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The night the sirens went off

July 23, 2020 - 01:00
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It was a relatively quiet Wednesday evening last week when the natives were suddenly stirred by the sounds of a piercing siren.

No, it wasn’t a tornado horn. No, it wasn’t a warning siren for incoming Russian bombers. No, it wasn’t a siren to start the week’s “Fattest Squirrel Contest”.

No, it was the Dawsonville Pool Room. Time to let everybody know NASCAR driver Chase Elliott just won a Cup race.

Not just any race, mind you. This was the NASCAR All-Star race coming directly at you from historic Bristol Motor Speedway. Naw, they don’t run the All-Star race at Bristol. They run it at Charlotte.

If you’re a NASCAR fan from that school of thought, you’d be absolutely correct. They have run the All-Star every year at Charlotte on that 1.5-mile track that feels like it is much longer. Except for two years.

In 1986, I think, they ran the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The winner that night was Bill Elliott from Dawsonville. The second time was last week at that halfmile track that feels like watching a jet fighter flying in a gymnasium. You got it. Last week, the winner was Chase Elliott of Dawsonville.

Yep, and the sirens were loud and feisty at the Dawsonville Pool Hall. Just like they were when Bill won the race.

Yep, father and son won the only two All-Star races held outside Charlotte. Bill collected a check for $200,000, which was a payday of nobody’s business back then. Chase, on the other hand, won last Wednesday and walked away with a check of… ready for this…$1 million cool dollars.

Now that both Earnhardts are not racing, Chase is my favorite driver. I’m not saying that because he won, I’m saying because I truly like the kid. There’s a reason he is NASCAR’s most popular driver.

I have been loyal to seven NASCAR drivers in my life. I have liked a lot of them but these guys are the ones. Back in the day, it was Cale Yarbrough and The King, Richard Petty. I liked Cale not only because he was a great driver but because he forfeited a bunch of money in a Daytona 500 to stop on the backside of the track and beat the heck out of Bobby Allison. He had a chance to win but that guy ended that dream and Cale, well, became my hero for standing up for what he believed.

The King was the king. 200 career NASCAR wins. In a Petty blue car. 200. That will never be touched.

Dale Sr. and Junior because they were Earnhardts. I wish Junior had picked up more of his daddy’s edge but that’s okay. The Intimidator made up for it. Talk about standing up for what you believe in. Just ask Darrell Waltrip.

Jimmie Johnson is right up there because of the number 7. Seven NASCAR titles. That too will never be touched. When Johnson and Chad Knaus were together, they were unbeatable. Closer to home, Chase is my top Dawg as I mentioned, but I am also very fond of Kevin Harvick.

Anybody remember the first NASCAR race he won? After the Intimidator was killed at Daytona, the question became who would replace Dale Sr. for a long time. Finally, car owner Richard Childress made the decision to put the Intimidator’s machines back on the track.

Biggest difference was the loss of No. 3. Childress opted to hold onto the number and rolled out the Intimidator cars as No. 29. The driver? Kevin Harvick. The result of his first race at Atlanta Motor Speedway? A win at the wire by a matter of inches.

Childress held onto No. 3 until recently when he awarded his grandson Austin Dillion with the number. Dillon is not Dale Sr. but it is nice to see that big 3 rolling the tracks in our great country again.

As for Chase, when I was working in south Atlanta as a sports writer, one of my beats was covering Legends car racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway every Thursday night. One night, we had some rain and I was walking around the pits talking to drivers and crews, I turned a corner and looked up and there stood Bill Elliott and Chase, all by themselves, working on a spindle problem in Chase’s car.

I stopped and said hello and ended up standing there for over an hour, completely enthralled by my conversation with those two men. I was intimidated by Bill because of his sheer height but he was a great guy. I didn’t do an up close and in your face interview. I just talked with them. No microphone rolling for sound bites. Just three guys at the race track.

Chase was an exceptional young man. Extremely polite and always said yes sir, no sir. He was racing articulate, talking about the sport as if he’d raced for many years. Bill just smiled. That young man was in training. He just didn’t know it.

I’ll never forget that night and that’s probably why I jumped out of my recliner last week when Chase won and I scared the stuffing out of my dog. I thought he was going to jump through the sliding glass door in my den.

Kind of like the sirens going off in Dawsonville at that very same moment.

Kind of like a new friendship forged on a rainy night at the racetrack in Atlanta many years ago.

But for me, it was the imagination of what those sirens sounded like celebrating a young man that earned the bells. And for me, the remembrance of two great guys.

And that dang faulty spindle.

This is Got a Minute. I’m out. Proud of a friend and warm and fuzzy for the memory of a lifetime.