Common sense. This is, in my opinion, one of the most important virtues. Yes, let’s call it a virtue, as in, a good thing. As promised in my very first blog, I will stay away from politics, so we are all free to form our own opinions about, well everything. Let’s try this on for size.
- “Mexico mourns at least 67 dead after twin punch of magnitude 8.1 quake, Hurricane Katia.”
- “Hurricane Harvey decimated parts of Texas and damaged southwest Louisiana. The total economic damage could be between $70 and $90 billion.”
- “Hurricane Irma bombarded Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean sea and tore its way up the entire state of Florida.”
- “Massive wildfires burn out of control in several western states.”
- I just can’t wait for the winter snows.
So, what is the deal? Was Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”, just an inconvenience, or, was it a hollow warning from a bitter politician, who lost a close election? (or did he?) Common sense tells me, nope, I think old Al might have something here.
I believe in two things; God and Science. God, sometimes referred to as “Mother Nature” makes the weather. Aha, got you there, He could be a She. Or maybe both, I’ve heard they work in strange ways.
We humans have no choice. We must deal with what is given to us every day, but, we don’t have to take it lying down. That it, unless, it happens to be a glorious day at the beach. Those days are fine, it’s when the clouds roll in and rain on our parade that gets so darn annoying.
What are those God given talents I’ve been hearing about ever since I struck out in little league and my dad assured me that I had them? I think it’s science. There have been some pretty smart cookies over the past, and they have figured out some awesome stuff about some awesome stuff. This includes the weather. Believe it or not, Terra Firma is a changing, and we have some changing to do along with it.
So, form your own opinions, use your common sense, and please make your next move one towards taking care of nature and one another.
One last thought. Today marks a most horrific day in American history. We all remember where we were on September 11, 2001. Please take a moment, lest we never forget.
Sorry, no jokes today. I guess I’m just not in the mood. Enjoy the second to last chapter of Pinky’s Drive-In:
I thought that it was incredible, that we were still close friends after all these years, and that we still remembered all those fantastic stories. Ted was sitting across from me.
“Woody, do you ever go to the races at Road America up in Wisconsin?” he asked.
“God, I haven’t been there since our last trip in the ‘70s,” I said
“That last trip was awesome!” said Ted wide eyed. “What a blast!”
“When I think back on the ride home on Sunday night after that last race, it makes me wonder how I’m here to tell about it.”
I almost spit out my coffee as I tried to speak.
“Now that was a weekend. You are correct, my friend. We should all be dead or doing life for all the traffic laws we broke.”
Elkhart Lake is a town in Wisconsin about 50 miles north of Milwaukee. Just outside town is a four-mile road-racetrack called Road America. Each year during the summer months, it hosts a series of professional stock car races. They race everything from modest formula V’s in June and Can-Ams in July to the unlimited horsepower Formula 1 Indy type cars in the August races.
Ted made friends with a fellow named Frank in the early seventies who was into road racing and introduced him around to some of the boys. Several of us became friends with Frank. He would tell us about the races that he went to every year up at Elkhart Lake and, more importantly, of all the wild times he and his buddies had over the course of the weekend.
They drove up on Friday night after work with their cars filled with food, beer sleeping bags and a tent. They camped out at one of the many campsites in the area and partied all night on Friday with the other race fans and crazies. The first set of races started at about noon on Saturday and the last one ended at about 4 o’clock on Sunday.
Patrons were allowed to bring in any food or beverages they wanted to the Road America grounds. Frank and his pals picked a section of grassland along the track, set up grills and enjoyed a day of professional auto racing, not to mention some fabulous babe watching. To a twenty-something, single All-American male, this sounded like a slice of heaven. How could we resist? We became Road America junkies from 1970 to 1976. We couldn’t wait for the first week of June as the June Sprints kicked off the racing season.
