Gaston Gazette

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Helicopters fly in during Memorial Day weekend prerace ceremonies at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday.

Column: The Coca-Cola 600 and the Schaefer pre-race party

            CONCORD – On the long day’s journey into a Coca-Cola night, I had a chance to celebrate all things Schaefer.

            Schaefer beer is apparently hard to find these days. Chase Whitaker, my Nashville friend, holds a party before the Coca-Cola 600. If his party were a church – and it isn’t – Schaefer would be used for communion. But racing has a bit in common with religion. Its adherents are devout. They don’t pray facing Kannapolis or Level Cross, nothing like that. They love their racing, though, or else why would they make this pilgrimage to Charlotte Motor Speedway every year for NASCAR’s longest race?

            For the second year in a row, Chase invited me to attend and play a few tunes. I just showed up at about 11 a.m., did a few songs I wrote, took a few requests, played a little Hank Williams, a couple John Prine tunes, sat around and talked racing for a while. Then I went to write about racing.

            This year a couple of America’s Finest joined us. The addition of wandering soldiers, presumably well versed in living off the land, only added to the party. Not only were these soldiers adept in securing beer – yes, Schaefer beer -- but they were apparently outside the chain of command. They spoke to each other nervously about avoiding detection. Who wouldn’t be willing to take in a soldier on Memorial Day weekend and slake his thirst?

            Once I leaned the guitar against a chair and settled in for some racing conversation, attention turned to olden days, for these were men and women relatively close to my age, men who could recall the glory days of Fred Lorenzen, the Plymouth Roadrunner, marching bands on the front straight and P.A. announcers who used terms like “high, wide and handsome.”

            Man, these were serious race fans, ones who not only remembered USAC, but remembered when it had its own stock-car circuit. They knew that the Schaefer 300 was once run in Trenton, N.J., and that Al Loquasto once drove an Oldsmobile at Pocono that was sponsored by Schaefer.

            Chase Whitaker and Ron Willard, of McDonough, Ga., major in NASCAR and minor in Schaefer. Or maybe NASCAR is the minor. They know their Schaefer. And their Schaefer Light.

            It was a big gathering of families, the old timers talking one era of racing, their kids comparing notes with another, the Indy 500 on TV, hamburgers on the grill and homemade pimiento cheese on the Ritz crackers.

            Not a bad way to spend a sunny day. Then they all tramped off to the stock car race.

 

You may contact Monte Dutton at mdutton@gastongazette.com.


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