The wild antics during race eves in the infields at Darlington and Talladega were infamous to the point of notoriety several years ago.
There was debauchery on an industrial scale.
In the mid-1960s I was taken on a tour of the packed infield at Darlington Raceway the night prior to a Southern 500 on Labor Day.
Among the sights was an old school bus that had been converted into quite something else from its days of transporting children to class. It now served as a brothel on wheels!
For years a while back the favorite pastime of young men among the infield crowd at Talladega Superspeedway was this: Up to a dozen of them would pile into the bed of a pickup truck with cases of beer, fly their Confederate battle flags, and drive amidst the campers imploring young women to bare their breasts.
There were fights, of course, at both South Carolina’s Darlington and Alabama’s Talladega.
For infield insanity, though, perhaps neither track ever equaled that which once took place at Watkins Glen, the New York road course where NASCAR has a doubleheader scheduled this weekend, the Zippo 200 for the Nationwide Series on Saturday and the Cheez-it 355 for the Sprint Cup Series on Sunday.
“The Bog” reigned in a class by itself.
I was told about the place in 1986 when NASCAR returned to The Glen after an absence of 21 years. My friend, Bob Kelly, then the lead public relations officer for Cup Series sponsor Winston, gave me a tour of the track and its surroundings.
Bob knew his stuff about the speedway in the picturesque Finger Lakes region of New York State. He’s a native of Watkins Glen, was a three-sport athlete in high school there and then worked at the road course as a P.R. rep.
Driving by a brushy depression in the infield Bob pointed and said, “This was ‘The Bog.’”
“In 1971, in an era when Formula 1 races were held here, track officials decided to move a couple corners. During the grading an underground spring was uncovered.
“For the first year or so, fans passed the time before the race riding trail bikes through the marshy area that developed. What began as people splashing a little water and mud for fun became a cheering, chanting crowd of thousands became quite something else. The thing that some liked to do most was bring old junker cars to the track, drive them into The Bog the night before a race and set them on fire.
“It became wilder and wilder. It got to the point that some people were stealing fine cars—Corvettes, Ferraris and Jaguars—that were parked inside the track and driving them into the swamp.”
Kelly shook his head and continued:
“The worst happened in the late 1970s. A planeload of Brazilians flew into New York for the Formula 1 race and came to Watkins Glen in chartered buses. Some wild man stole one of the buses, drove it into The Bog and torched it.
“Many of the Brazilians had possessions on that bus, including their passports.
“There was an uproar. It almost became an international incident.”
Neither Darlington nor Talladega ever has produced one of those, far as I recall. Watkins Glen won’t again either, at least not at The Bog.
When Corning Glass took over The Glen in the early 1980s as a step toward bringing NASCAR back, one of the first things undertaken was to get rid of that swamp. Drain pipes were put in and the place graded over.
Drivers of Corvettes, Ferraris and Jaguars attending the races this weekend can rest easier. Ditto fans traveling in buses.