We like to think that some good comes from all bad and with what’s going on in the world right now, we need to cling to that hope. Fortunately there have been some things folks have done to help ease the strain of absolutely no sports whatsoever.
For instance Sunday afternoon there was a replay of the 2016 NCAA Men’s National Basketball Championship between Villanova and North Carolina. Last week Fox Sports showed the 2007 Texas basketball team in a game with Tennessee, with a young Kevin Durant showing his prowess as a collegian.
FloSports and USAC have done something similar with the “Thunder Relived” series on the FloSport app. The series debuted Thursday night featuring the Mopar Million at Eldora Speedway (during the Earl Baltes’ era) that payed the winner a hefty $200,000. Although I witnessed the race live, it was cool to get to see guys like Jac Haudenschild and Stevie Smith take the wings off and duke it out for the unheard of payout.
Even better was Saturday night’s program that was at the Santa Fe Speedway in Illinois in the first Thunder event in 1987.
That event had the late Rich Vogler, Sheldon Kinser, Bob Kinser, Louie Mann, Greg Staab and Tony Elliott. During the presentation it was easy to recall those old days as Mann picked up a heat race win aboard his cool No. 37 and Butler was the defending series champion piloting his No. 1 while Elliott was just a young (for that era) 26-year-old kid driving the famed Paul Hazen No. 57.
Elliott eventually won the race after a last-lap duel with Butler to become the first-ever sprint car winner in a Thunder telecast. It was also his first career USAC National Sprint Car Series win of the 26 he would eventually win in his storied career.
The post-race interview with Elliott was classic as Elliott seemed dazed to have won and for the only time that I can recall, seemed at a loss for words. Compare that interview with the popular driver to some of those on Thunder telecasts in the late 1990s and it was easy to see how much more confident he became over the years.
It was like a step back in time watching those drivers who were my heroes growing up and who have since passed away in action. The only thing that comes to mind to explain it would be the movie “Field of Dreams” when Kevin Costner builds a ballpark and some of the greats of the game showed up to play.
Elliott, Mike Mann, Tony Jarrett and Dave Darland were the first drivers to warm up to me when I started covering racing 20 some odd years ago and although Elliott was on the cusp of superstardom, he made me, just a fan who was lucky enough to make some money covering the sport I loved, feel welcomed. As I watched the telecast Saturday night I kept replaying some of my favorite Elliott moments in my mind.
Funny thing is not all of them were about racing.
No, the one thing that stands out was around Fourth of July weekend in the late ‘90s at Kokomo before the first car had rolled onto the track. Kevin Lindley was helping turn the wrenches with car owner Jeff Walker and was working on the engine when Elliott gave his trademark wink and lit a firecracker and tossed it by the car while Lindley was thrashing away. After Lindley about jumped 10 feet into that air Elliott just laughed and walked back inside the team transporter. Lindley went back to work and Elliott emerged with an entire pack of firecrackers this time and Lindley’s response cannot be published in a newspaper.
Another memory is of Elliott following his test with the IRL Panther Racing Team at the Texas Motor Speedway. Elliott had just got back into town and called me to stop out by his house and see the video of the test session.
Upon arriving I realized that Elliott was under the weather but although he primarily laid on the couch while watching the session, he would chime in what the car felt like at different parts of the tape. Then he asked, “How fast do you think I’m running right there?” as he pointed to the television screen. When I guessed something like 160 miles per hour he said, “Nope, I was around 200. They wouldn’t let me go over that.” He then went on to explain how even at those speeds he could recognize a person sitting in the stands right off of turn four.
All in all I could go through numerous columns regarding Elliott and his career, but most of all I was glad to call him a friend while he was with us all here before his untimely death in a plane crash five years ago.
So, with all of the anxiety and fear going on right now, thanks to USAC and FloRacing for allowing race fans the opportunity to escape all that, at least for a couple of hours.
Those interested in the series can get the app at www.FloSports.com. There will be a twinbill of events that the series is going to relive this Thursday and Saturday. In addition, all of the events are saved and can be replayed anytime after the live showing.
In the columns to come, we will look back on some of the drivers and teams of yesteryear and hope the day comes soon when we can go back to our normal way of life without all the fear and apprehension.