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Semi-Monthy Racing
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Dion at Richmond - 1978

October 15, 2007


Talk to anyone who has ever driven a race car and you can expect to hear all about their first race. Almost always there is some 100-MPH emotion stuck tight to the story.

One thing is for sure. Just a lap or two behind the wheel can be a major stop-go point. Take Bob Bahre, the feisty 80-year-old owner of New Hampshire International Speedway. "I tried driving (a midget) one night in the warm-ups at West Springfield, Mass. Bill Schindler and Georgie Rice went by me so fast that I pulled in and never sat in one again. Scared me to death. That was it."

On the other hand, some drivers have a wonderfully positive experience that can launch their career like nitrous oxide. Can you imagine what glorious thoughts must have been in Kyle Pettyís mind as he rolled into his couch the night he won the ARCA 200 at Daytona in February 1979, his very first race?

Itís curious, though, that the intensity of first races doesnít necessarily go away. Bentley Warren, the legendary open wheel chauffeur, copped countless jalopy and cutdown trophies. But, when he climbed into the Purdy Deuce for his first supermodified race at Oswego in 1969, he claims that "my foot was shakiní so bad I could hardly find the pedal." And hereís ten bucks that says that foot was vibrating again in May of 1970 when Bentley started his first Indy 500.

One of the most amusing first race adventures weíve come across, though, comes from Dynamite Dave Dion, the East Coast late model racer. In his book LIFE WIDE OPEN, Dave describes his massively under-funded teamís initial trip down South to run with NASCARís Grand National Division (now NEXTEL Cup) in 1978. Now that must have been some scene:

Our first race was in Dover, Delaware. We drove all night, and about halfway there, the exhaust fell off the bus. By the time we got to the end of the New Jersey Turnpike, we were in rough shape. We pulled over into the breakdown lane and literally crawled out of the bus, laying in the grass by the side of the highway, drinking ginger ale and trying to clear our heads. I was dizzy, my vision was fuzzy, and I couldnít feel my feet touching the ground, suffering from a major case of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Eventually, we climbed back on the bus and went on down Route 13 to Dover, finally getting there around sunrise.

When it came time to sign in, there was the usual mob of NASCAR teams, workers, family and friends. All of them got to sign in before we did. Every few minutes, they got on the loudspeaker and asked, "Is there anybody
else?" Finally, after what seemed like hours of waiting, they waved us up to the window and got us checked in.

As we pulled across the track into the infield, our eyes must have been as wide as dinner plates. We were Grand National racers now!

As soon as we got into the infield, a security guard directed us out toward the backstretch area. We had watched all the other haulers driver down a road to the right Ė toward the garage Ė but this security guard insisted that we couldnít go that way.

"You donít understand," I said. "We need to go down there."

He shook his head and pointed us out back, where all the campers were going.

"But sir, we really need to go that way! Weíve got to get through inspection!"

Finally, the guy lost his patience. He walked up to the window of the bus and barked, "Iím not going to tell you again. Either take your camper up there like I told you, or turn it around and get out of here!"

"Camper? Camper?!? This isnít a camper, weíve got a Grand National car in here!"

We opened the door into the back of the bus, and the old guy looked in and saw that we really did have a race car in the back. He waved us on through, chuckling under his breath the whole time. When we finally got to the garage Ė trying not to run anyone over in our carbon monoxide stupor Ė they ushered us into the spot right next to Richard Petty.

What a picture that must have made; King Richardís big, beautiful, enclosed hauler, parked next to our old blue school bus with the busted exhaust. Unbelievable. We figured we better get busy as soon as possible (before they reconsidered and threw us out), so we opened the back door and started pulling the ramps out.

On the ride down, we had been eating a big block of Vermont cheddar cheese, along with some sausage and sardines and crackers. Well, when we opened the back of that bus, it smelled like the deli from hell. Benny Parsons was a couple of stalls away, and he and Petty must have caught a whiff of it, because they immediately came wandering over, scratching their heads and trying to figure out what the heck was going on.

It was like the Beverly Hillbillies had come to town, and pretty soon, we had drawn a pretty sizeable crowd.

One of the guys unhooked the chain binder, and I pushed-in the clutch and started rolling the car out of the bus. I was looking in the mirror, trying to stay centered, when suddenly the car just took off. I hit the brakes, and instantly realized that bleeding the brakes was one of the things we hadnít have time to do before we left. I was hurtling backwards, totally out of control, heading right for the prop rod we used to hold the back door open.

If I hit that rod, the rear door falls and kills Richard Petty, Benny Parsons, and at least a dozen other innocent bystanders. The last thing I saw in my rearview mirror was the two of them, running like scalded cats trying to get away. I started cranking the wheel like a madman, and finally got the car stopped, crossed-up sideways in the middle of the road.

Benny Parsons walked up, stuck that big face in the window and said, "What exactly are you trying to do?"

"Well, Mr. Parsons, I guess we forgot to bleed the brakes."

"Iíd say thatís obvious," said Benny. "And whatís that smell, anyways?"

"Thatís Vermont cheddar cheese and sausage. Would you like some?"

"I donít think so."


© 2007 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181

.: Previous Tearoffs :.

10/1/07 - What's in a Name?

9/15/07 - Official Overpopulation

9/1/07 - The Look of a Driver

8/15/07 - Being Junior

8/1/07 - Armond Holley

7/15/07  -  Red Farmer


























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