MONTE DUTTON - FROM A BALLFIELD TO A FLYING SAUCER
The mountain backdrop was more impressive than the race track, which reminded me at first of a large high school’s football stadium. Even at age seven, it occurred to me that the half-mile race track was twice as large as a quarter-mile track around a football field, so, appearances aside, this was larger than a football stadium.
Besides, this was NASCAR, and NASCAR was big.
The way into those grandstands was a long incline at both ends. In the 1960s, men were men and ice coolers didn’t have wheels on them. Ralph Barnes, sons Steve and Marty and adopted son Mooney Mims, took turns hoisting the cooler, which contained beverages I was 11 years removed from being able to quaff legally. Ralph may have remembered to pack a couple RC Colas, or Nugrapes, for me.
That was Bristol International Raceway. Now it’s Bristol Motor Speedway, and it should have a different name because, even though it’s on the same site, it’s entirely different. The track was lightly banked back then, and it was asphalt.
It doesn’t look like a high school football stadium anymore. High school stadiums now don’t look like they did then, either, but they have doubled, and the race track near the Tennessee-Virginia line in 1965 was more like the square root of what stands there now.
By the way, I have competed once at Bristol and once at Darlington. I grew up on a farm, and we often went to horse shows. I competed in Western Pleasure on the back of a quarter horse. The shows were in the infield at Darlington and near the drag strip at Bristol. I won a pink ribbon at Darlington. My sister was the horse-show star of the family.
The next time I was there it was the spring, and it was cold, and there was no tunnel in turn three, and if a sportswriter got there when there wasn’t a break in the action, he had to wait until a break, at which time the gate would swing open and those waiting could carefully make their way down the banking, which had gotten much steeper. I watched qualifying from behind that gate, and it reminded me of a pinball machine, a car shooting down the straight and roaring around the far turns like ball bearings.
Now it’s The Last Great Colosseum, which is a reference to the Roman Colosseum because the modern spelling of that grand word is “coliseum.”
What it looks like at night is out of sci-fi. It is illuminated by eerie blue lights and sits nestled in the valley, a would-be alien mothership.
Take us to your leaders.
Or, better yet, bring them here. It’s going to be a hell of a show.