Murto: Fans should be grateful

If you use social media, no doubt you’ve seen the “gratitude challenge,” by which friends challenge friends to post three items daily for which they’re grateful over the course of a week.

One of those items that race fans should be grateful for is modern sports coverage, especially coverage of motorsports.

When I was a young boy the only racing on TV was on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. “Spanning the globe, to bring you the constant variety of sports,” the introduction blared through the low-quality speakers on your black-and-white TV. Sometimes it seemed they went out of their way to bring viewers the most obscure sports they could find.

If you were lucky you’d tune in on Saturday afternoon and see some sort of motorsports, maybe swamp buggy racing from Florida. If you were luckier still you’d be able to catch 15 minutes of highlights from the World 600 at Charlotte. Of course, that race ran on Memorial Day and you’re seeing the highlights in August.

But it’s all we had. And at the time motorsports in general was considered an odd niche. And, except for a few diehard race fans around the country, NASCAR racing really was mostly a Southern regional sport at the time.

Another favorite for the Wide World of Sports producers were the Figure-8 races from Islip Speedway on Long Island. I believe they thought that with the thrills and spills that Figure-8 racing was going to take off. It never did, though it remains popular in small sections of the country.

Wide World of Sports also gave us a taste of Formula One. The Monaco Grand Prix was a favorite. And the broadcast didn’t shy away from showing the horrors that sometimes accompanied the sport at the time. Replay after replay showed viewers the crash and subsequent fire that took the life of Lorenzo Bandini in 1967.

I recall every Memorial Day as a child, finding a place to sit next to an AM radio and listen to the broadcast of the Indy 500. I also recall one year in late ’60s staying up half the night with a radio I snuck into my bed, listen to a news station that was giving hourly updates from the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Even in the early ’80s you didn’t get to see every race on television. ESPN was the first to broadcast a lot of live NASCAR racing, but you still had to listen to some races on the radio.

Today, every NASCAR race in its three top divisions can be seen live. Every F1 race can be seen live. Even the Knoxville Nationals for Sprint Cars can be seen live, if you have MavTV. Every major motorcycle race can be seen live, between TV and Internet coverage. In fact, many short track specials, such as the Snowball Derby, can be seen or heard live on the Internet.

If you’re a race fan, there’s a lot for which to be grateful.

Dirt Late Model competitor Keith Jackson is feeling rather grateful after his Saturday night, $6,000 win in the Winchester 200. He beat Jason Covert, Rick Eckert, Kenny Pettyjohn and Jared Miley for the win, his fourth at the track in 2014. “Action” Jackson also scored the $2,500 win the night before the 200, sweeping the weekend.

Former ASA competitor Greg Edwards won the track championship at Langley Speedway in Hampton. And former NASCAR national champion Peyton Sellers scored the track championship at South Boston Speedway.

Those drivers are certainly grateful. And they’ll be even more grateful if they can win the MDCU 300 for Late Model Stock Cars at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 5. Fans can visit Martinsville Speedway.com for ticket information. It’s one of the wildest short track shows anywhere, and a relatively inexpensive race to attend at one of America’s best short tracks.

Locally, Shenandoah Speedway’s oval will run its final race on Oct. 4. The motocross course has two more race meets this season, Oct. 11 and Oct. 25.

Race fans in this region not only see vast mounts of racing coverage on TV and the Internet, but have a variety of racing available for just a few hours travel. We have road racing, drag racing, paved ovals, dirt ovals, motorcycle racing of all types and niche events such as mud bog competition.

Be grateful for the racing you get to see on TV and the Internet, but also be grateful for the motorsports available in this region. Show your gratitude and support local racing.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.