Last Tuesday night I visited and was interviewed by RWA at “Thoughts From The Heart of Dixie” – listed as Thoughts In Dixie on my role bar. For those of you who are not dropping by his site are missing a unique and funny guy who can make you think about things in the news and his life. Stop by Tuesday night and listen to his blog cast – and call in if you have the mine to do so.
Anyway, while he was interviewing me, he asked what sports I liked. The only one I follow and have a passion for is NASCAR. We talked about that for a while, and then I told him about the time I got to work in a pit crew at a NASCAR race at Darlington Raceway. He suggested I post this, after I had to holler at him to wake him up. So, if you are having trouble falling asleep, try reading this little tale.
Back in the mid 70’s my first wife and I went to Darlington to watch the Rebel 500. One of the guys on Bruce Hill’s pit crew was a Chris, whom I went to high school with and whose dad owned a Gulf Service Station up the street from where I lived. It was a place we both worked on our racecars. We were both racing on the weekends before I gave it up and he quit to work for BH.
Anyways, we were walking up to the infield gate to see him and say hello. He was waiting for me and asked if I would like to work in the pit crew because one of the men broke his hand the night before when the race engine fell on it. Well, let me tell you that was like asking a fat man if he would like to have a hamburger.
So he turned to the man checking the race people into the infield and told him we where with him. This is before NASCAR was such a big deal. There were two men setting at a card table checking off names. Not like today where you have to have six pounds of passes around your neck to use the bathroom – much less get on pit road. So my wife, Patches, went to sit with the wives of the racing community and I went to pit road. I was more excited than I was the first time I got to feel a boob. I was right in the middle of my heroes. In the pit next to us was Janet Guthrie – the first woman to drive in, what was then, the modern racing era. The Flock brothers’ sister raced in the 50’s. But Janet was a big deal.
Back to the story! My job was to wash the windshield when Bruce pitted. I had a 15’ pole with a sponge and a squeegee on the end. Because there are a limited number of men allowed over the wall during a pit stop, I had to stand behind the wall, lean over and wash the window with a little elbow grease. I did quite well, thank you very much. I was better at that than driving my race car and I was having a ball. But half way through the race we had a rain delay.
As I was going to the garage area to wait out the rain, Patches ran up to the fence separating the wives from the pit area, and said to me in an excited voice, “I got to pee with Linda Petty.” She was easy to please. Me too! I was sitting in the garage area with all my heroes sitting and standing around in groups just chatting away. Bobby and Donnie Allison, Richard Petty, David Pearson, Buddy Baker, Benny Parsons, and all the rest were all round me. If I wasn’t so cool and sophisticated I would have been bugging everyone for an autograph, or asking stupid questions like, “Hi, will you talk to me?” So I just set and ogled.
One group of drivers was standing just off to my right and I could hear them talking. Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson and Richard Petty were talking about Janet Guthrie. Bobby said that she was driving a pretty good race, that he had been watching her all race long and was impressed with how she was handling the track, one of the hardest to drive at the time.
David said that they could thank him for that. Why? They wanted to know. And David said, “I told her that if she ever won a race, I would give her some and she had been trying like hell ever since.”
Then the rain stopped and we (and I use the term “we” very loosely) went back to racing. Bruce finished in tenth place, the highest he ever finished in a NASCAR race. I am convinced that it was because his windshield was so clean. They should have kept me around. He might have had a NASCAR career if the had, but, instead, he went back to Washington State after the year was over. I don’t even get a Christmas card from him. The ingrate!
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