Sunday, June 30, 2013

Remembering Gary Jacob

I don't recall writing much about Gary Jacob when he passed away. I hadn't started this blog yet. I had heard about it at the time and it was sad news to me. I knew what it meant to the sport when we lost him. I know of nobody else who devoted so much energy to covering the sport and giving the drivers the recognition they deserved. There wasn't anybody. My magazine grew by leaps and bounds thanks to him.

Just before I started my magazine, I was given copies of Racing Wheels in 1984 every week. I still have them in fact. I read his stories with great interest. Gary's descriptions of the races were so good that they took you there. I had to know what was going on at Merced and Watsonville, and thanks to Gary, I did.

Now, at that time, I was interested in statistics, I took pictures and I kept score independently of the officials. My score keeping made me popular with the racers who were able to use those results to get the official score changed, but it upset the score keepers. Also at that time, the local paper didn't cover the races as well as I thought it should and the track's souvenir program sucked.

So, it was in 1988, the second consecutive season for my magazine (took a year off in 1986 and did several magazines a year earlier) that I met Gary. Jim Pettit introduced me to him. Gary was thrilled to know that there was somebody out at Antioch with a passion for the track who was willing to write. I had started writing for Racing Wheels. The typewriter that I had just got broken, and Gary actually gave me his old typewriter. He wanted Antioch to have stories.

When I started mailing my magazine, Gary was on the mailing list and immediately began mailing me stories from Watsonville, Merced, Bakersfield and Porterville. Those were the ones I asked for, but of course that list doubled and then some very quickly. Being that I had no fax or computer, Gary worked out a system. There was a certain mail box, in Modesto I believe, that he used to send his stories on Monday that would show up in my mailbox on Tuesday almost every week.

By doing this, he enabled me to send my magazines with his stories on Tuesday afternoons sometimes, but otherwise Wednesday, and it reached people's mailboxes on Thursdays in many cases. I was beating Wheels with the stories. It took a lot of work to do this since my Pit Stops column required hours of tape recorder time just to get the quotes, but the magazine at that time was every bit as good as anything else out there, even Wheels.

Gary just wanted to cover the races and help this sport to the best of his ability. He devoted his life to it and was greatly respected by many, many people. During the years that followed, Gary came out to my place to take me to the races. If he was on his way to Petaluma or Ukiah or Lakeport, he was thoughtful enough to invite me. I enjoyed those times and talking to him and his father.

Then one day Gary suggested he could swing by and pick me up for a three race weekend. I ended up going to Santa Maria one weekend on Sunday and Monday to Grass Valley. Then, he's taking me back home from Grass Valley and then he has to drive an hour and a half or more back to Turlock. We did that trip on two of three occasions. We did a Steitz Show at San Jose once. He didn't have to do any of this, but that was the kind of guy he was.

At his house, I got to see his collection of Wheels Magazines and other racing magazines. He was even saving my magazines at that time for his records. The man was a fountain of information. He could reach back into the records and find what he needed for stories. Now, Gary even went so far as to let me borrow old programs so I could photo copy them, even copies of Wheels. He even provided me with the statistics I needed in my quest to gather history on some of my favorite tracks.

He never told me I was wrong for an opinion I wrote in the Editor's Viewpoint column, even if I'm sure he disagreed with things I wrote. I never really heard him bash a track. He may have had opinions, but he kept them respectful, even if critical. He stayed out of the politics, something I was too stupid or stubborn (maybe both?) to do.

He had the ear of many of the promoters. They called him and faxed him. They wanted him at their tracks. John Soares Sr. used to call him regularly hoping to lure him to Petaluma, and Gary always made sure to make some appearances there every year. Who could blame anybody for wanting him at their track? He was good for racing, plain and simple. Racing desperately needs more like him now more than ever.

Gary could make or brake a big show. That is no exaggeration. Before the age of computers and the internet, Gary was known to hand out fliers for the big shows at all of the tracks he visited, and drivers would respond by going to those shows. I know occasionally a promoter would be upset with him doing this at "their track", but he was only trying to help make these open shows bigger and better. He would do it for any track that asked him to.

One of the things I'm most proud of was back in 1999 or 2000, while announcing at Antioch Speedway, I knew Gary would be there that night. I had been doing the special awards for the track, and I had branched out to the DCRR State stuff and special Lifetime Achievement and Award Of Excellence plaques. I presented Gary with the Award Of Excellence that year for all he had done, not just in helping me but the sport as well.

In walking away like I did, there are some people that I missed not seeing, and he was one of them. He was one of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet, always respectful. It's a shame we didn't get the chance to have one more conversation and enjoy a race some place together. The one comfort that I have though is that I know he was still doing what he loved to do up until he passed away. He probably pushed himself harder than he should have, but he wouldn't have it any other way.

One thing I think about as I consider the lack of publicity at some places is that all it takes is somebody to step up, grab a pen and paper and start taking notes at the track. That's how Gary and I both started. We weren't part of the establishment at that point, but he wanted to help out. That's what it takes sometimes. Racing needs that. I don't want to sound preachy, but that's what Antioch needs now.

Gary started with one track before he ended up being a two and three night a week racing reporter. Anybody can step up and help a track in need. It sounds hard, but it's not. It takes a little effort, but once you get used to what you're doing, it's a snap.

I knew when he passed away that racing would never be the same. People would realize, and they have, just how much they miss him. I don't know if things will ever be the same, but it has to start somewhere. Somebody new can step up and follow in Gary's footsteps for the good of a track in need. And, the other thing is that this hype, this publicity at the track, has a way of generating lots of excitement and enthusiasm from racers and fans alike.

Anyway, I just wanted to give Gary some sort of tribute, because he deserves it. If he were still around, I have little doubt that he'd be writing stories for any track that needed him and going to as many races as possible.