During Jeff Gordon's quest for five consecutive NASCAR Winston Cup victories in the summer of 1998, many daily newspaper sportswriters proclaimed that the young phenom was on the cusp of an "all time record." Some accredited journalists reported that Gordon's feat, had be been successful, would have been a record within the so-called Modern Era of big league NASCAR racing. Others simply stated that had Gordon won at Bristol in August of 1998, he would have established a new standard -- one for the ages -- for consecutive victories on the Winston Cup trail.
Jeff Gordon's incredible feat should be regarded as a monumental achievement, not tying or setting a new all-time record. The all-time record for consecutive victories is still owned by Richard Petty, whose 10-race winning streak in 1967 is unlikely to be eclipsed.
When Dave Marcis was on his qualifying run during the live telecast at Richmond International Raceway in September of 1998, graphics on the television screen indicated Marcis' best career Richmond start was second in 1976.
Marcis' most defining moment in qualifying at Richmond was winning the pole in 1971, but it was ignored since it happened before the dawning of The Modern Era.
Of all the major league sports in America today, only auto racing and its publicity directors and motorsports editors collectibely refuse to accept anything that occurred in the historical archives.
If Major League Baseball had used the templates for publicity that we find in auto racing, we may have never heard Roger Maris' name during Mark McGwire's chase for the all-time home run mark in the summer of 1998. We might have never heard of Babe Ruth, either.
The National football League has templates which would fit a modern era -- the merging of the NFL and AFL nearly 30 years ago. But the followers of professional football do not ignore the accomplishments of the pioneers of their sport. Nor do they ignore all-time records. Only auto racing seems to slight their stars of yesteryear and the records they have established.
Compared to other sanctioning bodies, NASCAR has treated its pioneering heroes with more respect over the years. However, the term The Modern Era is used far too often. And most of the information the media is issued pertains only to The Modern Era. This practice is an uppercut to a group of people who set higher standards than what is being hailed as all-time records by today's speed darlings.
Noted journalist and publisher Hank Schoolfield has a nifty translation for the individuals who use The Modern Era to qualify their proclaimations. The translation is: "We don't really know (what the real record is), we're not inclined to make any efforts to find out; and here is something that's qualified in a way which fits out convenience."
In recent months, many reporters have elected to drop The Modern Era qualification. In the August 20, 1998 edition of a nationally distributed daily newspaper, Jeff Gordon's quest for five wins in a row was reported this way: "...Gordon's winning streak, now at four and ready to sprout into the all-time record book this weekend at Bristol."
The very next day, the same nationwide daily newspaper reported in its cover story: "When (Gordon) continues his assault on the NASCAR record book at Bristol, he will be going for a record fifth consecutive victory."
There was no Modern Era classification in either article and no mention of King Richard's 10 straight victories in 1967.
When Ricky Rudd won at Martinsville on September 27, 1998 to extend his streak of winning at least one race for 16 consecutive seasons, it was proclaimed another all-time NASCAR record. A world wide syndicated news service reported that Rudd who has "a piece of NASCAR Winston Cup history", and the Martinsville triumph "moved him past Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip and into sole possession of the consistency record on stock car racing's premier circuit."
It appears that another genuine all-time record held by Richard Petty has been swept off the ledger. Petty won at least two races every season from 1960-1977 -- eighteen consecutive years that Richard vicited Victory Lane. Rudd's magnificent win against seemingly impossible odds was one of the most memorable moments of the 1988 season, but it was not an all-time record. David Pearson ranks second with at least one win in 17 straight seasons and Rudd is third on the all-time list.
When Gordon won the 1998 season finale at Atlanta, it was widely reported that he had tied Petty's record of 13 wins in a single season. Again, Petty's authentic all-time mark of 27 victories in 1967 was virtually ignored. Petty compiled a record of 27 wins in 48 starts in 1967. Gordon won 13 times in his 33 efforts in 1998. Any way you slice it, Petty's 1967 record is the more crowning achievement.
A dangerous precedent is being offered by todays publicity directors and newspaper journalists when penning stories and articles about all-time records in NASCAR racing.
It is difficult to rationalize why today's Modern Era moguls choose to ignore the accomplishments of pioneers and pass them over without saluting. Children of yesterday and heirs of tomorrow, just what are you weaving?
Real Racers is offered as an alternative to The Modern Era. There is nothing within these hardbound covers pertaining to anything this side of 1972, save one magical mark set by Bobby Allison which began in 1971 and extended into 1972.
The hard-boiled speed merchants who comprised stock car racing's roll call prior to The Modern Era were a unique gang of high-octane individuals. They were drawn to the sport not for the bucks, but by the spectacle, adventure, excitement and fun that speed had to offer.
Before The Modern Era, drivers authored accomplishments to provoke wonder -- and without many of the refinements which we take for granted today. There were no spotters plugged into the driver's ear; no radio transmissions informing the driver that it is "clear, clear". The drivers did not enjoy the luxury of power steering, nor did they have the comforts of aerodynamical air-dams or radial tires. The tracks were not billiard table smooth; most track surfaces would separate fillings from teeth. Computers were nowhere to be found in the pit stalls; technology took a back seat to "shade tree engineering". The drivers had to explore the limits, venturing into uncharted territories at breakneck speeds -- alone.
The goggled gladiators were equipped with a super-charged blend of infinite skill and boundless courage.
Their deeds in speed produced some of the most memorable moments in NASCAR history. The finishes might not have been as close when thumbing through the box scores, but the races seemed to be a heck of a lot more exciting. We never heard of the term "tire management" prior to The Modern Era. The competitors raced flat out from the green to checkered flag.
This is a tribute to the individuals who made today's glamorous racing what it is -- because without the structural foundation they forged in a seemingly forgotten period of time, we would have never heard of The Modern Era.
These individuals were the Real Racers.