Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ending The Decade On An Interesting Note

As this decade comes to a close, I thought I'd put one more post up. It was a decade that I wasn't real thrilled with. I thought the 90's were bad, but not like this. The 90's actually weren't so bad in retrospect. But if I ever look back on this decade fondly, I'll know something's wrong with me.

This was a decade that saw our country change "forever" in an instant. Not gonna get into politics here, but I always suggest people look, listen, read and think about what is going on and not let people tell you what to think.

This was a decade that saw my sister pass away. I lost my dog earlier this year. He was really a member of the family. My time in racing came to an end, which I know surprised a lot of people. Nobody thought it would end like that, but I have no regrets. My eyes were opened, and I could see clearly on my way out.

My last bit of involvement in racing centered around simulated auto racing with my friend Joe Martinez at CRO. We started that page as the best dam racing news site on the web as the decade began. Along the way, simulated racing became a part of it. At the time, I felt it was a detriment to the news aspect of what we were doing.

When I came back to it a year after leaving the real racing scene, the message board at CRO was dead. There had been a thread about a month before about reviving the sim racing league. Well, I assumed a fake identity, CW. That stood for both Charlie Watkins and Column Writer, and there's reasons for both that a few people know.

The big reason I chose to go anonymous was because I didn't want to talk about real racing. I wanted to have fun and build the league up. The mistake I made was that since I chose not to really chat with people and use my voice, I didn't fight for what I believed in and watched it all go away as the people I enjoyed racing with left one by one. There were some good newcomers there.

Long story short, I wrote stories, opened up my own server for practices and Joe and I built this thing into something truly awesome from a car count perspective. We were promoters in a away. When I finally revealed my identity, I started doing videos and announcing. From 2004-2006, this league was huge, and everybody seemed to want in. I left because it wasn't fun. I wanted simplicity, and it just got more complicated.

But anyway...

I can remember talking with John Soares Jr. about the bid being put up against him for Antioch Speedway prior to the 2003 season. George Steitz wanted in. He was a little concerned about things. I'll leave details out, but our last phone conversation had to do with him knowing he had the track. I recall him saying,"I'll see you at the track."

There were no hard feelings. Okay, I wasn't happy, but there were lots of reasons why. The last two years of The DCRR were losing money left and right. If it weren't for people like Don & Linda O'Keefe, Bill Bihn, J.D Willis and others, who sponsored here and there, it wouldn't have made it.

You've got to understand, I had achieved my dream. I was a track announcer and PR guy. Well, the dream of being a promoter never happened, but that takes money. I'm not naive. But, I was as close to being a promoter as one could get without having the official title. By 2002, I was back to just my magazine and the fledgling DCRR State point race.

I had hopes of getting the microphone again. You don't realize how much you love doing something until you aren't doing it anymore. I used to look up and thank God when I walked down from the booth at the end of the night. In 2003, I had my tape recorder and did audio calls from the races that I streamed on my web page or Don's web page. People used to listen to that and my audio show, and I was always getting positive feedback.

In 2004, I was under the impression that I might be back in the booth again at Antioch. Maybe I was misinterpreting what I was hearing in my conversations with John. I don't know. But when he said, "see you at the track" at the end of that conversation, I said to myself, "I'm done. I have nothing more left."

Trying to remember when Dave Lewis and Mike McClunney made the offer for me to go to Watsonville. Was it 2003 or 2004? Mike made the call. At the time, it was still a NASCAR track, but in it's waning stages. Rick Farren had the track. Now, there's a certain amount of irony in the offer. Not too many years before, I was vocal in Farren losing Antioch. Some people weren't to happy with me, but I don't blame them.

Watsonville was on hard times, but there was a chance to turn it around. Mike and Dave had ideas, and they wanted me to announce. Joe offered me a place to stay. I think it was Ken Bonnema who offered me the same. All I needed to do was take Amtrak as I had to Merced and Chowchilla so many times. But that was very stressful at times. I just didn't want that. I could do it, but I didn't.

I felt bad for Dave and Mike, because they were getting hammered by their critics from the very start. They needed some support in helping build the excitement and at least give their plan a chance. It didn't come. There was one web page that was particularly nasty and one respected columnist who could have been more supportive. I don't think he meant anything by it, but it wasn't helpful.

