Friday, March 14, 2008

Neither is exactly a hardship assignment

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Back at the race track Friday, but I have to admit my mind is elsewhere – at least to some degree.

If you grew up in the Carolinas, you’ve got a story about sneaking out of class to watch the ACC basketball tournament or sneaking a radio into class to keep up with the afternoon games.

It’s really odd for the tournament to be in Charlotte and for me not to be there, too, but it’s also unusual for us to be at Bristol on ACC tournament weekend. The way the calendar has worked for years, we’ve been in Las Vegas for the conference tournaments. Bristol has always been the week we go from 16 down to a Final Four.

It got me to thinking about one of those “what if” questions you sometimes ponder. What if I’d been given the choice to cover the NASCAR races at Bristol or the ACC tournament? Which would I have picked?

It’s a hard question.

I grew up pretending to be Dennis Wuycik, a North Carolina basketball player few non hard-core Tar Heels would likely even remember.

I decided I wanted to be a sportswriter the day after an ACC tournament final in which South Carolina upset North Carolina on a play that made me so mad I kicked the footrest on our recliner so hard I broke it.

The story in the next day’s paper was bad, I thought, and I decided I could do better (and I think I was 11 at the time). I had no idea about deadlines and things like that, of course, but it was the beginning of a career for me nonetheless.

I was so bad I infected my family. My mom was in the hospital once and was on one of those floors where they closely monitor the patients. Mom was watching a North Carolina game on the television and it was close when the nurses all scurried in with a “crash cart” thinking she had developed a major problem.

She did have a problem. The Tar Heels were behind.

I’ve watched a lot of great college basketball in my time. Before I started covering racing, I went to a couple of ACC tournaments and covered Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State and Wake Forest – North Carolina’s so-called “Big Four” – through some great years.

I was there, in fact, for the first official function at which two new coaches appeared. N.C. State had hired Jim Valvano and Duke had hired Mike Krzyzewski, and they were at “Operation Basketball” at the Greensboro Coliseum.

Valvano put on a show.

ZZ Top was doing a concert that night in the arena. We were set up in a lobby area and about the time Valvano got up to speak the band started in with a sound check.

Valvano milked that and really put on a show. He told a joke about how the NCAA had banned off-campus recruiting in August. “I told my wife, Pam, ‘That’s great, honey! Now I will get to have sex 31 times in August,’” Valvano said.

“She said, ‘Great, put me down for two.’ ”

Krzyzewski got up last and joked about how he had figured out how the ACC worked. “They stick the Italian and the Polish guy last,” he said.

When it started raining at Bristol just before 1 p.m. Friday, clearly Bobcats Arena in Charlotte was the preferable place to be. The forecast doesn’t look good until Sunday, and a race track in the rain might be one of the worst places in the world to be.

All things being equal, though, if I had to pick between the ACC tournament and Bristol, I think I’d come to Bristol. Twenty years ago I would never even dreamed I would ever say that, but this place is just something special.


Anonymous said...

I'd rather be at Bristol in the Rain than here at work in an air conditioned office

NC2NYC said...

Your column today brought back a lot of ACC tournament memories - of sneaking into school with a radio, watching the games in the teachers lounge, the awful 1971 final, the wonderful 1972 UNC team featuring Dennis Wuycik (#44 from Ambridge, PA) and George Karl (#22 from Penn Hills, PA). I'm your age and live in NYC and still check the Denver Nuggets scores daily, because George is the coach. While I follow NASCAR much more than the average New Yorker, I can say that today, there's no place I'd rather be than Charlotte. Go Heels!

Anonymous said...

I'd rather be in Bristol. The ACC Tournament is too much corporate fluff. Not much room for the average joe.

In the perfect world. I would like to be in one of those luxury motorhomes at Bristol watching the games on a 42" Plasma. Step outside and you have the speedway.

Anonymous said...

What's basketball?

Anonymous said...

Very tough decision, but I'd have to go with the ACC tourney...oh wait...I am at the ACC tourney...Go Tigers!

Anonymous said...

I don't have tickets to either and was given the choice of leaving Sunday with a load to Jackson,TN. for Monday delivery or a load going to Clifton Forge, VA for Tuesday delivery leaving Monday night.
I'll will be channel flipping Sunday

Monkeesfan said...

Though I'm not a basketball fan nor a fan of college sports, I can see your point about sports multitasking and when that might pose a problem. Talladega in October poses a problem like that for me, in that I go to Seekonk or Thompson Speedway that Sunday and need two or three radios, one for Talladega, one for the Patriots, and one for the track PA of the race I'm attending.

Unknown said...

Ok, the shoe is now on the other foot. I don't get basketball. never have, never will. Some of my friends don't get racing. never have, never will.

I can't get excited about a bunch of guys running up and down a hardwood floor in silk shorts. My friends have no clue why I will sit in front of a TV to see a bunch of cars go in circles at a high rate of speed.

It all comes down to the same thing; passion. I have a passion for cars that are loud, fast and colorful. These is something about 'sneaker squeek' that annoys me.

Anonymous said...

David, maybe I can solve your dilemma, at least for next year... I'll cover Bristol for you while you go to the tournament.

See? Not that hard! Anything I can do to help...

Anonymous said...

Did that "fan" say that the ACC Tourney has too much coporate fluff?...Geez!, NA$CAR has a monopoly on corporate fluff. Next time you watch a race on TV ask yourself if you're actually watching a 4+ hour commercial. How bout that race in Atlanta last week?, now that was surely exciting. They've ruined NA$CAR. All this "growth" that Mr. Poole has been championing for years has turned it into a platform to push product.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: "They've ruined NA$CAR. All this "growth" that Mr. Poole has been championing for years has turned it into a platform to push product."

It always has been. Unless someone can come up with a better idea on how teams can pay the bills. It started when the first cars started selling sheetmetal advertising space. TV networks also have to pay the bills, which allows us fans to watch for free.

NASCAR isn't the only organization that gives us as much advertising as possible - has your grocery store started renting out its floor tiles yet? If you've flown recently, perhaps you noticed your tray tables now allow you to look at a product for 3 straight hours.

But, somewhere, in all that advertising, there is a car race to watch.

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