Craig Murto: Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate

Last weekend’s U.S. Short Track Nationals at Bristol Motor Speedway was going to be an epic trip to the races.

I’ve had many great road trips related to my work in racing. My first trip to Wisconsin, when I got to have lunch in the late Jim Sauter’s race shop, comes to mind. The time Johnny Sauter won an American Speed Association race at Nashville and we practically closed the place talking after Victory Lane ceremonies is a highlight. Last year’s trip to the Oxford 250 ranks up there, as does my 1999 trip to Syracuse for the 200-mile Modified race on the old fairgrounds oval.

And add the great road trips I’ve had as a spectator, and I could probably write a book or two. I remember in the late ’80s when my brother and I went to Pocono on a whim. We thought we’d have to settle for parking in the infield, but wound up on the top row in front of the starting line. Tim Richmond won the race in a three-wide finish, a race in which he also backed down pit road at one point as his transmission was stuck due to an on-track incident. All of Richmond’s antics that day later became parts of the movie Days of Thunder, after the stories were relayed by crew chief Harry Hyde to the movie’s producers.

Keeping in mind many of the epic battles I’ve seen at Bristol, I anticipated more of the same as I packed my bags Saturday morning before heading down the road to my Bristol hotel room, which had been booked for months. One bag contained all my toiletries and a change of clothes, the other bag a leather briefcase bulging at the seams with sample copies of the latest issue of Late Model Racer magazine to distribute among the three classes of Late Model competitors who’d be on hand to compete in Sunday’s three 100-lap features.

After a relatively easy drive, I checked into my hotel room Saturday afternoon with plenty of time to order a delivery pizza for dinner and relax to watch Kyle Busch win NASCAR’s all-star race on TV. Sunday was going to be a big day.

But Mother Nature does not always cooperate, and every road trip can’t always be epic. Sunday morning greeted Bristol with steady rain, and a forecast for 100 percent chance of it continuing all day.

Now the dilemma: Do I go to the track and wait it out; or do I head back home and salvage something else of the day?

I could have gotten my press credentials and distributed the magazines among the race haulers. It’s always good to get samples distributed, as they usually result in new subscribers the weeks following. Teams appreciate receiving magazines free of charge, as there’s very little that comes free in racing these days.

But most people were not at the track during the rain, so do I just drop a magazine at the entrance of each hauler? The magazines would have just become a wet, soppy mess, and probably discarded.

Do I wait out the rain? When would they get the races in? It’s a 5 1/2-hour drive, at least, so what time would I get home? And what if they postpone until Monday?

I had a magazine deadline to meet, so I really couldn’t afford to be pulling in my driveway as my wife was leaving for work on Monday morning. As the rain continued to fall, I checked out of the hotel and headed home, arriving in time to see Scott Dixon qualify on the pole for the Indy 500. But I will admit some regret as the Bristol races got the green flag Sunday night and social media lit up.

Myatt Snider won the Late Model Stock Car portion of the event, and Cole Williams won the Pro Late Model feature. The Super Late Model race was won by NASCAR Xfinity Series regular Bubba Wallace.

The final checkered flag of the U.S. Short Track Nationals flew about 12:30 a.m. Monday morning. Bristol Motor Speedway did a great job drying the track and getting the races run. I wish I could have stayed, but duty called. Hopefully this will be an annual event, and hopefully Mother Nature cooperates next year; it’ll be an epic trip to the races, I’m sure.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.

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