LOYALTIES

The year was 1985 and the place was a track in Mohnton, Pennsylvania; somewhat south of Reading; the site of the first Keystone Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway. Over the years, the title-rights sponsor has changed and so did the official name of the event. But for those of us living in the northeast, it will always be the Keystones, in much the same as the late Englishtown event will always be the Summernationals.

Those race names were carved in stone when the events began and I have a small problem when they’re renamed. Some things should just remain. I understand the title-rights sponsor names added, but there should be some sort of loyalty to a name.

I grew up a short five miles from Giants Stadium in New Jersey, and hence a Giants football fan despite their shortcomings the past couple of years. Back then though, the area was nothing more than swamp land until they built the horse track first and then the football stadium. Shortly thereafter, they decided to build an enclosed arena for basketball and other events. I believe it was the governor of New Jersey at the time who sort of helped pave the way to raise funds in order to construct the project. As a way to honor him, the arena was named as the Brendon Byrne Arena. Quite an honor I think. That is until Continental Airlines came in and Governor’s named was removed, renaming it as the Continental Airline Arena.

There were probably other circumstances surrounding the name change, but it bothered me they took down the original name. Seems to me it’s like a lot of what we have in our world today, “What have you done for me lately?”

This year, the official name of the Reading race is the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals. Did whoever decided to add the title-rights sponsor’s name object to simply making it the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Keystone Nationals? Good question, huh? Which brings up another question for me.

Traditionally, for 21 years, the Keystones was held two weeks after Indy in September. Unfortunately, rain plagued the event most of those years and as such it was moved first to August, then to October and now back to its original date. Which, by the way, the rain followed each year and for a couple of days this year. But herein is where I have a problem. Despite the rain, the place was always packed with fans and racers. Even in the rain, you had a tough time trying to negotiate through the packs of fans who populated the track. I’m certainly not a race promoter, but I believe that once you have a date, you stick to it.

For what seemed like forever, the Englishtown national event was held in July and maybe hence the name, the Summernationals. It was hot, sticky, humid and almost unbearable. But the place was packed. In 1993, the event was moved to May, where cool and wet conditions prevailed. That year, I happened (unfortunately) to be in an attorney’s office in January when the talk came around to racing. “We can’t wait to get our tickets to the Summers,” said one attorney. “We buy a group of tickets and a bunch of us go hang out at the track. Hot or not, we love it. Been doing it every year since the race began.”

Whoa, wait a minute guys, “The race is now in May.” What?

A change of date changes everything. We don’t move Labor Day, Memorial Day, or even Christmas. People get used to having events on the same date every year. Could it be a cause for reduced spectator attendance?

Okay, off the soapbox for now. I’ve got to say that winning the Norwalk national event for the second year in a row last week for me was unbelievable. Everything just clicked into place. Then nine days later to make it to the final round of the; what was it; the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals in Super Stock would have been… I don’t even know what the word would have been had I won. I didn’t. Herbie Null laid down a 0.012 pack on me and my slightly missing the ‘Tree with an 0.029 reaction time made me mathematically ineligible for another win light. But just to get that far was… I still don’t know what the word is.

Two weeks ago after my fourth round loss at Indy in Super Comp, I mentioned that losing sucks. It still does, but at least losing in the final round earns one some much needed money. And I’m happy to have gone that far.

My congrats go out to Herbie and all those who earned themselves “Keystone Nationals” trophies. And my thanks once again goes out to all who have supported my family and called, texted, e-mailed and saw at the track. I said this last week, but I can’t ever thank everyone enough. Thank you!