Last night was pretty eventful, to say the least. The main event, a $10,000 to win NASCAR Whelen Modified Racing Grand Prix, drew a huge crowd. There were several great battles throughout the night (and most of them were broadcast on national TV), but ultimately, it was a battle between two local drivers that made the difference. Jason Sides outlasted and passed Kyle Buscheck, the Number 2 car, to take the checkered flag and the win while Buscheck settled for second place. Sides also earned him a spot in next week’s NASCAR Grand National race at Watkins Glen. The field of 18 drivers was too large for the 1.28-mile race track, which is part of the reason behind the race being shortened from its usual distance. Overall, it was quite the exciting race, especially with Jason Sides (No. 16) and Jason Leffler (No. 30) on the same page, as it were, which was apparent from their constant side-by-side racing. Sides and Leffler have both expressed interest in running the full race distance, which is quite an accomplishment for two men in a small town who have never done anything like this before.
A Huge Crowd
The main event drew a crowd of over 23,000 people (and that was only the beginning. A large part of the crowd spilled over to the side events, which also drew impressive turnouts). The entire night was sold out, which is impressive considering the economy and the fact that this was a Tuesday night. There were people lined up outside the building, even before the gates opened. Many locals were in attendance, so it was evident that a lot of the town’s residents wanted to see what all the fuss was about. While the cars were running, there were several cars parked along the fences, which is where a lot of people, myself included, were positioned. It was quite the scene and it gave the entire event a unique atmosphere. The grandstand was also packed and it felt like everyone and his uncle (and his uncle’s friend, who was in disguise) wanted to be a part of the spectacle. I wouldn’t describe the atmosphere as being overly raucous, but rather being loud and intense. The drivers, as well as the people who worked the track (namely, the flaggers), were able to feel the energy in the air, which made it that much more surreal.
Side events such as the Midget Autograph Session and the Chili Cook-Off were also very well-attended. The Midget Autograph Session, which was something new for Williams Grove, was a lot of fun. A lot of people, myself included, are just a bit of a dork and can spend hours looking at old cars, so it was a chance to do that. I really liked how the drivers were willing to pose for pictures and sign autographs for the fans. It was an extremely friendly and cooperative atmosphere and it made the event that much more enjoyable.
The Chili Cook-Off was something that Williams Grove has done for years but it was the first time that it was such a large event. The entire town came together to show off their culinary delights and display them in an attempt to be chosen as the best chili in New York State. It was quite an undertaking to make 600 plus pounds of spicy meat, but the effort was certainly worth it. This was one competition that the Hartsville Café was not going to lose. The food was excellent and unbelievably cheap. You could literally buy a whole meal for under $5. It was a steal. The ambiance at the café, which overlooks the speedway, was also incredible. It was one of the best views at the track and it was great to be able to bring a table and chairs outside to enjoy the day. The café is also a lot of fun to be in and you can always find something to do, no matter what time of day or night it is. You could also go for a walk, look for falling stars or just sit back and enjoy a cool breeze while listening to live bands play in the background.
Who’s Winning The Race To The Top?
While the main event drew the biggest crowd and the most attention, it was the battle for the top spot in the driver’s championship that raged all night. The race was between three drivers — Ryan Newman (No. 3, Chevy), Carl Edwards (No. 19, Ford) and Greg Biffle (No. 16, Chevrolet) — who were all vying for the top spot. While it didn’t end up being a typical Chase-type scenario (thanks to Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle), the three drivers were going at it tooth and nail all night long. As the saying goes, the fight is what makes the race. At one point, Edwards had a slight lead over Biffle but Newman staged a rally, which he eventually won by a nose, to take over the lead. As Newman crossed the line, he lifted his hands in the air in triumph, which was a sight to behold. It was an incredible display of speed and the win was duly noted by everyone in attendance.
While the NASCAR race was the main event, the World Series of Poker was the ultimate ‘cherry on top’ of a roller coaster ride of an evening. The night began with five events and moved to a second run after the first two events were completed. The first of the five events, the Deuce to Seven Lowball, is a game that has been around since the 19th century but has only recently become popular in poker circles. The name comes from the fact that two players are facing each other, each holding two cards, and the object is to get the highest number of wins while maintaining the lowest number of losses. The game is simple, yet challenging. Most notably, the game is played with a loaded deck — that is, the deck is weighted so that the cards have an advantage in favor of the player. It also helps if you know what cards are coming up next (the concept of ‘reading the cards’ is critical to winning at this game).
The World Series of Poker has traditionally drawn a lot of people to Williams Grove. Last night was no different as several buses and cars arrived around midday, packed with tourists who had descended upon the small town, looking to play some poker. It was cool to see so many people, interested in something that might be considered ‘nerdy’, come to my town. We didn’t have enough hotels to accommodate them all and local businesses, normally slammed on weekend afternoons, had to close down for the evening so that the staff could get some relief. I’m sure that some of them will stay in my humble hotel (it’s the only one left standing), while others will find themselves a spot at one of the many campgrounds in the surrounding area. It’s inevitable that, with all the people showing up, something is going to happen. The question is: Will it be good or bad? Only time will tell. (I hope it’s the former.)
The Road Goes Ever On
Now that you’re well-versed on what transpired last night, it’s time to take a quick trip down memory lane. Way back in 1997, NASCAR debuted a weekly web show, called The Racer’s Den. Each week, the show would follow three different NASCAR drivers, as they went about their business, preparing for and racing in one of NASCAR’s famous series. As the name would suggest, the show was hosted by Jack Bergen, who would talk to various drivers, coaches and crew members, getting their thoughts on the upcoming races, stories from their past and anything else that was on their minds. The show was pretty entertaining, especially for those who enjoy hearing from the ‘drivers as well as the cars’.
Prior to the start of each week’s season, Jack would post a letter on the site’s forum, giving the NASCAR fans a small insight into what was going on with each driver and the team. The last letter, for example, talked about how the 1999 Ford crop car, which was driven by Jack (but this is a differentJack), had been performing well and how the future of the team, as well as Jack’s own personal life, looked bright.
While there are no direct links between the letter and last night’s events, it’s pretty evident, based on the outcome, that Jack was on the right track. The season began and ended on a high note for the veteran, led by the Number 3 car, which he co-drove to victory in the very first race of the season, the Pepsi 400, held at Daytona Beach. Following a 19-race winless skid in 2000, Jack had another stellar year, winning three times, including back-to-back races, the 2002 and 2003 Daytona 500s. He won the 2004 NASCAR Winston Cup, his final professional season. In total, Jack finished second in the overall standings that season, behind Jimmie Johnson.