The first time we went up to the races, Ted and I rode in his 1965 Chevy. We met Frank and his friend, Denny, at a wayside rest area just outside of Elkhart Lake. We rolled into the stop at about 9 PM. I recall that as we got to Frank’s car, Ted opened the passenger side door and Denny fell out onto the ground, spilling his bottle of Boones Farm Apple wine all over himself and the pavement. That set the stage for the rest of the weekend.
The four of us proceeded to go through countless cans of beer, bottles of wine, bratwurst and butter-soaked ears of fresh sweet corn. By the end of the last race on Sunday, we were totally fried. We partied relentlessly for the entire weekend, stopping only to pass out when the need for a break was essential to our existence. I couldn’t recall ever driving back to Chicago.
When Ted and I told the rest of the boys about the wild time we had, everyone wanted in on it. During the next few racing seasons, more and more of us packed up for the weekend and headed out for the races.
Several of the Boys got married in the mid-seventies. Shawn was one of the first to take the plunge, and Jeff, Mickey, Moose and Weaser got hitched within a couple years of each other. The wedding receptions were epic events, and I was best man for Jeff, Mickey, and Weaser, but managed to stay single until 1977. That was a captivating time, as we started to come of age.
Our last trip to the races was by far the most memorable. Shawn and his new bride, Cindy, came up for the first time. They had only been married for several months and decided to join the rest of the group to a weekend at the races. They brought their German shepherd along with them. Shawn had a VW van that was gutted except for the two captain’s chairs and a long chest with a hinged lid on it for storage. Shawn and Cindy sat up front. Ted and I were in the back with their dog, Silver.
There were four more vans filled with various male and female personnel following us in caravan like fashion. Frank and Denny were also along. Frank’s car was in the shop, so he drove Ted’s old Chevy with Denny Mickey and his wife. Mickey was another racing junky who made several trips up over the years.
We all arrived at Jaycee’s campgrounds early on Friday afternoon so we could get our favorite area. We set up our tents, built a campfire, pulled out our lawn chairs and fired up some grills. The campground was about three miles from the track, but we could hear the cars going through the time trials.
By nightfall, the whole place was full. There were campsites with music blasting and parties going all night. The smell of meat being cooked over charcoal filled the air as we walked around past the campers. Every once in a while, you would catch a strong scent of marijuana as people sat in circles and passed the stash.
Road America was a 40,000-person party. Everyone had one thing in common. Enjoy yourself at all costs. Even the weather was perfect that weekend. It was 80 degrees and sunny all day and cooled down to about 65 at night. It was perfect for sitting around the campfire and enjoying being with those who meant the most to you, and the cool air was perfect for the small amount of sleep we got.
Jeff was always the first to rise in the morning. He had some magical genetic material that didn’t allow him to get hangovers. He would drink and party as much as the rest of us, but somehow, he always awoke refreshed and ready to go. Perhaps it was because, almost without fail, he would barf his guts out at some point during the alcohol abuse. His touchy stomach was a blessing in disguise.
The absolute worst part of his early rising was that he was so damn obnoxious. If he was up, everyone else had to be up too! The first race didn’t start until noon on Saturday. We needed to get there by 10:00 to secure our favorite spot, but Jeff was up at 6:30.
He was one of the first to use the community bathhouse, which was just a trough with a water pump centrally located in the campsite. This was where some unbelievable metamorphoses took place every morning. There was no way to hide your wasted look. You just had to hope no one who cared was there when you arrived to wash up. Oh, by the way, it was coed.
When Jeff came back to the campsite, all squeaky clean, the rest of us were doomed. The first thing he did was turn on the music. He had a custom Dodge van with carpeting and a state-of the-art sound system. He brought his stereo speakers from home, connected them to his van’s amplifier and always cranked it up to supersonic. If you could sleep through the Jimmy Hendrix Star Spangle Banner at that decibel level, you were dead.
There was, however, a small blessing that went along with Jeff’s intrusion. He always started the grill for breakfast. I’ll have to admit, the bacon and eggs and fresh coffee were most welcome.
