MONTE DUTTON – WHEN IT LOOKS LIKE RAIN
I don’t often see people who go to the race track a lot. Usually it’s when old friends and I meet. Al Pearce met me for lunch a couple weeks back, and I saw Mike Hembree at the Furman-Citadel football game on Oct. 19. About the only person I see regularly who goes often – other than Darlington – to watch NASCAR races anymore is an old high school football teammate.
He was at the Touchdown Club Thursday, so I asked him if he was going to Martinsville Sunday. He said it looked like rain, so he was going to make the call early Sunday morning. It occurred to me that this is one reason why the crowds aren’t bigger these days.
It used to be that if one decided to go to Martinsville on Sunday morning, it had better be early. Clay Earles, and the son who survived him to lead the little Virginia paper clip, Clay Campbell, held back the concrete stands on the back straight so that people could get in on race day, general admission, first come, first served. The rest of the grandstands were already sold out.
Now my friend knows he can drive up there and buy good seats. He said since he started sitting between turns 3 and 4, he’d “never sit anywhere else.”
A man, or woman, or couple, or family that has shelled out its hard-earned money in advance feels the need to get the value of the tickets. Most folks don’t have that kind of money to burn.
When a Martinsville or a Talladega was rained out back in the 1990s and early 2000s, I used to marvel at the number who would be back the next morning. Nowadays a Monday crowd looks as if it just wandered in because someone at the Sheetz down the road said he heard some big teams were testing (there used to be a lot of that).
Nowadays, lots of the tickets that are sold are purchased by companies, not people. Companies will stay home. Lots of franchisees from Roanoke and Emporia come to the track and enjoy the hospitality tents, then leave after 100 laps to beat the traffic.
Part of it is the nature of people in the electronic age. When I was a kid, we’d circle the dates of Atlanta Braves Sunday doubleheaders, an inordinate number of which seemed to be against the Phillies, whose lineup I came to know almost as well as the Braves. Larry Bowa. Tony Taylor, Jim Bunning. Bobby Wine. Johnny Callison.
If they still had scheduled Sunday doubleheaders, fans would rather see one game than two.
I am not going to have my children out there sitting in that hot sun.
We loved it, sitting in the “that hot sun,” two ballgames for the price of one.
You can’t afford not to was the way we looked at it.
I always think of rain and cold when I hear the word “Martinsville.” I’ve waited out a cold rain many a day. Granted, it was because it was my job. I saw enough races to make Chris Economaki envious.
Well, a little. Let’s just say I could relate to Chris Economaki, give or take a half century.
Now I watch the races on high-definition TV, fix ham sandwiches or order a pizza, with my guitar leaning against the couch and the remote control on the coffee table.
I’ve gotten used to it, and I reckon I’m not the only one.