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WAID’S WORLD: Times Have Changed But The Legends Always Spark Fond Memories

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One of the most remarkable things about NASCAR fans – real NASCAR fans – is that they never forget.

They may be veteran fans, the type that actually saw Fred Lorenzen, Ned Jarrett and a young Richard Petty compete and remember the thrills they provided.

Or they may be younger ones whose interest was sparked by a father or an uncle and whose zeal for the sport prompted a keen interest in its past.

Old or young, they share a love of the sport. And they never forget.

At no other time is that more fully revealed than at the annual Stocks For Tots event held at the NASCAR Technical Institute in Mooresville, N.C.

Fans make a charitable contribution and receive a wristband which, among other things, allows them entry and the opportunity to get autographs from NASCAR competitors past and present.

The event is always well attended. This year, however, many long-time observers declared the crowd as perhaps the largest ever.

Judging from the line of fans waiting to get in – a line that didn’t diminish for hours – it would be hard to disagree.

I have had the good fortune to be part of Stocks For Tots for years. My best friend and colleague, the late Tom Higgins, nearly always accompanied me.

When my wife and I entered the building I was asked, “Excuse me, but are you a driver or a legend?”

“Ma’am I am no legend, just an old guy.”

“Well, you don’t look like one.”

Flattery. Hey, I like it.

But I am no legend. When I joined the others who sat at a long stretch of tables I quickly realized they were the legends.

I didn’t recognize some but the fans certainly did.

Oh, I recognized plenty of them. But the passage of time made them different.

Ricky Rudd had silver hair where once he was a dark-haired, baby-faced kid who looked like he just got out of high school.

Bobby Allison also had a head of gray and his walk was slow and deliberate. He is a man who has suffered so much – a near-death crash, the loss of two sons and the passing of his wife Judy.

But instead of hiding away behind a wall of self-pity, he’s constantly been out front, meeting fans and friends with a wide smile.

He’s aged, but Dave Marcis’ personality hasn’t changed one bit. He’s always smiling and laughing. And, yes, he still wears his Goodyear cap and winged-tip shoes.

Marcis was always known for his legendary prodigious appetite.

“You know,” he said to me at the pre-event buffet dinner, “they need to get bigger plates here.”

Harry Gant hasn’t aged one bit over the last 25 years.

The many conversations I had with the legends always seemed to center around how things have changed.

Some said it has changed so much they don’t even bother watching TV. Others said they watch TV but would never return to a race track.

Many said that today’s drivers don’t know how good they have it in terms of technology, competition and financial reward.

The theme of it all, “It’s not like the good old days.”

Well, that is true. The times have certainly changed in many ways – some of them good, some of them not so good.

The past is what it is. And it’s gone. All that is left of it are remembrances to which so many of us cling.

We have two choices: either to abandon NASCAR altogether or look ahead with the hope that whatever we think is wrong with the sport will become right.

I am going to adopt the latter. Yes, NASCAR has a lot of work to do but it has faced that situation before and overcome it.

And I have to believe that new leadership might be the catalyst for positive change.

It provides some anticipation for the year ahead.

And until that year arrives, I offer you my sincere wishes for a wonderful, happy Holiday Season.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement  

Steve Waid

Steve Waid has been in motor sports journalism since 1972, the year he first started covering NASCAR, when he started his newspaper career at the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin. From there Waid spent time at the Roanoke Times & World as well as NASCAR Scene, where he was the executive editor for 10 years. After retiring in 2010 he became the Vice President of Unplugged Auto Group for its website, MotorsportsUnplugged.com and has now joined POPULAR SPEED as an editor and columnist. Waid has won numerous writing awards and other such accolades. In January of 2014 he was inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame.