Ihave admitted -- more than a few times, I guess -- that I don't have a long history as a fan of auto racing.
Even today, when I do occasionally watch a NASCAR race on TV, it's not my favorite sport. At best, it's about ninth on my list, ahead of soccer, ice hockey and lacrosse, but just barely behind college football and NBA basketball.
But I might have to reconsider that list, because I had a flashback of sorts, this week, that reminded me there was a time in my life when auto racing -- local dirt-track racing, I guess it was called -- was more important to me than I might have thought.
The cause of that flashback was the obituary for Johnny Mackison Sr., who died Sunday night at the age of 76. I won't go into a lot of detail on Mackison's life and history as a legend of the local race tracks because Bryan Householder, the York Dispatch expert on local auto racing, did that in Tuesday's sports section.
What I will say, however, is that Mackison's death brought back a lot of memories for me because, even though I wasn't a fan of auto racing, I was keenly aware of three local racing giants back in the late 1950s and early-to-mid 1960s.
They were Mackison, Gene Goodling and Larry "Smokey" Snellbaker, who I knew only because of what I heard from York countians who knew more about auto racing than I did -- they actually went to the races, while I did not (except for once, which I'll tell you about shortly).
There were lots of racing fans in York County 50 years ago, when it wasn't unusual for as many as 7,000 or 8,000 fans -- sometimes more -- to flock to the weekend racing events at the Lincoln Speedway, Williams Grove, the Bowling Green Speedway (near Jefferson) and the Susquehanna Speedway, to name a few.
Anyway, Mackison was one of those I followed, even though I didn't know a darned thing about the sport or him except that cars were driven around a track, and the fastest car won the race. But my ears perked up every time Mackison's name was mentioned.
According to Householder -- and I'll certainly take his word for it -- Mackison "won at least 133 feature races between 1954 and 1962."
Mackison was, to be sure, one of the winningest drivers in central Pennsylvania racing history, a season-champion at four different speedways, a top-five finisher in a number of NASCAR events and was named, in 1984, to the York County Racing Club Hall of Fame.
Another guy I took a liking to was Snellbaker, a Dover guy who raced locally for what seemed like 100 years -- though it was only about 40, I guess. Snellbaker is pretty much credited with being the top winner in local racing history, with more than 150 wins to his credit.
One time, someone asked him why he raced. I guess it was a newspaper interview or something. But his response eventually reached my ears: "We race because we love it," he said. I never forgot that because it seemed like the only good reason for doing anything one loves to do -- in my case, for example, playing baseball.
Snellbaker, too, is a member of the York County Racing Club Hall of Fame.
Now keep in mind I was fascinated with these guys from afar. I never met or talked with Mackison or Snellbaker.
Goodling was a little different, but only because he happened to live in Stoverstown. I played Little League baseball in Stoverstown, so it was fairly common for me to walk past his home on my way to the ballfield and see one of his race cars sitting out in front of his house.
Once -- and only once -- he happened to be outside when I walked past, and he nodded his head at me, which was all I needed to start up a conversation. It didn't last long, but to me it was a big deal. From that day forward, Goodling was a favorite.
He, too, has been inducted into the York County Racing Hall of Fame.
But here's the rest of my Goodling story. In the summer of 1964, one of my uncles was going to the races -- if my memory serves me correctly, it was at the Susquehanna Speedway -- and he took me along. It was the day Goodling was seriously injured in a racing accident. I don't believe he ever raced again.
It was the last auto race I ever attended in person. Some people go to the races just for the accidents. Me? I hated watching someone get hurt. I know, that makes me a wimp. But I'd actually met this guy, you know. I was 13, and he was one of my larger-than-life local heroes.
I only recall the names of three race car drivers from my childhood days, and these are the three -- Mackison, Snellbaker and Goodling. All hall-of-famers. All champions. All native York countians. But I didn't know any of that until years later.
But the first second I read Mackison's name in his obituary earlier this week, I knew who he was and why I remembered him.
It all came flooding back.
Sports columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Thurs days. E-mail: lhick email@example.com.