Friday, October 30, 2009

the race is over

i've been a racing fan of some sort for as long as i remember. i recall when i was real young dad had some friend that owned and/or raced a jalopy, and we would go to the race track at 11 mile corner, the pinal county fairgrounds, and watch him race. for those of you younger than me, a jalopy was what ultimately evolved into a modified. back then, however, roll cages, fire suits, and most other times of safety equipment were optional. made racing pretty interesting.

i remember very fondly looking forward to memorial day, cause dad would sit and listen to the radio broadcast of the indianapolis 500 all day. i liked that. back before tv recognized that people would watch a sporting event that long after all.

i paid little attention to nascar during my early years. oh, i knew who richard petty was. and cale yarborough. but i wasn't a nascar fan. the only racing i really knew was the indianapolis 500. plus what little racing we happened to see at a local track.

but i became an avid fan shortly after i moved to yuma. circa 1980, or so. my friend buford owned a used car lot, and his mechanic raced at the dirt track just across the river in bard, california. i started going to watch the shows with buford, and soon became a big fan. every race night buford and i would pack a cooler with beer and head out to the races. great fun.

1985 changed it all. the local track, struggling, and trying to attract more racers, which would also attract more fans, created what they called their "bomber" division. take any old street car, remove all glass and flammable materials, weld in a roll cage of some sort, strap on a helmet, paint a number on it, and go racing.

the concept intrigued me. and my buddy spot had bought an old pontiac that he had tried to enter in a demolition derby. as luck would have it, the car wouldn't start at derby time so he had the car sitting idle. i read about the new racing division and offered spot sponsorship from our company if he'd race it. and he did.

he rolled the car in the first race, blew it up in the second. but both of us were hooked. we bought another car and kept racing. after half dozen races of so spot actually got pretty competitive. and as the car owner, i was pretty proud. i sat in the stands drinking my bud light and feeling pretty much like rick hendrick probably feels now. successful race car owner.

we drank just enough beer at the races to impair our judgement just slightly. and one night at the end of the race show, when, as always, we went down into the pits to help load car and tools, spot had just been told that they had scheduled a special race for the following weekend. memorial day weekend. when we normally didn't have a race scheduled. thing was that the touring sprint cars were racing, and the track insurance company now required that at least one local division race when they were promoting special events. ok, that's fine. but spot had family plans out of town that weekend, so wouldn't be available to race. and he suggested that i drive his car for that one race.

we drank just enough beer at the races to impair judgement just slightly. and i'm the first to admit that, on that particular night, my judgement was impaired, for i agreed that, yes, i should race his car the following weekend. successful car owner about to become successful race car driver.

and when i awoke sunday morning and remembered what i had agreed to, i had to make a rush trip to the bathroom. holy crap! i agreed to drive a race car? on a race track? with other cars racing too? must have had impaired judgement.

i spent most of the following week trying to figure out how to get out of driving that stupid race car in that stupid race. while i wouldn't have admitted it to anyone then, i was scared. really scared. but i couldn't find a way to graciously bow out. i was stuck. and i was being really encouraged by a couple of my other friends that were involved in racing.

ok, race day comes, i'm gonna do it. we haul the car to the track. phyl and casshole as my pit crew, me as a driver. perfect recipe for success. and we lined the car up for the first race. and at the end of the pace lap, with me poised comfortably in the back of the field (that was the norm for a beginner back then. if you hadn't raced before, start in the back so you don't screw up and cause trouble for everyone else.) the green flag waved.

i raced a couple of laps just the way my mentor, phyl, had advised me. "just follow the car in front of you til you figure out he's going too slow, then pass him." well, before i could pass the car in front of me, and i was actually thinking i was ready to, the race leader came up behind me. and then moved beside me. that's when i noticed him. and in passing me, he actually smacked the side of my car. and that made me mad. it was not necessary at all.

road rage is a wondrous thing. i was so mad at that guy for smacking me as he passed that i decided i'd catch up with him and smack him back. so i followed him. stayed right on his bumper. for several laps. and we were both passing cars. staying right together. and then it occurred to me that i was racing just as fast as the best driver on the track. and about the same time i remembered that i was scared. so i backed off a bit, never did catch him so i could smack him, but somehow finished that heat race in fourth position.

then came the main event. and i'm starting in the third row. i should let them move me to the back. but i'm having fun now so i want to be right there in the mix. and the green flag flies. and the race is on. we run a few laps and then this fool tries to pass me outside going into turn one. and he gets slideways and turns right in front of me. and i smacked him. t-boned him, in fact. hard. and he rolled over. landed upside down with the front of my car on top of his car. and i'm scared all over again. my heart's racing much faster than i ever was. and i'm sitting in my race car, perched at a rather strange angle, and someone is hollering at me. finally i realize he's yelling "kill your engine!" guess i still had my foot on the accelerator, engine racing. i may have been in some sort of shock.

well, turns out the other guy was just fine. i was really afraid i'd killed someone. there were roll bar pieces and car parts all over the track. when i finally gathered my wits enough to climb out of my car i could see all that. and i could see the other guy had gotten out much quicker than i had. guess i would too, if i were upside down and had gas dripping all around me. i looked at my car and heaved a big sigh of relief knowing that my racing was over. the car was wrecked.

but phyl and casshole had other ideas. they had the car towed into the pits, changed a tire, pulled the plastic fan shroud away from the fan, had me try starting the car, and it did start. and they wanted me to race again. in fact, the race was about ready to restart. i could re-join the race without even losing a lap. but i was scared. i didn't want to. but they insisted. and i couldn't come up with a real excuse not to. so, there i went. and as the pack took the green flag once again, and i pulled onto the track right behind them as they roared into turn one, i actually heard the crowd cheer. and i felt pleased. and i raced again. and i had fun. and i was hooked.

i finished third in that race. but the following weekend i had to give the keys back to spot. but i was so taken by racing that i built my own car. and i raced a lot. with some degree of success. even captured the "rookie of the year" trophy. hey now, i'm an all-star.

and along about that time i also began to watch nascar races on tv. and felt a kinship to the drivers. and i became a nascar fan. an avid nascar fan.

for 20 plus years i've rarely missed a cup race. winston cup, nextel cup, sprint cup. whatever. but lately i find that i'm losing interest. nascar has, in my opinion, made too many bad changes. the cars are far from being "stock" cars. they hardly resemble anything you'll see in a dealership showroom. and the sport is all about money. gone are the days when a fella can race competitively on a shoestring budget. it's big business. and i'm losing interest.

ten years ago i started a nascar fantasy league. just a few of us at first. family members. but interest grew. friends joined in. friends became nascar fans because they joined in. i kept stats religiously. i've always been somewhat of a stat freak, and this project was tailor-made for that. and ten different seasons i tracked fantasy points throughout the cup season. but today that all ended.

my new laptop has a new version of excel. and my excel spreadsheet, the one i use for compiling racing points, stats, whatever, just doesn't like to work with this new version of excel. i've fought it. i've cussed it. and it just doesn't want to work. and it frustrated me. and the racing seems to have grown boring. and that frustrated me. and today i passed the torch. i resigned my role as commissioner of the nix family racing league on to my son, my assistant commissioner, scooter. and the race has come to an end.

No comments:

Post a Comment