Talking about your generation

The Darlington Raceway in the early years and the “old timers” who helped to start it all. FILE PHOTO

By Harold Brasington III

Special to the News & Press

“My generation! Yeah! Yeah!” Even for folks like me born a couple years after The Who’s 1965 hit, you have to admit – that’s an awesome song. All that angst, optimism and defiance rolled up into one satisfying wallop. Every generation has songs like that. A soundtrack to your coming of age. A sonic cue for your launch into the great wide open. (Hope you get the Tom Petty reference – he always did it for my age group. And the “Back in Black” album from AC/DC, and vintage Aerosmith, and Led Zeppelin…. So it’s throwback time again in Darlington, and I’ve got a question for all of you race fans . . . what do racing and rock-and-roll have in common? Here is the short answer: D-I-Y, or “do it yourself” for those of us still getting the hang of communicating with acronyms. It’s an ironic thing to ponder when you think about it. In a time when TV shows about fixing stuff yourself is more popular than ever, it is getting harder all the time to do it because of a little thing the marketing wizards started a long time ago called planned obsolescence. Has a sinister ring, doesn’t it? A lot of stuff is so cheap and computerized that there is just no fixing it, and that was the plan all along. So while we gear up to “throwback” this weekend and get nostalgic about the music and the cars from the past, let’s send up a salute to all those drivers, mechanics and crew members from days gone by. Men like Junior Johnson and Smokey Yunick. People who could fix things. People who invented things. People who had a big hand in creating the framework for our iconic car culture and what we think of as the “American Way of Life.” Our early rockers customized their gear because the stuff they wanted had not been invented yet. Eddie Van Halen famously created the “Frankenstrat” by combining parts from Fender and Gibson guitars and changed the sound of rock overnight. In the same way, our masterminds in the garages worked wonders out on the racetrack to increase speed, efficiency, tire performance and safety. All of these innovations made their way into the cars we came to rely on. The automobile was key to transforming 20th century America. It democratized mobility, and the asphalt oval is the laboratory where the details got worked out. And that is the significance of Darlington Raceway and the visionary men who built her, and those who came later and continued to build upon the dream that Harold Brasington started so many years ago. This year we throwback to 1990-94. If this was your generation, then I feel sure you were rocking hard to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. And while the grunge bands in the Northwest were putting the grit back in rock and roll, NASCAR was polishing up its image and getting ready to head ’em up and move ’em out – the westward expansion was under way. We were dialing back the mustache/mullet combo and Hollywood was back in Darlington with big-name actors to make “Days of Thunder.” Tom Cruise got a speeding ticket on Cashua Street and we got our first look at a new actress named Nicole Kidman (I reckon Tom got a good look, too). I recently had a chance to visit with Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp about the 1990s Throwback theme and I think we were both a little surprised about how much has changed in one generation – for NASCAR and the world in general. I asked Kerry what he thought was special about that time and we went through the list of all the obvious things like the epic rivalry between Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Sr. And then he paused and looked at me and said something that really stuck with me. “It was also a time when we sat down at the table at night and talked with your family and friends and you looked people in the eye because we didn’t have phones at the table.” Kerry – you are preaching to the choir, my friend! That is another reason to love race weekend even more. A lot of people are going to put their phones down for a few precious hours and connect with their fellow race fans and enjoy living in the moment, right where they are, in Darlington. I think my granddad would agree with the sentiment. He liked to keep it simple. Some folks said he preferred to do things the hard way. Sometimes that might be the right way if you like the end result. And what was that result? A smooth ride on an engineered highway in a reasonably safe and reliable car. That is what my generation got out of the deal. Granddad was a man of few words, but he made a few comments that I remember to this day. “Racing fixed the tires and the brakes on cars, then we had to go and build the roads, too.” I’m ready to get nostalgic for the ’90s. And that can be the launching point to go wherever you want to in the history of stock car racing here in Darlington. This is where racing on asphalt began. This is where some of the legendary cars still live. If you get the chance to visit with Marshall Griffin and one of his “Roaring Relics,” count yourself lucky. He takes his cars out of the museum every year to let fans touch or even sit in a piece of NASCAR history. Help a young fan meet a driver or check out a race car. These young fans are the innovators of tomorrow and will be solving the mobility challenges that face America. We might not be the rough-hewn rabble we once were. I know a lot of my rowdy friends have “rowdied on down” as Hank Jr. once said. But we still know how to have a good time. I just hope I’m not the only one yelling “Free Bird!” when Better Than Ezra takes the stage for the pre-race show.

Author: Rachel Howell

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