Many other retirees in our small town joined the local grain farmers in going south for the winter. My parents decided to do likewise, but not for the whole winter, just for a week beginning in February 1974. Eventually they lengthened these annual vacations to a month. (That may have been too long for my mother. About the fourth week, shed see airliners taking off and remark wistfully, There are some more people going home.)
For five of those winters, 1976 through 1980, I took a week off from my job in Pennsylvania and joined them. 3D pictures are here.
My father and I had seen portions of the 500 on TV, but there had never been live flag-to-flag coverage. So, despite fine weather outside, we hunkered down in our Scottsdale suite and tuned in CBS-TV at 10:00 Mountain Time on Sunday morning, February 18. The race began at 11:00 and lasted until 3:00 in the afternoon. My father and I stayed glued to the screen the whole time, to my mothers amusement.
On the final backstretch, a crash between the two leaders allowed Richard Petty to come around and win. Then the two good ol boys who had crashed got out of their wrecked cars and into a fistfight. There was great excitement. The event brought many new fans to NASCAR ...
Dick Berggren, who had been part of the radio broadcast crew, said, "Nobody knew it then, but that was the race that got everything going. It was the first 'water cooler' race, the first time people had stood around water coolers on Monday and talked about seeing a race on TV the day before.
And within a decade, as NASCAR boomed in popularity, I myself became part of several of these telecasts! Elsewhere on this website, I listed five races I worked in 1990.
Nowadays, interest in NASCAR has been declining for several years. Maybe if the current blizzardy conditions continue through this Sunday (February 22, 2015), viewers will watch another exciting Great American Race like 1979 in sufficient numbers to turn things around again.