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Some years ago, I was wandering around under the stands at Daytona International Speedway during a (probably still) Winston Cup practice. Near one of the portals sat a David Pearson Wood Brothers Mercury, all refurbished and bright.

I wouldn’t have gotten there quickly had it been a human magnet. As a practical matter, it was.

A young couple was examining it. The attractive young woman wore a sundress. Her apparent hubby was fashionably matched in shorts, a surf-shop tee and topsiders.

They might as well have been examining the fossilized remains of a triceratops.

“Look, Jessica, there’s a plate where the doorhandles were supposed to be.”

“And, Rob, it’s got the same molding around the windows that passenger cars used to have.”

The interior had lots of open space. The seat offered no head-and-neck protection, but it was cushioned with black naugahyde that only required the slaughter of one or two naugas.

(It’s a joke. Naugahyde is synthetic leather.)

I couldn’t resist.

“If you’re interested,” I said, “that car right there went faster around this track than the ones out there practicing right now.”

It was one of those summers where the cars were particularly well restrictor-plated.

The looks on Jessica’s and Rob’s faces read, Why, it cannot be.

I thought then what I think now. How did they ever survive?

Now, when I recall those days and remember that the summer race at Daytona then started at 11 a.m. (10 for many years before that). I should concede that I wrote about that race from the air-conditioned comfort of the press box, but I had stalked the sweltering garage for several days.

Talladega in late July was worse. Darlington on Labor Day was no trip to the dessert bar.

Now the Used to Be a Firecracker 400 is run at night, often with a forecast of “either it will rain or it almost will.”

If NASCAR went back to an 11 a.m. start, the crowd would be carrying placards from the National Association of Cruelty to Humans. Before my job was writing about the races, I attended a many of them in blazing heat under the influence of frosty beverages. I chose my Atlanta Braves games around the two-for-one bargain of Sunday doubleheaders. I practiced football three times a day, with precious little water, in August. Our attitude matched the frequently voiced refrains of Dale Earnhardt fans when the Intimidator knocked some poor mortal out of his way.

“Hey! That’s part of it!”

Nowadays, I think we know too much and forget that it was just as dangerous 50 years ago to (a.) sit in the sun without skin protection, (b.) ride on a four-lane highway in the bed of a pickup, and (c.) anger a Santa Gertrudis bull.

But, by God, taking a swim without waiting an hour after supper would kill you. One of my mother’s favorite gripes is chickens. She says they’re no good. They’ve been pumped up so much with steroids and the like that their breasts are too large to fry in a pan, which is why all of it is deep-fried nowadays.

That’s pretty much the way we grow our athletes, either with chemicals or weights, and as a result, a pitcher can’t go more than six innings, and a race driver climbs into his car surrounded by all the technology we once reserved for astronauts headed moonward.

On the other hand, in the words of the Outlaw Josey Wales, “Dying ain’t much of a living.”

Race fans used to be crazy, and the drivers were crazier. I was a tad crazier myself.