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
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
"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."