This week, we’re getting personal.
As this column is published on Frontstretch.com, on September 24, 2010, yours truly is celebrating (in my own humble way) 72 years on this planet. Unsure how much time I may have spent on another planet, but there are a few times when I’ve been accused of being from out there in space somewhere.
When people tell me I don’t look 72, I have a standard answer, “I used to drink a LOT of preservatives.”
But I have to feel really blessed about the experience I’ve had and the people I’ve met in these years.
As I’ve recounted before, I became a race fan when I was less than 10 years old, when my parents, after an invitation from an uncle, decided to take in what they called the “hardtop” races at the Jeffersonville (Ind.) Sportsdrome, across the river from Louisville.
“Hardtops” were mainly 1939 and 1940 Fords, with a Hudson or two thrown in.
Suffice to say, I was hooked.
Hooked with the whole scene – the fast qualifier carrying the Stars & Stripes during the playing of the National Anthem, the smell of burning rubber, the beating and banging of hard-core old-fashioned racing, etc.
Then when somebody asked me to start selling National Speed Sport News in the grandstands, I naturally began reading what I was trying to sell, and found out there was a whole world of racing out there. Before this, I knew about Indianapolis because Dad made a yearly pilgrimage, but I never dreamed how much racing was going on in this great land of ours.
Since then, I’ve been blessed as well as hooked. Except for a four-year interlude while serving our country in the U.S. Air Force, three of it spent in northern Japan (a sorely needed education in maturity on its own), I’ve been involved in motorsports in some way or another.
My main jobs have ranged from selling vacuum cleaners through a stint as a Fuller Brush man, to pumping gas, serving as assistant manager at a pharmaceutical warehouse, and finally as a weekly newspaper editor before moving into the sport full-time.
Through all those, I was a race official following a short-lived adventure as a driver, mostly as a flagman/starter.
I was blessed, as I said, and truly privileged to meet a lot of the sport’s great drivers, mechanics, owners, etc.
Some of my warmest memories are from the seasons I spent with ARCA and the original American Speed Association, and becoming friends with some of the greatest people the sport has seen.
People like Bill Kimmel, Andy Hampton, Jesse Baird, Bobby Allison, Lamarr Marshall, Dick Trickle, Alan Kulwicki, Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Don Gregory, Mike Miller, and so many, many others, including the dean of all crew chiefs, the late Howie Lettow. And even lesser-known owners and crew members who were such great personalities. The names of Bud St. Amant and Roy Marvin come to mind. I’ve probably left out a few names, and for that I truly apologize. They say the memory is the second thing to go. I forget what the first thing is supposed to be.
In 1985, when I left the newspaper field and went to Indianapolis Raceway Park at the behest of the late Bob Daniels as news director, I was introduced to the world of drag racing, road racing, and NASCAR. Over the next 15 years I met a whole new batch of famous friends. Some, I learned, weren’t as crusty as I had been led to believe.
Connie Kalitta, for example. His son, Scott, who was killed a couple of years back, had given me a Kalitta Flying Service hat back in the late 80s. I noticed it was getting pretty ragged awhile back and shot off an e-mail with a photo, wanting to know how much a new one would cost. Two weeks, later, I got TWO new Kalitta Air hats in the mail, one of which was autographed by the man himself, and which will hang on my wall in a place of honor.
In those intervening years, I watched John Force’s career take off and found out that he’s just as gregarious in person as he comes across on TV. And I learned that Wally Parks was one of the most down-to-earth genuine people in the world.
One of my favorites was Jim Head, who has rarely had sufficient sponsorship support but continues to compete in the nitro ranks.
During a rental test session one day, he borrowed a radio from one of our people and asked if he could have time for one more run. He had flown in with his Pitts Special aerobatic plane, and I told him he could have the extra run, but I didn’t want to see a simple slow roll over the drag strip as he left, like he did when he arrived. He always buzzed the place to let his crew it was time to pick him up at the old Speedway Airport.
He said, “I’ll put on an air show for you.” And he did.
I’m sorry to ramble on so much about myself, but I’m so thankful to all the people who have allowed me to have so much fun over these 50-plus years. There’s an old saying that “Getting there is half the fun,” and I’ve found it’s true.
Hey, that reminds me of another story…maybe next week.
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