Memorial Day has always been important to racers and race fans in the United States for several reasons. (IndyCar Photo)
Memorial Day has always been important to racers and race fans in the United States for several reasons. (IndyCar Photo)

KERCHNER: Memorial Day Weekend Is Important

MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Memorial Day weekend is what spurred my passion for motorsports while growing up in Ohio.

In my family, Memorial Day meant racing. I’ve been attending races over America’s holiday almost since I was old enough to walk.

From Indianapolis to Charlotte, Williams Grove, Fremont and places in between, we’ve seen races there around the Memorial Day weekend.

We’ve also spent more than a couple of these weekends watching on television and working the desk for one SPEED SPORT platform or another.

It all started at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the 1970s. The family made an annual trek from northern Ohio to my aunt and uncle’s Indianapolis home where we spent the weekend. It was family time to the max with this little race thrown in — sometimes more than one race as some years we also attended the Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

I saw Al Unser and Rick Mears win their fourth Indy 500s, I was there when Gordon Johncock edged Mears in 1982 and for Bobby Rahal’s emotional victory on a Saturday afternoon in 1986.

As a family, we cheered A.J. Foyt and jeered Mario Andretti when far too many times the Indy crowd heard those immortal words, “Andretti is off the pace.”

Only days after watching Mears win his fourth 500 in 1991, I was on my way to New Jersey to work for National Speed Sport News.

That started a journey that has lasted 30 years and ventured down highways, country roads and through airports around the world. Asphalt, dirt, road courses and drag strips — it never mattered; if there was a race, I was going to chase it. Along the way, there has been a lot of fun and a lot of friendships made.

While I wouldn’t trade any of it, it’s still life and sometimes life comes at you fast. We get busy meeting this deadline, checking that box or answering to the man.

But it’s always the Indianapolis 500, the Coca-Cola 600 and the Memorial Day weekend of racing that brings things back into perspective.

On the weekend we all pay tribute to those who served and protected us from our enemies — near and far — reflection is part of the deal, isn’t it?

And a lot of that is indeed personal reflection — family, friends and the key events that have shaped who we are. How did I get to this place and who has played a role in it all — personally and professionally.

That’s what I will be thinking about when “Taps” is played prior to the Indianapolis 500, and several hours later when fighter planes buzz my house en route to performing the flyover prior to the Coca-Cola 600.

Memorial Day weekend is important — for many reasons.

–  It wasn’t difficult to find the irony in the fact that Alex Bowman drove the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 to victory lane at Virginia’s Richmond Raceway for the first time since 2017 on the same day seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who formerly wheeled the No. 48, made his NTT IndyCar Series debut at Alabama’s Barber Motorsports Park.

– Stop and think about this one for a minute. Chase Stockon started an amazing 324 consecutive USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car Championship features. The streak that dated back to the 2012 USAC season ended April 16 at Indiana’s Bloomington Speedway.

– Brandon Sheppard, who won 31 dirt-track races last season, hadn’t won once this season through April 20.

– Pennsylvania sprint car racer Anthony Macri is sure fun to watch. His attack-mode approach to dirt-track racing is reminiscent to the checkers-or-wreckers philosophy many of us grew up watching decades ago.

– What more could NASCAR officials ask for than eight different NASCAR Cup Series winners during the first nine races of the season? Only Martin Truex Jr. was a two-time winner through one quarter of the schedule.

– Under the leadership of Jonathan Byrd, Circle City Raceway in Indianapolis, will open its season with an All Star Circuit of Champions doubleheader May 21-22.

– What a treat for sprint car veteran Brian Brown to get the opportunity to drive a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series machine owned by Kyle Busch during the July 9 event at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway, where he has won four track championships. We’ll be watching Brownie!

– Alan “Slideways” Johnson won an April 10 modified feature at New York’s Outlaw Speedway, running his streak of consecutive years with at least one victory to 47.

– Whether it’s on Memorial Day weekend or some other weekend soon, get out and patronize your local short track.

Track operators and racers need your support more than ever.

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