MONTE DUTTON - ON THE SHRINE OF THE PEE DEE
If Clint Bowyer would rather win at Kansas Speedway than anywhere else, it makes sense. Bowyer is a Kansan.
Just because I never raced doesn’t mean South Carolina isn’t something special to me. I’ve watched more races at Darlington than any driver has raced. Most of my bone-jarring hits occurred on a high school football field, and the home site of the stripes I earned there is important to me, too.
I hope I never stop getting chill bumps every time I think of Darlington Raceway, Clinton High School, Furman University and Fenway Park.
As a boy, I always sat with my dad and usually my brother on the back straight, which is now the front straight, but was then populated with scouts – Boy, Cub, Webelos with their plaid neckerchiefs – whose uniforms got them in at a special cut rate. We just had the standard cut rate because Daddy was frugal where tickets were concerned.
The back straight was fine. The independents pitted in front of us. The memory of Johnny Halford pitting his purple Dodge, climbing out the window and changing two of the tires himself, is more distinct today than Buddy Baker winning that race.
Cale Yarborough, then driving for the Wood Brothers, rode the top of the inside guard rail in front of me, that lovely red and white Mercury balanced on top of it until it finally lost its balance and skittered off into the infield side. I remember that photographers scattered enough to be safe but not enough to miss the pictures.
In South Carolina, not only was Darlington Raceway ours. It also belonged to Yarborough and David Pearson, who were South Carolinians. Cue up a video. Pearson turning a Darlington lap still looks as artistic to me as Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic.
Besides, Phil Harmonic never ran worth a damn at Darlington.
Of other tracks have I memories. Of Darlington, I have feelings I still relive. Wondering if the balky elevator in the press box elevator was going to run one more time. Enjoying one of America’s great hamburger steak plates at the Raceway Grill. Visiting the Joe Weatherly Stock Car Racing Museum and Hall of Fame, and reading the column Bob Myers wrote on Curtis Turner’s death for the umpteenth time.
As Gen. George S. Patton said, at least in the movie that invoked his name, said, “I love it. God help me, I do love it so.”