Ted was in charge of the firewood committee so he was usually up next. The campground supplied the kindling for a small fee. They had a mountain of it near the front entrance and the price was $2.00 for all one person could hold, but you only had three minutes to load up. The first time we made the trip to Road America, Ted volunteered to be the “woodman” so we allowed him to keep the job. It actually became a ritual that we perfected over the years.
The first trip up, we had no clue how to get the most wood for the fee. Frank, Denny, and I had Ted stand with his massive arms spread eagle as we quickly piled the wood as high as we could. When Ted grunted to go, we all closed in and helped transport the pile to our campsite. It was quite awkward walking sideways and backwards, as we shuffled along trying not to trip or drop any wood.
This time, we had a well thought out set of procedures. The cost went up to $5 for all the wood one person could carry, it was still a four-man job and Ted was still the holder. Jeff and Mickey were stackers and I was the picker. We no longer had to stumble back to our campsite, laden down with kindling and never dropped a single stick. We drove Ted’s Chevy to the woodpile and when Ted’s arms were full, he dumped the wood into the trunk (duh).
I jumped out first and immediately started picking just the right size logs and organized them by size, so as Jeff and Mickey stacked Ted, the largest would be on the bottom and would decrease in size as the pile grew. When we were ready to go, Ted took several cleansing breaths, leaned his back against his back bumper at approximately a 48-degree angle, stretched out his arms and nodded. The campground employee started the time clock at three minutes. We had to work fast so Ted wouldn’t collapse.
Jeff and Mickey stood on either side of Ted as I handed each of them just the right size log. They would rotate no more than 33 degrees; place each piece in Ted’s arms and rotate back to receive the next one. The others who were waiting to get wood looked on in awe and marveled at our precision. They started pointing and whispering as they redid their strategies. We were truly the benchmark!
When Ted nodded a second time, we paused briefly, to tweak the stack. We never quit until time was up. When we were finished, Ted rotated his torso toward the open trunk as we all embraced the huge stack and guided it in. Cheers and applause were offered as we drove back to our campsite.
When everyone was ready to go, we packed up coolers, grills, blankets and anything else we needed, and took off for the race grounds. Ted and I hopped in the back of Shawn’s van with the dog and Cindy rode shotgun. The five vans and Ted’s Chevy formed a convoy as we left the campground for Road America. All was going well until we approached the main gate.
We had planned on putting Ted and Cindy in the storage shed, so we wouldn’t have to pay for their admittance into the race grounds. We were about four cars back from the gate when Shawn saw the “No Dogs Allowed” sign. We had Silver in the van with us!
“Son of a bitch!” yelled Shawn. “What are we going to do now?”
“Maybe we can hide the dog in the storage chest or under a blanket,” said Cindy.
“Okay, get Silver in the chest and sit on it!” said Shawn.
Ted and I tried to put Silver into the storage chest, but the dog wanted no part of it. Silver weighed in at about 90 lbs and was strong as a horse. There was no way we were going to get him in against his will. Then to make things worse, he started to bark.
“Quiet, boy!” yelled Cindy.
There were just two more cars to go before we would be at the gate! Then it happened. Like a bolt of lightning, Shawn came up with an idea that still amazes me to this day. “Cindy, you and Ted get in the chest and close the lid so we won’t have to pay for you to get in!” he shouted excitedly.
“What about Silver?” said Cindy?
“I’ll take care of the dog,” said Shawn.
“I’m not sure we both can fit,” said Ted.
C’mon, just do it quick, like we planned, and be quiet,” Shawn shouted firmly.
Ted and Cindy looked at each other. They felt a bit weird, but agreed to get in the chest. It was a tight squeeze, and they had to lie down like two spoons in a drawer, but were able to get in. We could hear them giggling as they tried to maneuver within the close quarters. Modesty was not an option when trying to save a few bucks among friends.
