Monday, September 26, 2011

82 Years Old? Are You Serious?

Has there ever been a track champion in the United States older than 82 years old? How about an 82 year old who won two track championships in one season? Well, we have one in California. He's Larry Damitz. Larry won the Limited Late Model championships at both Antioch and Merced this season.

My first thought is that this is what is right with racing on the short track. Drivers who have been doing it for years. If you leave the track and come back a few years later, you still have that driver to cheer on. Honestly, I wouldn't know most of the drivers at Antioch if I did show up to watch, but I would know Larry.

But, it's more than that. He's 82 years old, and he still races. And he wins. 82 years old. Larry is a hero of mine. When you hit your 60's, some might say you start to slow down. But, age doesn't mean what it once did. Larry gives hope to all of us that we can do the things that we love to do when we are in our 80's. It's hard to imagine anybody booing that man. If they do, they are morons, and their opinion doesn't count.

As a young fan going to Antioch late in the Sportsman era, my dad told me stories of Vallejo and Pacheco in the 50's and 60's. He'd name the names, and Larry was one of them. He was on the top ten of point earners at Vallejo in the decade of the 60's and a track champion. Yes, he had to pay his dues in the 50's, but it wasn't long before he was winning. As time went on, he won championships at Vallejo, Petaluma and Chico. This was before he came to Antioch in 1984.

He was a feature winner in 1984. In 1986, he dominated the scene as far as wins. A back injury sidelined him as his nephew Milt McGinnis took over for a couple years and won championships at Petaluma. But, Larry wouldn't quit. He continued winning races and championships at Petaluma. Shoot, in his late 70's, he was racing competitively in full Late Models. I believe his decision to go back to Limited Late Models was based in part on the idea that he would be racing with Chevy McGinnis. He continues to be a force in the division.

It's amazing to contemplate the fact that he's been racing since the 50's. There have been breaks, but not long breaks. I think racing is part of what keeps him young. It's true of all the guys from his era who raced, such as Roland Lokmor, Del Quinn and Phil Pedlar, who raced for years. Roland and Del have since passed away, but it's hard to imagine there'd still be an NCMA without their contributions.

I can imagine what it felt like for Larry to jump back into a Hardtop again this year and win races. He won the last one this year at Antioch. It's like coming full circle to the division that started it all. I know car count is nothing compared to what it was, but still, it's Hardtops.

And the championships? Knowing Larry, though I'm sure he's proud of them, that's not what drives him. It's more than that. It's the camaraderie of the team. It's the friendships made at the track. It's the excitement of being out there competing. It's the memories made. It's all of that and more.

I don't know how long he plans to continue. I've said before that people should appreciate what they are seeing with him out there racing, because it's one of those things you will miss when he's gone. For my part, I wish him continued good health so that he can continue to do what he loves. If he's 90 and he can still do this competitively and he wants to, I hope he does.

Thanks for all the great memories Larry, and I hope you can continue to do what you love for years to come. You truly are an inspiration to everybody.