Hello Talladega and goodbye Amelia

Published 10:18 am Monday, May 9, 2016

I was torn at the TV dial last Sunday (I know it’s not a dial anymore, but I just like using that term a lot better than “the remote”).

I could watch Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Hornets go out of the NBA pro basketball playoffs fighting to the last man before they succumbed “with their boots on”. I didn’t really think they’d win a deciding game with Miami, in Miami; I just didn’t want them to get embarrassed, silly me!

On the other hand I could switch over and watch the NASCAR Cup race from Talladega.

The Hornets made up my mind by scoring just 11 points in the third quarter against the Heat, so it was a quick flip over to racing, and boy, was that a treat.

Then again, ‘treat’ depends on your perspective.

Of the 40 cars in Sunday’s GEICO 500, 33 were involved in wrecks. 96 laps in there was a wreck involving Jimmie Johnson where Chris Buescher went airborne and flipped a few times; Dale Jr. was involved in that one. Fourteen laps later Earnhardt’s ride was collected up in a wreck and ends up finishing dead last (more on that below). With 24 laps to go, Johnson is involved in his second mishap, looking like it would take out half the field. Finally, with just eight laps to go, Danica Patrick – running the best she has all year – and Matt Kenseth were involved in a wreck that made Kenseth’s the second car to go airborne. The white-flag lap even had one final crack-up but didn’t deter Brad Keselowski’s win.

Folks, that’s just restrictor-plate racing. I’ve read a ton of columns and editorials all this week from writers who decried all of Sunday’s carnage.

The thing is: people are cheering, again, for crashes.

To NASCAR’s credit, the sport has gotten a lot safer with the Hans device and padded barriers and, sadly, there hasn’t been a death in the sport since we lost “The Intimidator”, Dale Earnhardt, fifteen years ago. Face it; it’s a whole lot easier to not worry too much about the drivers when they don’t often get seriously injured. It’s comfortable again; maybe too comfortable.

Restrictor plates were added to the sport to make things safer, but some folks think they must not be doing the job.

Well, I disagree.

If it weren’t for the size (length) of these tracks – the cry from which restrictor-plate racing was born in the first place – maybe we wouldn’t hear as much of an uproar. Some say there’s a very big difference between “bumpin’ and bangin’” at say, Darlington, and what we’re seeing at Talladega and Daytona.

Earlier I mentioned Dale Jr.’s latest crash. Well, this time after three hard wrecks in 2016, Junior’s favorite car, “Amelia,” (named for the famed aviatrix, Earhart – no relation) is headed to the Earnhardt Auto Graveyard out there near his Mooresville home. “She” will race no more.

Earnhardt took Amelia to Victory Lane in last year’s GEICO 500 as well as the July Daytona race. The restrictor-plate chassis also owns a third-place showing in the 2015 Daytona 500 and a runner-up finish in the Talladega Chase for the Sprint Cup race. But a wreck in this year’s Daytona 500 paired with two hard wrecks at Talladega on Sunday proved to be the death kneel.

“It’s going to go into the graveyard whenever they get all the useful parts off of it, whatever they need,” Junior said earlier this week on Motorsport.com. “They’ll probably pull the engine and the transmission out of it, all of that good stuff, before it goes out (to the graveyard).”

A plate-race wreck. Farewell, Amelia, I can’t think of a more fitting end.


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.