McCollough: Making memories at 200 MPH

Published 10:24 pm Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I spent many a Sunday afternoon watching TV with my grandfather. He was in his beat up, brown recliner and I would find a comfy spot in the living room floor as we kicked back and got ready for three hours of entertainment. From green flag to checkered, we watched cars go in circles, and talked about lots of things.

My grandfather was an Earnhardt man, and I was too, although to a much lesser extent. I was a big Bobby Labonte fan.

We would prod each other with garbs and puns when our favorite drivers would have bad days, and would each give a snicker when Jeff Gordon would have a flat tire or blow an engine (because that’s what self-respecting Southerners do).

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On the track there names such as Wallace, Martin, Waltrip, Marlin, Irvan, along with Earnhardt, Gordon and Labonte.

But for me the most important name of the day was Father.

I am the baby grandchild, so I didn’t get to choose what we called our grandparents. I just went along with the status quo.

Father would tell me stories about the older days of racing, and I would soak up every word. And every now and then, he would ask me a question and I would relish the chance to tell him something that he didn’t know.

More often than not, our favorite driver didn’t win, but I was never sad because the day was always a win for me.

From time to time, we would venture to the local short tracks on Saturday night to watch Junior Neidecken, Ronnie Sanders and others wheel Late Models.

While the races were the reason we were together, it is not what I remember most.

The conversations and the fun we had together was the main attraction no matter who won, wrecked or didn’t qualify.

In April of 2001, we finally made the pilgrimage to the Mecca of Motorsports in our eyes: Talladega Superspeedway.

While Earnhardt wasn’t there, (he was killed early in the season in a wreck at Daytona) we enjoyed the weekend because we were with each other.

We watched Bobby Hamilton win a caution-free Talladega 500 on Sunday and even saw Bobby Labonte win an IROC race on Saturday afternoon. Our celebration of Labonte’s win was captured by ESPN and put on the tail end of the broadcast.

We laughed about that for a long time.

We made the trip to Talladega nearly a dozen times before he passed away in 2006, but each time I go back to the big track I think about the fun times we had.

So the answer is easy for me when people ask me “How can you watch those cars go in circles?’

It is because I have done it all my life.

This Saturday the stars and cars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will get back to business in the pre-season dash for cash known as the Sprint Unlimited.

While there will be no Wallace, Martin, Marlin or Waltrip in the starting field, I will close my eyes and still see them four-wide fighting for position.

I will then look to my right and see Father smiling because of the action on the track, and his spot next to me.