He's fresh on the scene, but long on
Sure, racing has been in Brad Keselowski's family
since the world was young. But his own meteoric rise through the
ranks to both Nationwide and Cup championships and 37 NASCAR wins
has been simply glorious.
You'd have to be pretty talented to
pull that off, riding so hard on that ragged edge. But, beware going
over it - making a mistake, because things can get pretty lonely,
Earlier this month Brad was on the hammer at
Talladega, determined to dig out of some sub-par outings. All of a
sudden, six laps down, he swapped ends in front of the pack. It was
a big one, wadding up 14 cars, top names, top teams.
to say, folks were far from pleased as Brad came back to the pits.
He accepted full responsibility for the carnage. "I don't know what
happened. I just spun out in front of the whole field."
kind of psychological process do you think Keselowski went through
the next week to get ready for Kansas - to stay tough, with the
confidence to take it to the limit again in front of another 100,000
fans and worldwide television?
Most any race car driver will
tell you that's hard to do, regardless of the scale of his or her
Back in the mid-seventies, we had a rudimentary,
minimally funded dirt modified based in the Boston area. We were
focused on the unlikely goal of winning at Fonda, New York, a tough
half-mile dirt 250 miles to the west, and paying for it by running
The season had started out with promise, but blown
engines, rears, wrecks, and those endless stretches of highway
ground through our energy and resolve.
The final race, a
Christopher Columbus 100-lap open competition, was coming up, and
our mentor, a wonderful New England Hall of Famer, Bill Welch, told
us about how he'd had a luckless season back in the fifties. For the
last race, he painted his car black, lettered it #4, and won the
feature. So much for our blue and yellow #181. Out came the brushes.
It turned out to be a cool, damp night out in the Mohawk Valley.
The pits were full of cars - maybe 60 modifieds. But those were the
days before innumerable support divisions, so it seemed the track
might stay fresh. There was some comfort to that thought because we
Co-owner Bruce Cohen went to draw for our
heat-race starting position. Of course. It was last in the fourth
and last heat.
Gary Balough, Tommy Hager, and Stanley Wetmore
won their qualifiers. As we chugged out for the heat, there was a
nice cushion, a nice deep surface. It made me feel a little racy.
Off we went, and our little black #4 felt good. And better. And
better. With two to go, we were second, behind a famous gasser from
Western New York, George Ely. After working the upstairs a couple of
times going into turn three, I crossed and snuck under him for the
win. That was cool because the main was going to have a heads-up
We didn't touch the car for the feature. We wouldn't
have known what to do and we surely had no fresh rubber.
Everyone was all over me to take it easy for a while, and I so did.
The four of us pulled away from the field regularly during that
typical series of Fonda cautions.
Again our car and our
little Lenny Boehler-built 427 seemed pleased with themselves. We
eventually got by Stan Wetmore, the popular, smooth-driving New York
legend, and went after Tommy Hager. That was another story.
Hager, up from the wars in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, was some
aggressive wheelman. He was all the more formidable when he climbed
out of the cockpit of that #43. His nickname was "Beef."
Tommy and I went at it for a couple of laps. Then, at about half
way, he seemed to snag a rut off turn four and bounce over half a
groove. I dove under him, but he wasn't having any. We hit. And
Tommy was out of the show.
Terror went through me like a
harpoon through a tub of butter. Surely Mr. Beef would be there
sizzling at the end of the race, waiting for me. But I had other
things on my plate at the moment. Suddenly I realized we were
running second to Balough and I never noticed that Tommy
subsequently loaded up early and went home.
Balough was, as
always, lightning fast in the Ferraiuolo #73. But something strange
happened. I found that after a couple of laps of building momentum,
I could run with him. Especially in that third "graveyard turn," I
could haul it in flat out, up against the cushion. The sensation was
joyful - almost spiritual.
There were a couple more cautions,
and I began to feel that the starter was actually favoring us. Right
before restart, I would drop back a couple of lengths and then gas
it - and he would let us go.
The only problem was one lapped
car, driven by a Fonda veteran who had gone temporarily nutso. He
almost cleaned us out when we slipped by. On the next lap, out came
the red. He had flipped violently and completely self-destructed.
That's when I got a look at the gauges. Not good. Our oil
pressure was fluttering.
When the green came back out, with
just a few to go, we were right there with Gary. If anything, he
seemed to be slowing. Overheating? Maybe we could win this thing!
And, then, out of the blue, out came the black. When I saw that
flag, my heart dropped. I assumed we must be smoking, that our
beloved Boehler 427 was coming apart.
When I pulled into the
pits - in the infield in those days, the crew waved wildly for me to
go right back out. The black flag was not for us. IT WAS FOR RENE
Emotions going wild, I took another lap, looked at
the fading oil pressure, came back in for a couple of quarts, and
rode it out.
I remember as if it were yesterday how grim I
felt coming in after that race, in 20th . I feel exactly the same
way about it today.
The car was surrounded by people
reminding me with huge condescending smiles that I could easily have
won if I weren't so stupid. It was a very quiet ride back to Boston
- and you can imagine how the media and the rumor mills were buzzing
the next week.
I have just loved racing and have been able to
stay at it for 43 years. I even won a few along the way, albeit not
at Fonda. But I will tell you this. That Christopher Columbus night
- all those seasons back - did one big number on me.
that Brad Keselowski must be an awful lot tougher than I am.
|A Fonda feature never came our
way. Here’s one of a number of qualifying wins. But
note the trail of power-steering fluid lubricating
the track… (John Grady Photo)
© 2014 Lew Boyd
- Coastal 181
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