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WHAT WITH various views of different forms of motor racing (F1 is dull; NASCAR is for sale), there’s historical perspective to be gained through the writing of no less an authority than Henry N. Manney.
In May 1967, R&T published his article “Neatness Don’t Count,” with the subhead “Our European Editor Views Stock Car Racing at Riverside.”
Manney used to write European race reports for R&T back in the days when F1 cars were snarly and drivers shifted with a stick. In 51 years NASCAR has changed too. But Henry’s comments haven’t lost their bite—or relevance. Tidbits follow from his 1967 analysis.
NASCAR Origins. “Oncer punner time,” Henry began, “as the more serious students among you may remember, there was a great migration of Scottish and English farmers to the New Colonies…. Intonations and local dialects still bear the marks of Elizabethan England and as befits a people who have stood self-reliant for so long, they have their own special way of doing things.”
“Take booze, for example,” Henry continued. “Every farmer felt it his bounden right to make his own popskull…. At that, the revenooers were around enough and began to take a close interest in nocturnal traffic…. …it is safe to say that today’s stock car racing scene stems directly from the Carolina farmer’s polishing his technique on loose-surfaced back by-ways.”
About the 1967 Motor Trend Riverside 500. Henry wrote, “I never did find out how far from stock most of these machines were and in what context but as the Jook of Wellington said about some of his own men, ‘They might not frighten the enemy, sir, but they certainly frighten me!’ ”
NASCAR vs. English Saloon Car Racing. “Huge tires protruded from under cinched-down bodies,” he noted, “enormous exhaust pipes peeped coyly from under the driver’s door and a casual look at the interior revealed a Jungle Gym of roll-over bars plus one lonesome seat set in acres of painted floor pan pressings. The English have a fit if somebody leaves out the passenger seat cushion, let alone a bit of floor carpet.”
The Drivers. “I suppose the main characteristic,” Henry observed, “was a sort of thirtyish and pleasant relaxed look, often with a cigar stuck in the corner of the mouth. No funny beards, no long hair, no spectacular profiles; just what seemed to be a social and chaffing friendliness as one would find at a dentists’ convention. Just the same, most of these men are real professionals and showed it by the close watch they kept on other drivers’ performance and equipment….”
The Start. Henry recognized, “The race itself was definitely a bit bizarre as, to start with, nobody could be trusted to dig out from the line in low gear. Instead, all hands commenced lazily enough behind a pace car occupied by two brave gentlemen and rumbled around in a long crocodile sounding like one of those WWII bomber movies until the pace car saw fit to turn them loose.”
Motor Trend Riverside 500 Race Fans. Henry characterized the guys in the stands as “plumpish, crew cut, wearing a jacket with Bardahl/STP/Champion/Red Valley Raiders on the back and surrounded with partially consumed 6-packs of beer.”
“Their female consorts,” Henry observed, “were of the type mostly who used to give away trophies at small motorcycle meetings: rather short with turned-up noses, big hermans, massive beehive hair dos, levis, high heeled sandals, and measuring about two axehandles and a can of Copenhagen across the backside. Defintely not the silk-bloused birds seen at Riverside’s Can-Am but then the stock car lot seemed more sociable.”
The Race, Part 1. “Surrounded by impressive quantities of iron,” Henry wrote, “the drivers didn’t make any particular effort to leave air space between any two cars and charged as if the race were 10 miles instead of 500…. Predictably, with all the powersliding… there was a lot of spinning going on, and if it comes to that, going straight at the Esses: Those cars must handle like pigs with huge front tires and strapped-down suspensions.”
Rain in California?? “But that was nothing to the confusion when the rains came,” Henry wrote. “Lee Roy Yarbrough flipped his Dodge in the Esses, the yellow flag came out and everyone trundled about in an orderly fashion behind the pace car for 45 minutes or so until it was decided to postpone the rest until next Sunday!”
“Jeez,” said Henry, “if that happened in England they would never finish an event.”
As Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Loosely, ain’t it always the same damned thing.
Thanks, Henry. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018