Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Remember What It's All About?

If you don't like it, leave. That's what I did. I don't really have any regrets. I see quite a bit of passion out there from people who hate this track or that track. What the heck people? Are you even having fun anymore? It's real simple, if you want to race or watch the races and the place you have been going to isn't fun anymore, go someplace else. There are options. If you can't afford to race or spectate all the time at this other place, go when you can. If it's not fun anymore, quit.

If you want to step up and make a difference, do it. Jump in. I'm sure the help would be appreciated.

Do you remember what drew you to the races? Why it was the place you had to be on Saturday nights, or Friday as the case may be? Why this was the most important place to be for your entertainment dollar? Why you and your crew spent all that time working on the car during the week for those few precious moments on the race track? Why you spent all that money to be a part of it all?

Along the way, we all lose sight of it. We all get cynical. We all start looking past the things we enjoyed about it all and looking at the things that bothered us. Maybe those flaws became more obvious, but through the, years it's always been the same complaints. It doesn't matter what track we're talking about. The promoter is greedy and making money hand over fist. We aren't being paid fairly, but we are charged too much. There's too much favoritism. And on and on...

I've only been looking at it from a distance, but I'm not surprised to see the things being written online lately. Not at all. I complained about some of those things years ago, and I was called every name in the book, told I don't understand, told I'm too much into the politics. I was only trying to make a difference. Guess what? The critics were right in a way. I'm not saying I was wrong, because things I predicted have come to pass. But, I was too negative. You can fight for things that are right without getting overwhelmed by the negativity. If it gets to be too much, you should walk away.

It wasn't always like that though. So, what changed? Maybe we're just getting older and have lost some of that passion we had when we were younger. That sense of wonderment we felt each night we were at the race track. I do know that the track is never quite the same as it was when we first started attending the races. Nothing will compare to those early days, for me at least. I love Late Models and Spec Sprints, but the Sportsman division will always be my favorite. I loved those cars.

1980 was the first year I never missed a race. It rained before the races one night, but I convinced dad to go anyway. John Soares Sr. made sure the show went on that night. Some of the guys had stepped aside, but I remember "Sudden" Sam "Remember The Alamo" Houston and Mike "The Blue Knight" Gustafson. What a battle they had. Sam, winning so many races in "Chargin" Marvin Wilson's old car with the candy apple red paint job, and Mike, a picture of consistency, in his blue Vega. That was a close battle, but Gustafson won in the end.

Joey Rodriguez winning everything in sight in Street Stocks, Debbie Clymens standing her car on it's nose. I loved the Street Stocks back in those days.

Not a huge car count, maybe 30 Sportsmans and 15-20 Street Stocks. Full time trials, fully inverted heats and Main Events. Not a rushed program. Qualifying was fun, because there was the drama of who would get bumped from the main and have to run the semi. Heat races with drivers in your speed bracket. First time winners. Main Event winners from the back of the pack. A program that wasn't rushed. Drivers out of their cars for the introductions before the races. The nicknames for all the drivers.

It was the early years that really hooked me on the sport. Watching Len Mello go from B Main racer to champion had a huge impact on me. It made me believe anything was possible if you put your mind to it and make an effort. If Len could do it, anybody could do it. I always told racers that. David Rosa was once a B Main, no, C Main racer and won two championships. I always liked to see those drivers you'd never expect to do anything go out there and win.

The smile on a racer's face when I was reporting and they just got their first top ten or top five finish or won that fist heat. The people around them all happy because they made their presence known that night. I NEVER got tired of that stuff. Those were the moments I lived for. Not that I didn't appreciate what the big stars did, because I always made sure they got that ink and space on the cover of the magazine. But it takes EVERYBODY to make that show happen.

I recall a low buck racer named Steve Torres, the "Mad Mex". Wasn't a great mechanic and didn't have two pennies to rub together. I was a fan though. My friend Danny worked on the car. Good kid, and he's still crewing on cars, I think. Steve won a few heat races, but I recall one night in a 21 car B Main. Steve barely even gets out there and takes the green a half lap in back of the pack. He charged to third in that race. He could drive, just not the best mechanic. Don't even get me started on the night the body parts were falling off the car in the Figure 8.

The season begins. Is there anything more exciting? The points are tied. Everybody is a contender for the championship in that moment. Hopes are high. Tonight's the night. Grass is growing in the infield and parts of the pits. The cars are all painted beautifully. Some of the racers really made an effort for this, which was always nice. New cars, no dents, the green flag flies, who's it gonna be? Remember that?

