one hobbies today. Anyway, all this is to say that because we didn't have a television, I never watched televised sports.

When I went to college, I was amazed at all the sports that people consumed via the boob tube. There was always something on all weekend long sports related and if you wanted to use the commons television to catch a movie you didn't see during your televisionless years growing up you were shit out of luck. Eventually I moved off campus to an apartment with my younger brother, who also grew up televisionless, and a mutual friend. I bought my first television seconds later.

Still, the mutual friend, like everyone except for the two Abbey boys, watched sports on television and that is why I still can't hardly watch a baseball game to this day. All was not lost however when I graduated college and moved up to the land of the frozen tundra where since they were about as far away as possible, was full of NASCAR fans. Everyone watched the race on Sunday and even churches scheduled around races when need be. Although I never became addicted, I must say that like a bad beer after watching it for awhile, it began to appeal to me. I even entered a NASCAR fantasy league for a couple years and won both years. I found my calling.

My boss at the time, and fellow fantasy league participant, took notice and one year when he couldn't attend the Daytona 500, the World Series or Superbowl of NASCAR, he offered me his tickets. A friend of mine and I took him up on the offer and we flew down to Florida to visit our grandparents who lived 30 miles apart and watch the Daytona 500. This will play an important part in just a second but my friend suffers significant hearing loss and can only hear well out of one ear with the help of a hearing aid.

We got to the track early and hit the various tents and sideshows before slowly making our way towards the track entrance. Just as we were getting close, I could see a car come flying along which of course was on the side of my friend with no hearing aid in his ear. The car started swerving towards the entrance to the track tunnel which we were just about ready to cross and my friend and I were in the way. Since he didn't see or hear what was happening, I grabbed his elbow and yanked him back and the car swept by with only inches to spare. That is how we both came to see Richard Petty sitting less than a foot from us on the other side of the window glass as he went rushing by us.

Flash forward to the final lap of the race and the guy I most admired, Dale Earnhardt got caught up in a wreck and hit the wall hard. Since we had to still go clear across the state to our grandparent's houses, we decided to leave without seeing the closing festivities. We were walking outside the track, just crossing the tunnel entrance and an ambulance came screaming out of the track and would have run us over if we hadn't stepped the pace up and jogged out of the way. For some reason, it didn't cross my mind that a dead or dying Dale Earnhardt might be in that ambulance.

Mired in traffic jams a couple hours later due to a major fire closing down the interstate, we were listening to the radio when the announcer came on and told people to stop calling the radio station and asking if Dale Earnhardt was dead because he was. I couldn't believe my ears but another song later the radio announcer came back on and apologized and said that Dale had died in the wreck on the track.

That was the only time I've been to see a NASCAR race live at the track and will probably be my last. I still watch it occasionally though with my cable package I have now, I only get to see a handful of races a year and this year, I won't even be able to see the Daytona 500 since it will only be on cable and a channel I don't get. But I almost never sit down to watch a race and don't remember the day I almost got ran over by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt's body.


sage said...

Interesting (and sad) memories. I saw one of Petty's worse wrecks in Darlington when I was in the Boy Scouts--maybe I should write about it. My family wasn't into NASCAR so I didn't know what to expect.

Bone said...

In the South, I think the day Dale Earnhardt died is one of those significant remember-where-you-were-when... moments.

I was watching the race on TV. They never said for sure he had died but you knew it was bad.

That evening I met a friend for dinner at Applebee's. When I walked in, it was scrolling on the TVs there. Complete shock.

Ed said...

Sage - As an engineer, it amazes me how relatively few wrecks there are in the sport and of the ones that occur, your chances of walking away are extremely good.

Bone - The following morning when we went into the airport, every television was tuned to news coverage on the death of Earnhardt and almost every male was standing around looking at the coverage in a state of shock. It is a vision I still remember to this day.

Anonymous said...

I'm somewhat like you. We were in a pocket that hadn't been electrified. So as a kid I'd hear about Sesame Street and lie through my teeth telling about the story line I'd not seen the night before, I was a good listener. But it has meant I'm not over fussed being without a TV, this even though it's on from the time I arise until I go to bed, still though it's on in the background.
There was a couple of things going on back then. They had upped the power and some of the cars didn't have the tubular cages so they were left to crumble about the contents.
I remember seeing what the car we had would do in a crash when the thing was propelled at a wall filled with crash test dummies. The other big one was fire. They were seriously messing with fuel mixes and pushing them through turbo chargers generating a level of heat that caused the whole thong to blow.

You are seriously upping the quality of the writing. You were good, but these last few are in a different country.

ErinFromIowa said...

You are...a really good storyteller telling really good stories. :)

Leigh said...

Well written, interesting post, Ed. We live in the heart of NASCAR country and I can't say I ever got the appeal. Of course, I'm not much on sports anyway, which might have something to do with it.

Ed said...

Vince - I remember doing that about the A-Team, Dynasty and other television shows popular at the time.

Erin - I struggle and my words feel clunky and childish at times but I'm glad that some of you enjoy it. I love the act of writing and write this blog more for my kids or grandkids after I'm gone but if others enjoy reading it along the way, I'm okay with that. Definitely you my readers inspire me to keep at it when I might have given up a decade ago.

Leigh - For me, I would be much more into NASCAR if it was in the evenings but to block out four hours in the middle of the weekend daytime is hard to do. I keep thinking about all the other things I could be doing. Fortunately because I am too cheap to have hundreds of channels I don't watch, my cable package only has a handful of races every year that I can watch. I mostly tape those and fast forward watch them in the evenings.

edifice rex said...

Great story! I'm one of those that's never understood the appeal of NASCAR either, but that's still quite an experience and memory.

Ed said...

Edifice Rex - I describe NASCAR as a cross between a soap opera and an engineering marvel.