NASHVILLE — Sometimes an auto race is more than just another car fight. On a rare night at a classic but tired southern track when the personalities and their rides all align, why, a metaphor for one of life’s great truths just might pop up through the cracks in the asphalt.
Fathers of grown sons know how this goes. The old man takes the lead and holds it just as long as nature will allow. Holds on proudly, but with a progressively weaker grip. And, inevitably, as it should be, as it must be, the son will pass him.
And there you have the story as told Saturday night by NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott and his likewise leadfooted son Chase, in 77 laps.
Matched in a race for only the second time in their lives, Bill led for more than half the night at the half-mile Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. Against all reason, he led. He’s 65 now, 40 years his son’s senior. “The reflexes are a little different than when I was 25,” Bill said a few days before the race. “I think in my mind I can do it, but the body says a little different.”
There was the old lion running out front again, holding off seven other challengers in the final of a six-race series (called SRX for Superstar Racing Experience) concocted by another NASCAR legend, Tony Stewart. It threw together big names from the past and from different styles of racing in like-prepared cars. With a couple fresh faces thrown in each race. Chase took up one of those spots Saturday, even as the defending NASCAR Cup champion had a race to run in New Hampshire the next afternoon.
Chase’s car owner at his real job was more than understanding. “What Rick Hendrick said –—how can I say no to a kid wanting to race his dad — that made me completely emotional,” Bill said. “It put such a different spin on the whole concept of the night.”
And after two heat races running in the old man’s fumes — for a few laps pulling side-by-side but never nosing to the lead — and spending much of the feature in the same position, Chase was impressed.
“I thought dang it, he looks pretty good and being aggressive, and I was liking it,” Chase said later. “I haven’t seen him be that aggressive in a long time. It was a lot of fun.”
Bill hadn’t run worth spit in the previous five races of this series. He was doubting himself, doubting his car and had even banged up a wrist in wrecking out of one race. But now he had a car that suited him and a little emotional nitrous oxide to give him a further boost.
“(Chase) was a lot of inspiration,” he said.