“Shut up in there. We’re almost at the gate.” said Shawn.
They both went completely still as I sat on the chest, but now the dog was whining and scratching at the storage chest as he also wanted to get in.
“Woody, put my sunglasses on, sit up in front with me and look straight ahead.”
“Come on hurry!” Shawn said as he motioned quickly with his right hand.
“Now take Silver’s leash in your left hand and let me do the talking. Pretend you’re blind!”
I couldn’t believe what he was saying.
“Are you fucking nuts?” I said. “This will never work.”
“Just keep a straight face and we can pull it off,” said Shawn.
“You’re crazy, Shawn Kelly,” came a muffled retort from Cindy.
We were all in our assigned places just as Shawn pulled up to the main gate. Shawn was known far and wide for being able to bullshit his way out of almost any situation, but this was really going to be the ultimate challenge. As luck would have it, there was a middle-aged motherly type lady collecting the money in our line. The poor woman never had a chance.
“How many?” she asked Shawn.
“Nice to see you, ma’am, there are just the two of us,” he said as he flashed his pearly whites with the sweetest grin you ever saw.
As she looked in the van for a head count, she saw Silver sitting quietly next to me and I obediently looked forward as if staring off into space.
“I’m sorry, sir, but there are no dogs allowed,” she said.
“I know, ma’am,” said Shawn, “but this is my friend’s Seeing Eye dog. He used to race up here and had a terrible accident a couple of years ago and lost his sight. He still likes to hear the roar of the cars and experience the race atmosphere. They’ve always let us in with his dog before and there’s never been a problem,” Shawn explained.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He sounded so convincing, I began to think I was actually blind. I heard a slight snicker from the back, but luckily, the ticket taker couldn’t hear inside the van.
“Well, I guess it will be okay if you don’t let him run loose,” she said.
We all had to bite our lips and hold our breath as we passed through the gate. When we were clear, Ted and Cindy threw open the lid of the chest and crawled out. I’m sure the laughter could be heard back at the entrance, but Shawn just kept on driving into the race grounds.
We were glad we left early. The area along our favorite straightaway, Hurry Downs, was open. We parked the vans in a semi-circle so the side panels were facing the track and set up about ten feet back from the fence. The track was about 50 yards beyond the fence with a steel guardrail protecting us from any mishaps. We had the perfect spot on a perfect day.
I put a case of beer on my shoulder as I exited the van and Cindy took hold of Silver’s leash. When I went back to get the cooler, I saw a security person talking to Cindy and pointing to the dog. It was too late to recover. He already spotted me. Busted!
Shawn had to take Silver across the road to a farm where they had some kennels set up and poor Silver had to spend the day there. There was no fine, just a small fee for the dog sitter and the embarrassment of being caught. The security person actually complimented Shawn on a nice try.
There were three 200-mile races on Saturday and one 100 and a 300 miler on Sunday. The first race got under way at noon sharp. Our view of the track covered about 200 yards. We would hear the roaring engines coming from the right just in time to catch the cars go flying past. The sound was deafening! We felt the vibrations in our chests, as they swung left, up a curve and out of sight.
We had grills set up for cooking, but I always liked to walk around and stop at one of the food stands for a Sheboygan bratwurst and an ear of sweet corn, dipped in a bucket of hot melted butter. Mickey, Denny, Scrubby and I headed out just as the race got under way. We always filled our pockets with several beers so we wouldn’t run dry during our stroll. It just wouldn’t be right to have to buy one at the beer tent.
The people (chick) watching was fabulous. They came in all shapes and sizes. The chosen fashion was cut-offs and bikini tops, T-shirts or no shirts (guys only). It was wise to wear shades to disguise the obvious ogling. The entire crowd was in party mood. Age, race or gender didn’t matter at Road America, as folks would nod and say hi as eyes met along the way. The day was just what the doctor ordered. If this wasn’t heaven, it had to be awfully close.
