NASCAR fans are dedicated and we know this because they start tailgating on Wednesdays. They tattoo their favorite driver’s numbers and names on them. For a select few they never miss attending a race.
For Jack Hoenstine he is truly dedicated, and this weekend’s race at Darlington Raceway will be his 60th consecutive year attending a race.
His story was featured in Andrew Giangola’s best seller “The weekend starts on Wednesday” that recognizes NASCAR fans.
Hoenstine story starts back in 1951, when he and his buddies took a road trip from Pennsylvania to Darlington, South Carolina to watch Fireball Roberts, Joe Weatherly and others attempt to tame the lady in black.
It only took one race and he was hooked. “I just immediately got into it, and loved it right away,” the 78-year old retired truck driver said.
Prior to his first race at Darlington, Hoenstine had been around racing in Pennsylvania. He owned his own car and raced on the short tracks. His career was short lived as they sold his car in the early 1950’s.
He has seen a lot at Darlington Raceway, from the different drivers to how the track has changed.
“Darlington Raceway’s grandstands were uncomfortable concrete slabs. The drivers had scant protection – maybe an open-face helmet with a seat belt across their lap. Fonte Flock drove in Bermuda shorts and a t shirt. The closest thing to a pre-race flyover was NASCAR’s resident wild man Curtis Turner buzzing the crowd with his propeller airplane. Drivers would enjoy a cigarette during tire changes, which were usually performed by a friends volunteering for pit duty. A few drivers would keep a thermos under the seat. The best part was any fan could meet these colorful characters. After the Darlington races, the gate under the flag stand would open, and fans dashed down to meet the hard-charging, hard-living drivers.”
As the years went on he still found his way on a race track himself. On his way back home following one race he found himself in Rockingham, NC. He and his buddy stopped at Rockingham Speedway. They saw an opportunity with the gates open the two started logging laps.
“A man in a suit came out and flagged us down. He turned out to be a nice gentleman. Asked us how we liked the track. Gave us his business card, and said to call him if we ever needed tickets. He told us, ‘Go ahead and run a few more laps, but don’t wreck!”
It’s a story like Hoenstein that make NASCAR the sport it is and why the fans are so dedicated and loyal.
On Saturday night, Hoenstein will not sit on concrete slabs but in a chair, he will not be watching David Pearson or Richard Petty but Jeff Gordon and A.J. Allmendinger.
The drivers have changed, the times have changed but for this NASCAR fan Darlington will always be the same old Darlington.
“I’ve been to hundreds of NASCAR races over the years, too many to even count,” Hoenstine said. “My sister-in-law asked me, ‘My goodness, Jack, what if you saved all that money instead?’ Well, I wouldn’t have seen all them races, met the drivers, fans I’ve come to know, and had such a good time. I’ve always wanted to enjoy life, and NASCAR’s been a big part of that.”
(photo:Hoenstine at Las Vegas Motor Speedway)