Allison, Baker and Pearson bring past into present

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Ryan McGee

Thursday on Totally NASCAR , Sean Pragano sits down with NASCAR legends David Pearson, Bobby Allison and Buddy Baker to get their opinions on every major issue in the modern NASCAR world.

Finally. At long last, the media types that cover NASCAR, as well as the sanctioning body itself, seem to be embracing, and not pushing away from, the sport's amazingly colorful past. The official 2004 NASCAR Nextel Cup Media Guide goes out of its way this year to include milestones and stories from the past. Nextel itself has been very deliberate to include the likes of Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and other retired racing stars in its latest ad campaigns. And who doesn't dig that new NASCAR "Timeless" campaign that magically allows Dale Earnhardt Jr. to go head-to-head with Curtis Turner set to "Long Time" by Boston? For whatever reason, immediately following the history-heavy 50th anniversary celebration of 1998, the old-timers just seemed to disappear into the stock car background. The new television contract of 2001, coupled with the recent rise of "Young Guns" seemed to bury NASCAR's history books beneath an avalanche of greenbacks. Well, don't look now, but the good old boys are back. The King and Cale are looking dapper in those new TV spots for Goody's Headache Powder. Last fall, every former Winston Cup champ was allowed to turn a few laps in cars painted up like their old title-winning rides. Disney even has a movie in the works about the Pettys, primarily focusing on the old days with Lee and Richard. And now there are the Miller Legends of Racing. Bobby Allison, David Pearson and Buddy Baker are now on the payroll of Milwaukee's most famous brew house to spread the word and educate newbie fans on the finer points of NASCAR history. And there couldn't possibly be a more qualified trio for the task. Pearson owns 105 wins, 111 poles, and three Cup titles. Allison racked up 84 wins, 58 poles and won the 1983 championship. Baker, son of two-time champ Buck Baker, scored 19 wins, 40 poles and brought racing into our dens as the longtime color commentator for The Nashville Network (TNN). These days, the three are as ready to talk about racing as they once were to get behind the wheel. On the new "Chase for the Championship" points system: They hate it. On the Young Guns: They love 'em. On abandoning tracks like Rockingham: It's the price of being big time. On all the money that now pours into the sport: They wish they had some. "That's the biggest difference today is the money is so much bigger," says Allison, shaking his head with a little bit of disbelief. "Back in our day, I would win a race and still have to stop somewhere along the way at a short track to try to make a little extra money to pay the bills. And that really wasn't that long ago." Allison was forced into retirement in 1988 after a horrifying crash at the Pocono Raceway. Pearson had faded into the sunset two years earlier. Baker didn't hang 'em up until 1992, but hadn't run more than eight races since 1988. All three retirements came just before the big bucks started rolling in and TV ratings began to skyrocket. "I don't think it was until about 1990 that all the Winston Cup races were even televised," remembers Baker. "And not all of those were live. Now they televise everything from qualifying to Happy Hour. I remember when we first started talking about televising Happy Hour and some of the TV execs were like, 'That's like showing batting practice. Nobody will watch it.' And now it's on every weekend. They can't sell the ads fast enough." But the men who built the sport are not bitter. Not even close. Sure, there's a part of them that would have loved to have hung around long enough to pile up enough cash to buy Lear Jets and mansions on the lake. But there is also a sense of satisfaction in knowing that they didn't hang around way past their prime just to get paid ("Like Petty and Waltrip," says Allison). And there is also a sense of pride knowing that the young millionaires of today would still be hauling their own cars behind their own trucks to places like Monroe, N.C. and LeHi, Ark. without the hard work and sweat of the men who came before them. "I guess these guys do owe us a bit," says Pearson with a smile. "I told Jeff Gordon that I would test his car for him for 10 percent of his paycheck. He didn't take me up on it. I'll keep working on him, though."

Ryan McGee is the managing editor of Totally NASCAR, and NASCAR This Morning on Fox Sports Net. He can be reached at his e-mail address: rmcgee@foxsports.com.

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