Mickey and I had a sort of ritual we performed during the walk. We came upon a footbridge that went right over the track. It was built up on both sides with a six-foot corrugated steel wall so we could hear the racers, but couldn’t see them. It was a heavy foot traffic area so they didn’t want people stopping to watch the action.
Mickey always snapped a couple pictures from over the top of the wall. Denny and Scrubby flanked me as I hoisted Mickey onto my shoulders for a better look. There were several peepholes in the wall so I could also see out as Mickey got the pictures. It really was the best spot on the track for viewing. You could see the expressions on the driver’s faces as they downshifted and jockeyed for position going into the straightaway. Mickey got some great shots, so we headed back to our area as we popped open our last beers.
When we arrived back, the entire gang was hanging out, grooving to Jeff’s stereo system, passing some joints around and just taking in the day. Things got a little too mellow for Shawn, however, so he decided to spice things up a bit. He invented a device for shot gunning the marijuana.
Shawn had an empty aluminum foil roll, some foil and a huge joint. He poked a hole about the size of a dime in the tube and formed a pouch with a small piece of foil. He then poked another hole in the foil so the joint would fit tightly in the tube. All he needed now was a guinea pig. Shawn could talk Jeff into almost anything, so naturally, Jeff was his man.
Jeff was lying on top of his van on a blanket relaxing in the sun when Shawn approached.
“Hey, Jeff, you wanna try something really cool?” said Shawn with a grin. “I’ve got a shot gun that will knock you into next week.”
Jeff sat up as Shawn handed him the apparatus.
“What the hell is this?” asked Jeff.
“I just told you, it’s a joint shotgun. I’ll show you how it works,” replied Shawn.
Shawn told Jeff to put one end of the tube in his mouth and to hold his free hand over the opening in the other end. He then inserted the lit joint into the foil pouch.
“Now just inhale a tiny bit to get the tube filled with smoke,” said Shawn as he started to chuckle. “Is the smoke getting into the tube?” Jeff nodded his head. “Okay, now take a deep breath and let your hand go from the end of the tube.”
Jeff fell for it as usual. He took a massive hit from the reefer gun! I’ll never forget the look on his face. First, he squinted his eyes as he inhaled, then they opened wide and almost popped out of their sockets, as he dropped the gun and fell backwards off the van! Splat! Jeff wasn’t hurt, but he completely collapsed the shade canopy that was set up behind the van. He must have coughed for ten minutes, as he chased Shawn all over the race grounds, with one of the metal poles from the canopy.
Jeff gave up the chase after a couple minutes and staggered back to his van where he rested peacefully for the next two hours. He never even saw the third race. He just curled up in a fetal position and went somewhere that he had never been before. Nighty-night, Jeffy.
The remainder of the afternoon was filled with more eating, drinking, tossing around the Frisbee or football, or just doing whatever else came along. We always hung around an hour or so after the last race. It was futile sitting in line with your motor running to exit the grounds, so we let most of the traffic leave before we started back.
Jeff finally woke up from his stupor so we packed up the vans and were on our way. Ted, Mickey, Denny, and I rode back with Jeff in his van. Jeff was still a little groggy and we were all a bit tipsy, but were not quiet in the mood yet for going back and sitting around the campsite. Jeff turned south instead of north when we got out onto the highway. We were last in line, and the others were already on their way north to the camp. We were going into Plymouth.
Plymouth was a small city of about 10,000 good citizens. It was approximately five miles south of Road America and was normally a rather laid-back community that you would expect to find in rural Wisconsin. Three weekends out of the year, however, it was busting at the seams with race fans. The Plymouth Chamber of Commerce loved the race weekends. The restaurants, bars and shops opened early and closed late Friday through Sunday. It was a veritable gold mine for the merchants, but a nightmare for the local law enforcement.
