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Being a NASCAR beat reporter was quite different around the turn of the century, oh, roughly, five years before to five years after.

Bigger crowds begat more writers and more hassles.

Coming from a small town, I abhor traffic. It makes me manic. I fixate on the time being wasted. I went to great extremes to avoid traffic. I followed dirt roads, map in hand, to get in and out of Michigan. In Texas, I parked before sunup and sat in a rental car, reading a book for several hours until the gates opened. Texas was the only track that wouldn't allow me to slip in early. I had a scenic, back-door drive to Martinsville. I carefully avoided the speed traps leading to Rockingham and Bristol. A long way was the short way (in time) to Las Vegas. I drove through a reservation to Phoenix.

Indianapolis. Hoo-hoo, mercy. (When I was a lad, that's what Bill Goodrich said when the Clemson Tigers scored a touchdown. Usually, it was Buddy Gore.)

When a race was over, I worked for however long it took for the traffic to clear out. I'd write all the stories for Monday, a column for Tuesday, and if need be, start advancing the next week. Time in traffic was time wasted.

Now the crowds are half as large, the hassles inconsequential by comparison. Nowadays, the media apparently miss the traffic. On race morning, I see a tweet claiming that, "if the traffic is any indication, it's going to be packed!" What that means is that the crowd will invariably be minuscule. I guess it's just civic-minded optimism.

I wish Neal Sims had lived to see it. Neal took a tack opposite of mine. He waited until the last minute, gambling that all the fans would be there. I admired Neal for his guts. I can see him now, striding into the press box with the anthem playing and announcing to anyone within ear shot, "Drove right in."

Once, in twenty years, did I try the Sims Method. I had been out watching Texas music in a honky tonk until 2 a.m., so I decided to sleep a while longer and go to the track the Neal way. The race was 20 laps old when I reached the lobby at the foot of the elevator. Neal walked in at the same time.

"First time I ever got burned," he said. I got burned the only time I ever tried. It was the only time I failed to see the start of a race.

On most occasions, though, punctuality is my greatest flaw.