June 12, 2014

WILLIAMS: Days of racing live on


---- — As I write this, the Belmont Stakes has not been run yet so I don’t know if we will have a Triple Crown winner for the first time since 1978 or not. I have my fingers crossed that California Chrome pulls it off. I want to see another magnificent horse win the trifecta of thoroughbred racing again.

I used to be a horse racing fan, an even bigger fan than I am now of NASCAR. That was partially because it was a bonding experience between me and my father — and it was easier and cheaper to go to the horse races than it is to go to NASCAR races now. When we lived in Los Angeles, Dad and I went almost every weekend.

We loved the environment of the sport. I think I learned more about different types of people there than anywhere else. There were the beautiful aristocrats in the skyboxes — women in elegant dresses with picture book hats. Often, they were the ones standing in Victory Circle when the races were over.

There were everyday working people, not especially fans, but just wanting a day’s entertainment. They didn’t know the horses and only cared who won because of their $2 bet. Mostly they watched the races on the television monitors.

There were poor people, hoping to parley their 2 bucks into $200. It was poverty’s method of investing. It didn’t often happen but sometimes it did, to their joy.

There were people there simply because they were horse lovers, admiring of their beauty. Betting was beside the point. They hung over the fence to admire the prancing chestnuts and grays and bays and blacks, their hooves kicking up the dirt, restless to get started, tails held high. They were usually accompanied was patient, stolid outriders to keep them calm.

Dad and I were this latter kind, though we liked to bet a little, too. I won enough to buy all my own school clothes. Strange that I struggled so in math but I could easily understand and analyze the fractions in a racing form.

At the tracks, I saw alcoholics and druggies and whores and gambling addicts. Classy people and trashy people. I learned all the different methods people used to pick winners. Some of them always bet on a certain successful jockey; others stuck with a certain stable or trainer. Some were numerologists and divined their choices through pole position. Some picked the prettiest horse or the horse that looked the most sedate, or by contrast, the horse that looked most eager. Or they bought tip sheets from a tout. Naturally, most of them lost over time because that’s the nature of gambling.

When we moved back to Indiana, it was impossible to be a passionate thoroughbred racing fan. The closest tracks were in Illinois and Ohio. No newspaper covered racing results. No newsstand sold racing magazines. The Racing Form became too expensive to buy regularly. I lost interest except for watching the Triple Crown every year, the only races that were televised.

Eventually, I became a NASCAR fan. Instead of my weekends revolving around horses, they revolved around cars.

NASCAR has a completely different mindset about their champions. I think most fans this year are rooting for California Chrome to win the Triple Crown. Yes, they loved Man O’ War and Secretariat and Affirmed but that doesn’t mean they are jealous of their achievements.

Jimmie Johnson also has a chance to put his name in the NASCAR history books in 2014 by equaling the number of championships won by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, icons of the sport. Instead of yearning to see history made, the majority of NASCAR fans are against ever seeing those old records broken. They want no new heroes.

Vicki Williams, a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune., can be reached through the newspaper at