Jeff was in the mood for shooting some pool. There were several good bars with pool tables along Main Street and, as luck would have it, we found a parking spot right in front of Rusty’s Tavern. We had been to Rusty’s on past trips. It was a rather small establishment, with a twenty-foot bar along one wall, backless red vinyl stools, a few tables and chairs, and a small bar size pool table and a jukebox.
The five of us bellied up to the bar and ordered a round of Old Style lager in the bottles. There were four guys, playing partners at the pool table that looked to be in their early twenties, like us. I put a quarter in the slot to reserve the next game. Mickey and I were a team, and would play the winners. We shot a lot of pool in those days, and were hard to beat.
When we were up, Mickey pushed his quarter in and I racked the balls. The game was eight ball last pocket and if you sank the eight before all your others, you lost. Neither Mickey nor I liked to talk much when we played, as it would break our concentration.
The two winners of the previous game were our opponents, and had the honors to start the game. The first guy sank the two ball on the break, but missed his next shot.
We had the striped balls. I was up first and was red hot as I sank five of our balls in my first go at it.
We were only playing for beers, but we could see that the guys playing us were getting pissed. They sank just two more balls and scratched, so it was Mickey’s turn. We just had the nine and twelve balls left, and, of course, the eight had to go into the pocket that our last ball would drop in.
Mickey sank the twelve and nudged the eight to the far corner pocket. It rested about six inches away from the corner. The nine ball was snug against the rail next to the same pocket and the cue ball stopped cross corner. Mickey had a shot, but he would have to use left side English on the cue to make the nine run the rail into the pocket and hope to be in position to sink the eight.
He was brilliant. Mickey’s shot struck the nine just on its tangent and it popped into the corner. The cue ball had so much torque on it that it spun in place as it came to rest directly behind the eight. Mickey dropped it straight in the last pocket. Game over. Drinks were on the losers.
They set their money on the bar as one of them said.
“What are ya drinking farm boys?”
They thought we were locals. We were from the big city, and didn’t appreciate being called farm boys. Jeff really took it personal.
“What the fuck did you say?” retorted Jeff.
“You heard me,” answered the loser.
Jeff immediately went for a pool cue. He was still pretty messed up, but he really wanted a piece of this asshole. One of the local patrons sitting at the end of the bar happened to be part owner of Rusty’s and didn’t want his place going up for grabs. He shouted for Jeff to stop.
“Put that stick down!” he cried. “We don’t want any trouble in here.” Jeff backed off.
When things settled down, Ted asked the four goons where they were from.
“Chicago,” said one of them.
“So are we”, answered Ted. “What part?”
“We’re from the north side, around Howard and Western Avenue,” he said with a strut in his voice.
“We hang out at a place about five miles south of there, around Waveland bowling alley, and we ain’t no farm boys,” said Ted. “So why don’t you pack it up and leave.”
That wasn’t about to happen. If we started a fight we would most likely end up in jail, but, if we walked out, we would be viewed as cowards. We were at a stale mate.
Mickey devised the perfect solution: arm wrestling. He blurted out. “We’ll arm wrestle. The losers have to buy a round and leave the bar, “he said as he raised his arms. “You guys pick your best man and we’ll do the same. The dude at the end of the bar can be the judge.”
“You’re on,” said one of the north-siders.
There was a fellow sitting at the end of the bar near the door. We didn’t know he was with the other four guys, we also didn’t notice his girth, until he stood up and answered the challenge. He was huge!
“I’m in,” he said. “Let’s play.”
He took off his outer shirt. His arms and shoulders were bulging through his t-shirt as he walked over to one of the tables and sat down. Ted, Denny, Jeff and I all turned to look at Mickey.
“I didn’t mean me,” he said sheepishly. “We’ve got Ted. He’s never lost.”
“Okay. I guess it’s up to me,” said Ted as he sat across from the monster.
The two clasped hands as the judge tied a rag around their wrists.
“The first one to hit the table loses”, he said. “We’ll start on three.”
