Saturday Night Special was a blast … Let’s do it again
Watching a race on ESPN with Ned Jarrett in the booth, with Rusty Wallace on the track, I had fond flashbacks to the 1990s. For the older viewers watching, seeing people like Cale Yarborough on the track at Bristol must have been a real treat.
My hat is tipped to the people at Bristol for putting together such a great race. Though many feared the Saturday Night Special could disappoint, I’m glad to say it didn’t.
Sterling Marlin led from the start and held off Rusty Wallace, the favorite heading into the race. Wallace had even taken his car to the wind tunnel, but his expectations of a win were dashed by Tennessee native Marlin.
The biggest surprise was 70-year-old L.D. Ottinger, who was the least recognizable driver in the field and hadn’t driven in a race in 10 years. Ottinger charged through the field to finish third. He had a legitimate chance to win if a caution had come late. It goes to show that talent is something you always have deep down.
‘Handsome’ Harry Gant started off strong, and could have battled for win if he hadn’t lost a hood pin. I’ve met Harry several times and he’s a great guy who has moved past racing and settled into a calmer, rural life. It was a thrill to see him back in a racecar, doing what he does best.
Seeing Ned Jarrett in the booth announcing the race with his son was a treat. Ned was always one of my favorite NASCAR announcers, and I’ve been missing him for a while, especially with the weak lineup FOX offers for its broadcast team. I don’t think Ned would ever have reduced himself to pimping a cartoon gopher named Digger. The man has integrity.
It’s too bad Junior Johnson got wrecked in practice (thanks, Jimmy Spencer) and we didn’t really see what he could do. The man hadn’t driven in a race in 40+ years, but he still kept out of the wall during the actual race despite the car being bent out of shape.
I’d like to see the Special become an annual tradition, but there need to be some rule changes. Marlin still competes part-time in Cup (including this weekend‘s Bristol race), so drivers like him need to be taken out of the mix. The rules should only allow for fully retired drivers.
A full series like this is probably not likely, as it probably would have materialized already if it were going to happen. But it would be great to see occasional one-off events like this. There are many drivers such as Dave Marcis, Dick Trickle and others who might want to take part. I’d love to see David Pearson compete in one of these races. I’d bet Pearson can still hold his own.
Sadly, many new fans don’t recognize the history of the sport, and don’t know about all the greats that have paved the way for the Jimmie Johnsons and Kyle Busches of today. It can’t hurt to remind them once in a while.