Sitting in the stands with my brother and sister and some of the Nordstrom family, betting quarters on the races. I won some and lost some. Bragging when you won, laughing and having a good time. My driver's better than yours. Getting that hot dog and soda. I had so much to spend, so it was a hot dog and soda after time trails and then another soda later. Those were the days. Sneaking into the races when I could get away with it. Hey, I was a kid back then.

Watching those cars go charging into the first turn. The race was on. It meant something. You could read about it. Regional points. State points. Local points. 100 lap special races. Remember those? I loved those. Bob Meeker Classic. Jerry Delanoy race. Even the Coors 100 races. Guys coming from all over to run in those races. Top two finishers for the previous four or five weeks automatically qualify for the big race. Those were the days.

16 second times. A new track record. 15 seconds. 14 seconds. Wow, they are really flying out there. Mike Green gets sent over the fence. Al Nordstrom is gonna win his first ever Main Event, then Pettit crashes into him on lap 22 or so. No brakes. The night I saw Len Mello win his first main event that championship season. He won a race years earlier, but I wasn't there. David Rosa and Phil Torres and Turn 1. Only at Antioch.

Rick Petruzzi. Really need to write about him. Love him or hate him, he was fast. But they used to boo him walking down the front of the grand stands. J.D. Willis vs Dave Byrd. Troy Shirk follows in his father's foot steps and wins back to back championships. John "Boom Boom" Bellando. The Figure 8. Johnny Keldsen, Brian Holden, Jim Robbins. "The Master Of Disaster" Mikle Conley. Those were the days.

People I miss dearly. Mel Maupin. A better driver than he gave himself credit for. Darryl Shirk. Gary Jacob. Racing lost one of it's biggest boosters when Gary died. Cousin Will. Yeah, he was a hell raiser, but he was still good people. Rich Richards, an advocate for the little guy. So many people who are not here anymore, and I miss them all. When people like John Soares, Mel Hall, Doug Fort, Bert Moreland and Bob Barkhimer pass away, who do you replace them with? Remember George Steitz? Racing needs people like those guys.

It's not just about the racing on the track. We enjoy it and we're there for it, but there's more to it than that. It's the build up to that moment. Hanging out with friends in the stands. I miss you Anna, and thanks for everything. Talking racing and life in general. Cherish those moments, because before you know it they are gone. Then what?

It's about the camaraderie in the pits and in the garages in towns all over the country. Friends working together for a common goal, but there in friendship as well. In a lot of shops it's about having a beer or two and working on the car, and just being among friends. Then at the track working on that car to get it right, maybe capturing a checkered flag and having some "glory" for the night. Either way, it's okay. If you crash, it's back to the shop for repairs for next week.

If your rival needs a part to stay at the track that night, you loan it to them, because it's all about sportsmanship. Remember that? After the races, it's off to the pizza parlor for some beer and pizza as they talk and watch the video from that night, while telling stories about how it would have been their night. But it was. Don't you see? The memories were created, and that's something that can never be taken away. When it's all said and done, that's what we have. Friendship, family and the memories we made.

Racing is the back drop to it all. It's the foundation upon which we use to build those friendship. I look back and sometimes I probably could have made myself more accessible. I was invited to a barbecue or two that I never attended. Gotta work on the magazine was my excuse. Sorry Bill, but it was appreciated.

I remember partaking of a barbecue or two in the pits. Phil Torres and Glenn Martell always had the best. Those were the days. I'd be walking in the pits, roasting in the heat, but too busy to stop and get a drink. Somebody always offered a drink from their ice chest, and I usually took it. Then I'd enjoy some good conversation, discussing what might happen that night and that driver's goals for the night. Thank you to all of you.

Merced is gonna have a soccer field next year, instead of a race track, or so I've heard. If that's true, I'm sorry to hear it. It does serve as a reminder to those who choose to complain all the time, while offering no solution. It could be worse. You could have nothing. Would you like that? You could bitch about what used to be instead.

The world has changed in the last 20 or 30 years, and it seems more rapid over the last decade. I'll leave it up to you to decide if it's a good or bad thing. This isn't the blog for that. The one thing to remember is the races should be a place to get away from all of that, if only for a few hours. The drivers can be stars for that moment, and the fans can feel like they are a part of it, which they are. It's one big community. Everybody's in it together.

So, really, just remember what it's all about. Remember why you are out there in the first place. Something drew you into it. Something made it special to you, a moment, a driver, a particular race, whatever. Try to keep that in mind. Even if things aren't what they used to be, that doesn't mean they have to be bad. Tomorrow is another day, and the potential will always be there to give us more fond memories and new friendships. In the end, that's what it's all about.