Wednesday, May 30, 2012

1991 Mello Yello 500

I was working in a convenience store in 1991 with a sweet lady in her late 50s. She was married to a gentleman who was pushing 60, he worked for an automobile parts company and he was really into racing. The couple made an annual trek to Indianapolis for the 500 every year. I joined them in October that year for the race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. I had been to a Busch (now Nationwide) race the year before, this was my first Winston Cup race.

I don't remember anything really about the race itself. A few events from the day stand out. I was really tired from lack of sleep. I must have fallen asleep well after 1am and I had to be at my coworker's home sometime in the six o'clock hour. If you aren't camping and you want to get to the track early enough to tailgate for a 1pm race you had to be on the road by 7am in order to beat traffic.

When we arrived and set up the group I was with started to make their choices for the race pool. I was pressured to participate and I was really reluctant to do so. I think you had to put $10 in to get a driver and at this time I was living on my own and making $5 an hour. I was also in school. I couldn't even really afford the $50 for the ticket and this was really putting the squeeze on my budget. I went ahead and picked a driver and paid my $10. I picked Kyle Petty. Kyle finished 15th, 7 laps behind the winner, Geoff Bodine.

When we were packing up to go inside the husband of my coworker couldn't find the soda bottle he had filled with a liquor drink. That was his thing at races, he would mix a drink at home in a plastic soda bottle and take it inside the track. It may have been a two liter bottle. This was back when cooler restrictions weren't as strict as they are now. His wife told him she purposely left the bottle at home because she thought he drank too much. Wow, did he get mad. He got quiet and his face turned red. Their friends all got very interested in what was taking place outside our area. I still sympathize with the old guy. He may very well have been drinking too much but I think a passive-agressive move like that on raceday is just not the best time. Telling someone they party too much while partying with them is not a effective strategy.

Our seats were pretty good. We were about halfway up in the lower deck right near the exit of turn four. Turn four in Charlotte during this time was one of the hairier turns the drivers encountered all year and the people I went with picked our particular seats because they offered a great view of this tough turn. I remember seeing two wrecks. One I managed to capture on film the other I didn't see, I heard it. That wreck happened when I was looking to my right down the front stretch and I heard in my left ear a sound like a shotgun going off just a few feet away. Someone had spun out in turn four and another car had plowed into his side. I had never heard a sound like that before and I couldn't believe both drivers climbed out and walked away. It was really scary. That was my first experience with the danger in high speed racing. Up until then I hadn't realized that these drivers were risking their lives. It was all just fast, loud and exciting before. Now it was dangerous.

I wish I remember more of the experience. I do remember that Dale Earnhardt left the race early with car trouble and I was very disappointed about that. But that was the day I first got to experience the spectacle that is a NASCAR race day and it hooked me. Once you see it live it makes watching it on television much more interesting.

I did take a few pictures with my step Dad's Pentax camera. It has a nice 200mm lens and most of these were taken with that. The full set is here

Dale Earnhardt, Harry Gant, Davey Allison, Geoff Bodine, Kyle Petty in turn 3
Dale Earnhardt, Harry Gant, Davey Allison, Geoff Bodine, Kyle Petty

Richard and Kyle Petty in turn 4
Richard and Kyle Petty

Eventual race winner, Geoff Bodine exiting turn 4
Geoff Bodine exiting turn 4

Pretty big wreck in turn 4 Trouble in Turn 4, Early 90's NASCAR mayhem


Kevin said...

I liked reading this.

Floridaman1985 said...

Thanks for posting. I was there that day, seated near to you. I was 6.