We could see that Ted was up for the challenge as we crowded around the table. He was already squeezing Godzilla’s hand, as his bicep was flexed and ready to go.
“One, two, three!” said the judge.
Both men let out a loud grunt at the same time. We expected Ted to put up a good fight, but he was incredible. Three seconds into the match Ted let out a blood-curdling scream as the veins in his temple almost burst through his skin. He slammed his opponent’s hand down on the table three times! Bam, bam, bam! It was over that fast. Everyone in the bar was in shock.
“Holy shit!” said one of the north-siders. “Who the hell is this guy?”
“He is one thirsty son of a bitch,” I said as I held up Ted’s arm. “The drinks are on you boys. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out,” I said as they quietly paid for the drinks and left the premises.
The bartender and the owner were relieved when they left. They bought us a round of shots to go along with the free beers. We toasted to Ted as we sang our famous fight song.
When we finally made it back to camp, it was dark out. The gang had built a huge campfire. They were most impressed, as we sat around and regaled our Plymouth adventure, but disappointed that they missed the action. We partied on for the rest of the evening and a good part of the night until we fell asleep or passed out.
Sunday morning, we had to break camp and pack up completely. We would be driving back home to Chicago from the track. Jeff, as usual, was the first one up and once again rousted us by 7:30. We didn’t bother cooking breakfast because we were going into Plymouth to a restaurant. We arrived in town at about nine, ate a hardy breakfast, and headed for Road America once again.
Shawn dropped silver off at the dog sitter this time. The pretending to be blind trick, was a one-time event, however, the Ted and Cindy hiding in the tool chest trick, was still in play. They, once again, squeezed into the chest and skipped the entrance fee.
We set up just as we did on Saturday and started in all over again. There were about eight of us that took a walk around this time. We stopped for about a half hour at Canada corner to see if there would be any spinouts and weren’t disappointed. There was a Pontiac Trans Am facing backwards on the side of the track when we arrived. The race was on its last lap and the lead car was winning by just a car length. When they came squealing around the corner, they bumped fenders, causing the second car to slide off the track and spin 180 degrees. It was a close call, but there was no accident. The driver could stop to avoid slamming into the crippled Pontiac.
We started back to the vans to hang out until it was time to leave and, of course, stopped for one last bratwurst and ear of sweet corn on the way. Everyone tried to wind it down to get ready for the final exodus and long ride back to Chicago. When the last race was over, it was once again time to take to the road and head for home.
This was the last race of the season and, without a doubt the best time we ever spent at Road America. There was always a long delay between the end of the last race and getting on the road. Ted and I were enjoying a cold beer and looking out at the raceway as one of the pace cars tooled on by.
“That looks like fun, doesn’t it?” I said.
“What do you mean?” asked Ted.
“Driving around on the track looks like it would be fun.” I responded.
“It sure does,” Ted said as he leaned against the flimsy fence. “You know, this fence is the only thing between us and the track,” he said with a wry grin.
“That’s right,” I said nodding in recognition.
As the exodus of cars, vans and RVs began, we decided that we had such a grand time that we just had to do something truly memorable to cap off our best Road America experience.
The fence we were leaning on was only about fifty yards from the track. It was just one of those snow fences you see along the highway where there’s an open field that would allow the snow to drift over the road on windy, snowy days. We decided to go for it. Ted beckoned to everyone to come over to the fence.
” Hey, guys, come on and help us break down a section of this fence so Woody and I can take a victory lap!” he yelled. “Frank, give me the keys to the Chevy!”
About ten of us started to push and pull on the fence. It collapsed a lot easier than expected. It took about twenty good heave-hos and down it went. We now had a clear shot at the track and our 15 minutes of fame!
