Sunday night was a special night and one I won't soon forget. The NASCAR event at Darlington, the Southern 500, became a throwback night. Throwbacks in sports have become popular among stick and ball sports where the teams will wear uniforms of years gone by. I can remember a Cardinals broadcast from about a decade ago in which the Orioles played the Cardinals for the first time since the O's were the Saint Louis Browns and the broadcast for the game started out in black and white and each inning progressed to what a modern day broadcast looks like. That was neat, but what NBC did Sunday night, for myself, transcended the sports world.
I am really enjoying the new NBC announcing crew and it's neat to hear Jeff Burton after seeing him at several USAC .25 events. However, for this throwback race in which many of the teams ran paint schemes from years ago NBC brought in Ken Squier, Ned Jarrett, and Dale Jarrett to call part of the race. When I first heard of this I didn't think much of it, but when Rick Allen handed the call off to Ken Squier I froze.
Many classic races can be viewed on YouTube in their entirety; races I grew up watching with Ken Squier doing the play-by-play and Ned Jarrett either in the pits or in the booth during the CBS years and Ned was a mainstay in the booth on ABC/ESPN with Bob Jenkins and Benny Parsons. Those were announcers I heard on the weekends which, when I was growing up, it was the weekend races on television that motivated me. It was all that I cared about, really, and I dreamt of the day that one of those announcers would make the call as I took the checkered. Obviously that dream of mine didn't play out (and thankfully so or I wouldn't be what I am doing) but the memories of those men in the booth are a strong part of my childhood.
So again, one can watch many classic races but it just isn't the same as watching an event live and as Ken, Ned, and Dale took the reigns from Rick, Jeff, and Steve I got goose bumps and it was a feeling as if I truly had gone back to a time when all things were possible and I was naïve to the world. Does that sound like I'm over selling it? If it does I can assure you I'm not. To add to the emotions of the race my dad was over at my house to watch the race so it felt like 1992 which sort of gave me a sinking feeling I had to get up to go to school the next morning.
It's rare in life that one can feel as if they've gone back twenty years. While a team wearing retro uniforms may give the appearance of years gone by the ability to suspend belief is simply not there. Sunday night, though, I closed my eyes and it felt like so many of the Daytona 500's, or a race from Talladega, or many of the other weekends I spent listening to these great announcers call a race.
There was a touching moment when Ken and Ned talked about Benny Parsons who passed away about a decade ago and that's when the scope of what we were watching truly hit me; for myself this wasn't simply about revisiting the past but it was also a reminder about savoring what is in the current because it isn't going to last forever.
Times change, announcers change, but the memories we have of events are there. 25 years from now I'm sure kids of today will have memories of races Mike Joy and Rick Allen called, and 50 years from now Sunday night's throwback event will maybe just be a footnote somewhere. However, that's a long ways off and I know I won't forget the 30+ minutes NBC gave to two legends of the sport. As Ken Squier started to hand it back off to Rick I noticed a bit of cracking in his voice that gave a strong hint that he was doing everything he could to hold back the emotions. He gave a most heartfelt thanks to NBC and that was it and the normality of what is now came back. I don't know if there were actual emotions in his voice, but the magnitude of that sign off was not lost on me. Will we ever hear Ned and Ken on a broadcast like that again? This isn't to take away from the current crew, but when one hears two people sign off that they grew up listening to it, for myself, evoked a strong emotional response.
Sure, in ten years we can go back to YouTube and re-watch that segment but there was something about watching it live, to hear two legends talk about the sport they love, to hear their voices after not being in the booth for 15 years, and I'm sure across the country others were doing what could, much like I think Ken was on his sign off, attempting to hold back emotions because, just like everything in life, we just don't know if we'll ever get to experience it again.