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 Thursday, November 16
Time to move on
 
By Bill Weber
Special to ESPN.com

  Did you ever have one of those days when your bag of pretzels gets stuck between the dispensing rack and the glass window in the vending machine? You've already spent your 50 cents and now you have to bang on the machine to get your bag of pretzels. Sometimes it falls. Sometimes it does not. That's kind of the way I feel today, like my bag of pretzels is stuck in the vending machine.

This is the toughest column I've ever had to write for ESPN, because it is about ESPN. It's easy to write about other people. You simply put your observations into words and e-mail them to a talented editor that will fix the grammar and anything I misspell. Does misspell have one "s" or two?

I could write a column to congratulate Joe Gibbs, Bobby Labonte, Jimmy Makar and all the guys at Joe Gibbs Racing. I could share my observations on how Dale Earnhardt has had a very impressive season, at age 49, challenging for the championship all the way to the next to last race. Now, if we could just get him to go to qualifying school.

I could write about Jeff Burton finally finding more consistency, or how Santa Claus should make sure he leaves a win gift wrapped under Ricky Rudd's Christmas tree. I could write about the talent and the 'tude of Tony Stewart, an early favorite to win the Winston Cup in 2001.

But I have to confess, this is not that type of column.

This is a collection of thoughts that, somehow, I have to weave together into a clear and colorful one thousand word portrait. It's suppose to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. I guess I'll start at the end, the end of 20 years of Winston Cup racing on ESPN. It still stuns me. We were walking through the building the other day, making plans for the trip to Atlanta, when somebody said, "How did this happen? Can we ask for a recount?"

Things change. You don't have to like it. Sometimes you can do something about it. This is not one of those times. But wait! You think I'm going to sit here and get all sappy and sentimental? Have my eyes well up with tears thinking about what's not going to happen next year? Not me, man. No way. We're going out macho style, with a smile.

I would rather think about all the great things that HAVE happened over the last 20 years. For example, if it wasn't for ESPN's long and successful relationship with Winston Cup racing, I never would have gotten the chance to work with my "old-buddy" Bob Jenkins. I used to pester him all the time. In fact, I probably still do! I was working at a TV station in Evansville, IN. and every year when the unlimited hydroplane series raced on the Ohio River, I would call him ten times a day for two weeks ..."Mr. Jenkins. I'll have a great story on the boat races for your "Speedweek" show," I would say.

"I sure hope you will use it," I would beg.

He was always very polite.

"Thanks, Phil," he would say. Phil. Bill. It was an easy mistake. "We'll take a look at it."

At least I tried.

I still try. Now I know Bob loves the Detroit Red Wings and hates eating Mexican food, but he does anyway because Mexican has become a traditional meal for the ESPN announce team.

For me, that goes back to the first year we did the Winter Heat races in Tucson. Benny Parsons was in charge of finding a place for dinner (always go to your strength!). Benny found a great Mexican restaurant for Saturday night and a great steak place for Sunday night called Little Abner's. I don't name-drop in this column, but if you're ever in Tucson, I've got two words for you. Little Abner's.

I got to know Bob and Benny and a lot our production people over a burrito supreme and a cold margari ... diet soft drink.

Those Winter Heat races are where I really got to know Benny. He loves racing. He has a passion for accuracy (especially when he's ordering a meal!). If you need to learn something, Benny will be happy to help. The most valuable lesson I think I have learned from him is to enjoy life. And, use one more club on the par-3 17th hole at Kannapolis. Benny, Bob and Bill, we were the "Killer B's" in Tucson. I loved it. And they did, too.

Since May of 1990, I have been on the same team with Ned Jarrett. How do you follow that? We worked together at "another network" (it had a lot of country music) and when I joined ESPN, Ned was already there. I always felt a lot of pressure working with Ned because he is so proud of the sport and the people that make it go. You always wanted to do your best when working with Ned, and he always acknowledged the effort and the result. It has been a pleasure serving on the crew with two Winston Cup Champions.

Jerry Punch and John Kernan have been my pit-road partners, and leaders, since I joined ESPN. They showed me how to do the job right, and how to keep from getting run over by Rusty in the garage during Happy Hour.

Punch is the only doctor I know that doesn't have a handicap under seven. He claims he has golf clubs and that his game is getting better. Because ESPN has been broadcasting races for 20 years, this North Carolina native was able to chase two dreams; a medical degree and a broadcasting career that began as a replacement public address announcer at Hickory Motor Speedway, when he was young. Jerry has always denied the rumor that the regular PA guy got sick from a mysterious medication this doctor-to-be prescribed. Maybe both careers began at Hickory Motor Speedway.

Because of the strength of it's commitment to Winston Cup racing, and all other forms of racing, ESPN started RPM2Night. Now, Kernan has the best seat in motor sports, and he is in it every weeknight from the beginning of February until Thanksgiving. Except for that day in August when he returns to Virginia to take part in the Rick Mast Charity Golf Tournament. I know John and Rick are good friends, but, I've heard something about Hooter's Girls working as caddy's ... so thanks to Winston Cup racing Kernan has a nice chair and a standing tee time, albeit once-a-year, with Mast ... and company.

Ray Dunlap, Matt Yocum and I have shared pit road and NASCAR2Day responsibilities for the last several years. If it wasn't for ESPN and Winston Cup racing, I would not have had the privilege of working with them.

There are so many behind-the-scenes people you'll never know that I never would have met, but because ESPN carried Winston Cup races for twenty years, I did! I would start listing names, but I am already over my one thousand words! All the people on the remote telecast crew and the crew at NASCAR2Day have made Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays professionally rewarding.

RPM2Night will continue into the future, and nothing could make me happier. I am proud to say I have been a part of this team from the beginning. RPM2Night is a little different from the remote races or NASCAR2Day, it is watching and living racing seven days a week. I know to most of you that would be a dream job, and, believe me, it is. But it takes a talented and dedicated person to make a daily show successful every lap. RPM2Night has that kind of a staff, and it shows. If it wasn't for ESPN's commitment to Winston Cup racing, there wouldn't be any RPM2Night, and then the staff there wouldn't have the chance to work their dream job.

So you can see, 20 years of Winston Cup coverage by ESPN is something to celebrate! So be sure to celebrate with us this weekend, our final Winston Cup telecast! A day to share with our friends and our fans. No tears. Just cheers.

And Sunday night? Well, maybe we'll celebrate 20 years of Winston Cup coverage with a cold beverage that might please the sponsors of Rusty or Earnhardt, Jr. or Sterling. I can almost taste it right now! Hey! I wonder what we'll serve with it? I better go see if the vending machine has any pretzels left!
 


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