There’s an old saying we’ve probably heard many times; “winner, winner, chicken dinner.”
According to legend the saying was borne in Las Vegas many years ago when a gambler won enough money to cover a chicken dinner.
Brad Keselowski certainly was a “winner, winner” Sunday night at Darlington, but there was no chicken dinner.
The Southern 500 is sponsored by Bojangles, famous for its fried chicken which could be found in decadent abundance on the grounds of that storied raceway for fans, competitors and media the entire weekend.
So much so that I imagine many a heart will beat irregularly for a while, and some life spans were no doubt shortened. Of course, since the Southern 500 is the most Southern of events on the NASCAR circuit it is believed that those in attendance were mainly southerners, all of whom have built up a natural resistance to the damage from fried foods.
Brad is from Michigan, which is far from being southern, so has no natural resistance to fried food damage; he had nothing to worry however.
“You don’t have any Bojangles laying around, do you?” he asked when he entered the media center for his post-race interview. “I would eat some fried chicken up here if you had it.”
After listening to an unrecorded voice off to the side he smirked. The sort of look a kid gives his buddies when all the good candy has been eaten, and only candy corn and black licorice is left.
“It’s all gone?” he cried. “Are you serious?”
Indeed, it was. For as savvy as Brad is with the media, he forgot the first rule of the media: Free food will not last beyond an hour, sometimes less. Three hours after, not a chance. There were a few sweet potato pies, but no fried chicken.
The only thing Brad got Sunday night was a win in one of NASCAR’s “Crown Jewel” races completing a weekend sweep that started with his win in the Xfinity race a day before.
And I suspect that was just fine with him.
But what is it that makes Darlington a “Crown Jewel”? Is it the age of the racetrack, the old-school feel one gets there? After all, there is no “motorsports stadium” like you get at Daytona, nor a “Neon Garage” like Vegas. Instead it’s basic, normally hotter than heck on Labor Day weekend, and other than recent improvements to the seats, abandoning metal seats for more comfortable plastic ones, and the flipping of the frontstretch to what was once the backstretch , Darlington is pretty close to the way it was when the first race was staged here in 1950; except of course for the 75-car field and the 6 hours it took to complete the race.
Darlington was close to dying at one point. It was on life-support and barely breathing. A shock to the heart came in the form of lights and the brilliant marketing ploy of the “Throwback” weekend which melds NASCAR’s old and new.
Now you can go to Darlington and see Dave Marcus wandering the pits on Saturday still wearing his famous Goodyear hat and wingtips; or have Donnie Allison in the media center spinning yarns, or listen to Richard Petty and Dale Inman rib each other, and their current driver, while telling stories from the past.
Darlington is a place where you can still watch a parade on Saturday night just like they have always done; or in my case spend time with retired drivers like Ward Burton who is still as energetic as ever as he looks for sponsorship for his son. After getting to hang out with him of Saturday we “raced” each other from the front gate to the media parking ending with laughs Sunday morning.
The “Throwback” part of the “Throwback” weekend has pretty much run its course. All seven decades have now been honored; this past one honored all the decades, leaving the question what will the “Throwback” honor next season? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Like a kid graduating from high school, or a person who has recovered from a near death experience and is ready to be released from the hospital, Darlington is now ready to stand on its own.
It will always honor the past, no doubt still have legends wandering the infield, and hopefully still have plenty of fried chicken and sweet tea for years to come.
Except maybe for Brad Keselowski who politely refused a cup of sweet tea that was brought to him during his presser, a token leftover from the earlier meal.
“I’m not a sweet tea guy,” he said smiling. “I’m not that southern I still got some Michigan in me.”
No, but he is a Southern 500 winner, and perhaps that’s all he’ll ever need.