Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Daytona is awash in history this week and many of those who made it are here

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – You know, sometimes I come on this blog and complain about travel woes or traffic at the race tracks. I make a snide remark about how many hours I work or how hard it is to find the person you need to talk to.

All of that is true. I know fans don’t want to hear it, but it is true.

But what’s also true is that there are a lot of times when this job I have does not suck.

It’s late Monday night, one of the two “dark” days at Daytona International Speedway during Speedweeks, and I just got back from dinner with the folks from Michael Waltrip Racing.

It was a great meal, but more to the point it was a great time. Michael Waltrip, as you might imagine, is in a pretty good mood after qualifying second on Sunday. He said some very nice things about a story I wrote for him for Sunday’s paper, and I appreciate that.

I sat next to Darrell Waltrip the whole night and we laughed so hard my sides ache. If I told you some of the stuff we talked about over dinner, you wouldn’t believe it. (And, by the way, I’d never be invited back to another dinner of that nature in my life.)

The best part of it, though, was that I had a chance to just talk to Darrell about his victory in the Daytona 500 in 1989. In his 17th try, he won the Daytona 500 in car No. 17 while pitting in pit stall No. 17.

I knew all the numerology. You can look that stuff up. What you don’t get from the history books is the look in a man’s eye when he talks about one of the most special days of his life.

What I wanted to hear him talk about, not in a formal interview but just in conversation, was how he felt that night after accomplishing something that means more and more to him with each passing day. He talked mainly about just how relieved he was to finally have done something he so badly wanted to do.

Sunday morning I was walking back toward the media center from the garage when I saw Leonard Wood and Dale Inman leaning against stacks of tires behind the Wood Brothers’ transporter.

I try to make it a policy to never walk past either of those two guys without stopping even when I see them individually, let alone telling stories and swapping tales with one another.

These are two of the absolute legendary mechanics in NASCAR. Both of them will be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame someday – soon, if there’s any justice – and both of them also happen to be wonderful human beings.

I stopped and stood there for about 45 minutes. I didn’t have my tape recorder on me and wouldn’t have pulled it out if I’d had it. This was me sharing in a conversation between two warriors who have done and seen it all at Daytona. It was too good to waste air asking questions. I was there to listen.

They talked about 1976.

“I still can’t believe you wrecked us,” Inman said, referring to the last-lap tangle between David Pearson in the Wood Brothers car and Richard Petty in the car Inman worked on.

Inman was telling a story about he got mad at Petty one day. Petty had said he thought something Inman did could have been done better a different way, and Inman was in no mood to hear that at that particular moment.

“I said, ‘I didn’t have the privilege of working with the smartest (fill in the blank at your discretion) here who ever lived, Albert Einstein,’” Inman said. “‘But dang if I ain’t working for the second smartest. I think I am going to get me a granite stone and carve in a list of the world’s smartest (fill in the blanks). I am going to put No. 1 – Albert Einstein and No. 2 – Richard Petty. Beneath that I will just keep a list of who’s next at that particular moment.”

Wood threw his head back and laughed. He worked with some pretty “smart” people in his career, too.

Inman and Wood also talked about coming to Daytona for the first time.

Wood missed the first 500 in 1959 because, I think he said, he was in the military.
“Rookie,” Inman said, with a grin.

Inman wasn’t here in 1960 – something about Junior Johnson wanting him to change tires but Inman thought it would be too cold.

So they both weren’t here at the same time until 1961. Good gosh, can you imagine all of the history they’ve made and seen?

History is big at Daytona this year, what with it being the 50th running of the Daytona 500 and all. Twenty-four former winners of the race are supposed to be here this weekend, talking about their memories and serving as grand marshals for this year’s race.

I imagine I’ll spend a while talking to some of those guys as the week goes along. Boy, I sure hope so.


Unknown said...

Guess you had to be there. It beats the 3876th JR. story of the year though, I guess.

Anonymous said...

As speed weeks continue to gain momentum the closer we get to the 500 it is the stories of 500's gone by that seem to catch my attention the most. Thank you for sharing those special opportunities you have had this week, I can't wait to read and hear more about them!!

Anonymous said...


As NASCAR gets bigger and the coverage gets more impersonal, I can't describe how refreshing your columns and blogs are to read. For every new fan I meet, I tell them if you really want to learn about this sport, you read David Poole after you take your vitamin in the morning. Essential.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff there Mr. Poole! I wonder if those 'special' moments of history can be matched with todays sanitized, corporate, "IBM-blue suit" sport that NASCAR Cup racing has become.