We all know the history. Mike and Dave made it a year and Farren gave up the track. It's Ocean Speedway now, and they seem to be doing great by all accounts. Part of me wonders what might have happened. I'm still trying to picture myself wearing NASCAR colors. I think the writing was on the wall though. Back in the day, though, the NASCAR banner meant something at the little dirt tracks.

In 2004 or 2005, Tom Sagmiller called. He was looking for an announcer and PR person. I was a bit surprised by that, but I shouldn't have been. Any ill feelings Tom and I had for each other, are water under the bridge. I could have done this, but I just didn't have it in me. Plus, I didn't want to choose sides in "the war", and I wasn't a fan of Chowchilla running the same night as Merced. I had to decline.

There's always that question of what might have been. But I also wonder what might have been if Spec Sprints had been part of the program in 2002 as we had discussed, and also what might have been if we'd have kept the Hobby Stock class in check. Tom had a great run there, though, and I respect him for making that track go. What more can be said? He's a racer, so he knows what it takes to make the racer's happy.

So, you're probably wondering what my point is. That is, if you are reading. Nobody may care.

Well, there was a point to the Jim Robbins visit a while back. I sort of had that feeling, but I wasn't really looking at a comeback.

John Soares Jr. called me up after his trip up to Reno for the Promoter's Workshop. He is keenly aware of the problems Antioch Speedway has. It's not the track. The track itself is fine. It's the image of the track. The lack of publicity. The lack of that sense of anything really mattering. The things that cause a family to go see a movie instead of a race with their entertainment dollar.

Concerns include publicity, announcing, the web page and there was this other thing. As I understand it, John now owns Racing Wheels Magazine. It's been out of business for a few years now, but he's looking to bring it back. He spoke of bringing back the news and emphasizing the classified ad section. Also, it would be a biweekly magazine. Can a printed racing magazine make it in this age of the internet?

So, after six years, the door is open for a comeback to Antioch Speedway. Would I be willing to come back and try again? There was always such a rush to announcing. Get those sponsors for the track and cars plugged, knowing interesting facts for all the racers, knowing the nicknames and just getting into it. Letting the people know we're watching a competitive sport and that the results matter in the big picture of this sport. The history of the track.

I think back to the announcers who meant something to me, like Butch Althar, who taught me the importance of the sponsorship. Harry Osbourne, who taught me why nicknames for the drivers are important, because they endear the drivers to the fans. They inspired me, and I'd like to think I added something to the show when I was up there.

Writing, announcing and reestablishing Antioch Speedway as THE place to be on Saturday night. It matters. John even spoke to me of the Hall Of Fame as the track turns 50. Yeah, 50 years, can you believe it?

So, how do I feel about it? Do I want to come back? I'll be honest with you. I don't think about it a lot. It's not something that drives me like it used to. I'm aware of it, and I read things when I can find them. It bothers me that the track has no publicity. I don't want to rip on the guy announcing, because he enjoys what he does and has become part of the tradition. But, the track can do better.

What saddens me is that nobody has been inspired to step up. I recall that the terrible souvenir programs of 1982 and 1983 inspired me to start writing and eventually make The DCRR. Where is that person at? Every track has somebody who thinks they can do it. Usually it's somebody young who thinks they know it all. But if the passion is there, they can be molded. Racing needs those people, because the ones you rely on won't be there all the time.

I mean, Stockton lost two great promoters of racing in Jim Shiels and Duane Borovec, both of whom passed away. Ron Albright could announce and write, and he retired. I'm not sure how Butch Althar is doing these days. And, Gary Jacob is gone. I warned of this during the last two years I was doing my magazine. What happens if somebody quits or passes away? Who will do it then?

So, the question is, would I come back? The answer is, I doubt it. I just don't know if I have it in me anymore to do this. I'm not the same person. I would have to have a good reason to want to do it again, and right now, I just don't know that I see it.

One thing is for sure, though. After six years, it was good to know I'm still remembered for the good that I can do. Sure, it's a little late, but better late than never. That, at least, is a positive note to end this decade on.

Happy New Year to all of you, and may this coming decade be kind to you and see lots of good things come your way.