Grand National Scene
By Joe Whitlock
I’m not on the Supreme Court so I didn’t get a vote ... but it is my inalienable right to express my opinion.
“Oh say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light ...”
Warm summer rain on a fresh-mowed lawn. The distant roar of thunder and garden-fresh roses.
Curtis Turner, Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. Joe Weatherly, Fireball Roberts and Fearless Fred Lorenzen. Arnold Palmer and Bob Cousy.
Sun-dried bedsheets. A puppy’s squeaky, innocent bark.
“What so proudly we hail’d ...”
Cousins, sisters, brothers, parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents and kids. Playground laughter. The morning paper and the evening news.
Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace, head-to-head, on Bristol’s banking. The shrill cry of an air wrench as it anticipates a pit stop.
“At the twilight’s last gleaming ...”
Faded jeans and well-worn sneakers. Silent falling snow, logs crackling in the fireplace and bacon sizzling in a pan. A woodchopper on a nearby hill.
Big Bill France. Oh, yes!
“Whose broad stripes and bright stars ...”
The concert of springtime birds at sunrise. Suddenly startled chipmunks. The whitetail deer at Pocono. Doors that only creak when it’s dark and Halloween. Ribs on the grill with friends and Tucker’s music.
Ned Jarrett, Junior Johnson, Banjo Matthews and Tiny Lund. David Pearson, Cotton Owens and Jack Smith. Jim Hunter. Richard Petty and Bobby Isaac. “Gentlemen! Start Your Engines!” “Play Ball!”
“Through the perilous fight ...”
Lonesome, laboring midnight trains. Firm, caring handshakes. Chincoteague oysters on the halfshell. “God Bless America” and anybody’s alma mater. Jet trails aloft, bent by the wind. Beautiful, playful Crutch and his love. The Golden Gate Bridge.
The gusty roar of finely-tuned racing engines. Pit stops with ballet precision. The white flag and one lap to go.
“O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming ...”
Vine-ripe tomatoes, silver queen corn and Vidalia onions. Sunday morning church bells. Waves against a seawall. The metallic whine of a distant trail bike.
The Darlington “stripe” and the Southern 500. Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond. Daytona in February. “Little Bud” Moore.
“And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air ..."
The unending honks of a Southbound wedge of geese. Largemouth bass cracking the water’s surface at daybreak. Top-water fishing. Santee-Cooper. The rustle of leaves beneath boots in the fall woods.
Richard Petty’s hats and sunglasses. His smile. Tire mounters who never seem to finish working. The lookalike Elliott brothers. Hot dogs at Martinsville. Glen and Leonard Wood. The crisp, clean smell of Rockingham in October. My old dog Otis, gone but not forgotten.
“Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there ...”
Pickup trucks and Golden Retrievers. Turkey, dressing and giblet gravy at Thanksgiving. New York City in December. Military color guards. “Goodnight, Chet.” “Goodnight, David.” Strawberry shortcake.
Drivers’ meetings. Bobby Allison’s spunk and Judy Allison’s spirit. Junie Donlavey’s smile. Humpy Wheeler’s pre-race shows. Riverside and Ontario now gone. Darel Dieringer’s giggle. Ageless Buck Baker. Fans who care. Scorers who work tirelessly.
“O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave ...”
“Silent Night.” Teenage shrills on amusement park adventures. Batman. The inside smell of a brand-new car. Election Day. Easter eggs. The Rocky Mountains. Little smiling babies.
Davey Allison and Kyle Petty winning their first races. The meaningful beauty of the Hayride 500. Harold Kinder on the flagstand. “Give ‘em one more lap to go, Harold!” Unocal’s pit crew competition at Rockingham.
“O’er the land of the free ..."
Hud’s fried chicken drummets and incredibly delicious cole slaw. The crack of a bat when it strikes a well-hit ball. People who share. The thud of a horseshoe when it rings the stake. Napa Valley. Honesty. Ditto’s exuberance and intelligence.
Engine builders, tire changers, fabricators and jack men. Truck drivers. Phoenix. Crowded infields and packed grandstands. Press box banter. Veteran drivers spending time with eager rookies. Friendships that never fade.
“And the home of the brave.”
Nobody can burn my American flag. The cloth it is made from perhaps might yield to a flame. But not my flag. It will forever wave.
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