The four-mile race track winds about the countryside. A driver would encounter several hills and shallow valleys along the way. There were several nice straight-aways where maximum acceleration could be accomplished as well as some mild and sharp turns that demanded skillful maneuvering of the vehicle. The designers even named some of the more formidable parts, such as ‘Hurry Downs,” an uphill straight away and “Canada Corner,” which was the most treacherous turn on the track.
Ted started up the old Chevy and I grabbed a couple of beers and an ear of sweet corn for good measure and jumped in the back seat. We slowly drove over the partially broken fence as not to puncture the almost bald tires on the Chevy. Cheers rang out from all our friends.
They yelled such words of encouragement as; “It’s been nice knowing you!” “Don’t call me for bail money!” and my favorite came from Frank.” Hey, Ted, if you die, can I have your girlfriend?”
Our adrenaline pumped wildly as we realized that there was no one to stop us. We were going to get away with this. Ted turned left onto the track and stood on the accelerator. We were off!!
The faster we went, the higher our spirits soared! We covered the same ground that Mario Andretti had. This was the same track that Mark Donahue drove in his famed Sonoco Javelin. We flew through Hurry Downs and were soon out of sight from our imaginary starting gate.
Ted was a master at the wheel. The Chevy had 3 forward gears on the column and Ted took a gulp of beer, put the can between his legs, downshifted to second and then banged back into third as we went for a straightaway. The track layout was very familiar to us from a spectator’s point of view, but we weren’t sure when each turn would be upon us.
Canada Corner was situated at the bottom of a balls-out stretch of straightaway. It turned sharply right at 90 degrees and brought us uphill under a concrete walking bridge. We always set up there to watch the race if the track was even the least bit damp. You could always count on some good spin-outs. We saw several accidents there over the years.
Jerry Titus slammed his Shelby Mustang into the bridge the first time we were there in 1970. The crew took an hour to cut him out of the car. He waved to the crowd and the next day, he died in the hospital from head injuries. We had to stay alert to make it through safely!
Cheers rang out as we passed the different sections of the track. As people packed up to go home, they heard the screeching tires and turned to hold up their arms and shout at the top of their lungs. I waved my ear of sweet corn out the window with my right hand and toasted with my beer in my left in recognition.
The track swung us mildly right as we started into a gradual decline. Ted had it to the floor. We didn’t realize at that time that we were into the set-up approach for Canada Corner. All of a sudden, like out of nowhere, the yellow guardrail appeared in front of us and the road began to disappear. This was it!
“Ted, you’re going too fast! Slow down!” I screamed.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got it!” he yelled back.
It was then that I realized I was in the presence of greatness. Ted calmly, no, serenely, took a gulp of his beer and placed it once again between his thighs as he said, “Watch this shit!”
He slammed on the brakes and immediately released them just before they could lock up. In the same instant, he double-clutched down into second and then first gear and leaned into Canada Corner as his torso was slammed against his door.
I thought we were going to flip it for sure. The tires made such a loud screech that people froze in place and just looked on in awe! We took it on two wheels!
I had to struggle to hold on. Seat-belts were optional in those days, but never used. It seemed that we were tilted on our side forever. When the right side of that fabulous vehicle finally touched back down, a thunderous roar came up from the crowd. We made it. Ted and I both waved our beer hands out the window once more as he punched second and brought us safely past the bridge of death.
The incline past the bridge brought us to the real start/finish line where several track officials were stationed. When one of them signaled us to leave the track, we simply proceeded to do so. We looked at each other and just shrugged in disbelief.
It took almost an hour to work our way back to Hurry Downs. When we finally made it back, everything was packed up and ready to go. We finally got over the euphoria of our victory lap and realized that none of our friends saw the infamous turn 13 maneuver and that we would have to just cherish that moment ourselves from then on.
Shawn stopped to pick up Silver, and we left Road America, bound for Chicago. The two-hour ride back, was once again, a complete blur.
That was the last time the whole gang went to Road America even though it is still run to this day. My son and I have talked about going there for one of the Sunday races. Perhaps someday we will.