Oldies But Goodies

Spending another week enjoying the wonders of short track racing before returning to the high speed drama of the Champ Car World Series at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in a few days. I’m spending some time this week also reflecting on the amazing accomplishments of some of the elder statesmen of the short track wars.

While car owners coast to coast work long hours to locate and nurture the latest young guns who can get their teams into the Chase for the Cup, or into a bigtime victory lane, we’re blessed to be able to watch some latter-day legends work their magic on tracks fromChico in California, Oswego in New York, or Martinsville in Virginia. Maybe it’s a sign that I’ve been in this life for quite awhile now, but few things in racing mean more to me than seeing Steve Kinser win his 12th (Twelfth!) Gold Cup sprint car show in California at an age when many of his peers are playing golf and counting their money.

Or reading that the incomparable Bentley Warren has put aside personal tragedy and advancing years to take home a top-six finish in the Oswego Classic for supermodifieds the day after charging home third in the Saturday-night ISMA winged prelim at the incredibly-fast New York oval.

Equally impressive, the notion that Terrible Ted Christopher may again take home the NASCAR Mod Tour title, at an age he says is in the low 40’s…but one which some suspect could be just a bit higher. TC just won the Tour’s return visit to Martinsville to put himself solidly back into title contention.

It’s plain to anyone paying attention that while the twenty-something stars get most of the headlines and much of the cash, drivers can stay strong at the sport’s highest levels as they close in on 50…and maybe beyond. I’ve never bought a Mark Martin t-shirt or grabbed a Miller Lite with a nod to Rusty, but these two heroes, who cut their racing teeth on the short tracks of the Midwest, are gaining even more luster in my mind as their Cup careers hit the homestretch. Both are testimonies to the toughness of the old ASA Stock Car tour as well as to the kind of grit and character required to excel at a sport that frankly now caters to drivers half their age. I subscribe to the Red Smith theory that there should be no cheering in the press box, or in the broadcast booth. But if either Wallace or Martin should claim this year’s Nextel Cup there’ll be many of my colleagues who will bend that rule more than a little. And don’t think there weren’t some who were pulling, at least a little bit, for Terry Labonte to pull off a huge upset in his Joe Gibbs relief turn at Richmond Saturday, when he had the FedEx Chevy in the top ten.

In the next few weeks I’ll get to make another journey to Syracuse to call Super DIRT Week’s Modified events for SPEED. I’ll have one more chance to see Jack Johnson, Bill Wilson, Kenny Tremont and even Brett Hearn, all of whom are on the far side of 40…and a couple of whom have another great shot at taking home one of dirt racing’s biggest prizes. And I’ve just come back from watching Bobby Gill school the youngsters at USA International, to grab the Hooters Pro Cup South finale and set himself up for what could be another title run there.

When Del Worsham and Warren Johnson continue to grace Victory Lanes in the NHRA, and Mike Skinner wins two straight in his Toyota, it’s safe to say that age remains no barrier in racing. That’s great news…because all those veterans who’ve won big events this year help keep us all young.

Isn’t Bill Elliott coming back full-time next season?

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2005

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