ADRIAN AND THE DEEP WATER
Ever hear those wonderful lines from the Emily Lou Harris song?
|Beneath still waters, there’s
a strong undertow
The surface won’t tell you what the deep water knows.
The comely country crooner had to be singing about racers. You
never quite know what’s under that Nomex.
One of our favorite
shows at Coastal 181 is Gater Racing News’ Motorsports Expo, held at
the Syracuse Fairgrounds each spring. Every year we are greeted by
the same guy. He is tall, handsome, broad-shouldered, graying up
top, but his face perpetually lit up by the warmest 1000-megawatt
smile you’ve ever seen.
This year, after – completely
unsolicited – he had helped us for about an hour unloading and
moving books and DVDs, Cary Stratton asked him who he was. “Oh,” he
said, “I’m just a volunteer. My name’s Adrian Flath.”
Flath! What a story lies beneath that gentle giant’s exterior.
Adrian was barely ten when his dad was taking him to the big car
races at the Syracuse mile. Adrian was snagged, hook, line, and
sinker. “Oh my goodness,” he recalls.
“Timing was the problem. I
was supposed to be born in time to drive those wonderful roadsters,
all about steering wheels not covered by cages.” But he had to make
do with the Soap Box Derby.
The moment there was a razor to
his chin, he was climbing into stock cars. And he had the stuff.
There would be around 100 dirt and asphalt wins.
Adrian was a
hot item in this rocket ship, a pretty sedan built by Bob
Bilodeau of Ottawa,
(Flath Family Collection)
He married a co-teacher at Lowville High School, and he and Rita
produced a beautiful daughter, Lori, radiant in both her smile and
her passion for racing.
When ESS formed, Adrian saw his
chance to run today’s version of those cars he had dreamed of 40
years before. He became an ESS legend.
Meanwhile, his dad was
not all that thrilled. “Adrian,” he urged, why do you race the most
dangerous class of all? You know you have a beautiful family. Sure,
you say it’s in your blood, but maybe you shouldn’t be giving
big toothy at McKean County Raceway.
(Flath Family Collection)
It’s ironic that the pinnacle of Adrian’s racing career came at
age 53 at Syracuse, back where the whole adventure had started. On
October 8, 1994, he towed into the 410 sprint car part of Super Dirt
Week. He had won a qualifier at Cornwall in Canada, so he knew he
would be in the show. But it was aluminum 410s be damned; he came to
race with his steel 360 peashooter. He reworked the bars, shocks,
and painstakingly fabricated an aero-package. He had run the Moody
Mile in a modified and really looked forward to the day he’d thunder
down that backstretch in an open wheeler.
Here’s the #10, all prepped for
And quite the day it was. Billy Pauch set the stage with a
sizzling lap caught at 181 on radar. Meanwhile, Adrian qualified
mid-pack, right in front of Kramer Williamson in a 410 Zemco. Adrian
ran stoutly all day, finishing right there, mid-pack. All
considered, it was an amazing performance. The only problem is that
he can’t remember a thing about it.
That same night there was
a makeup show for a World of Outlaws rainout at Rolling Wheels
Raceway. Adrian, Rita, Lori, and the team loaded up at the
Fairgrounds and rushed over. Wrenches flew everywhere as they
changed gears, shocks, bars, tires for the high-banked half-mile.
All went well until the middle of his heat race. The guy in
front of him, running raggedly, suddenly began doing 360s off the
fourth turn. Adrian went high to avoid him but was caught in the
process. The yellow number 10 took flight and hit the wall, full
tilt boogie, never touching the ground. Adrian’s helmet broke with
the impact of the concrete. It was one of those moments of the
uncontained viciousness of sprint cars, one of those moments that
brings sudden and total silence to a race track.
morning the doctors told Rita that, if Adrian survived, he would
most likely be either paralyzed or brain dead. The trauma had been
savage, and the coma was deep.
For 11 days, the Flath family
prayed, while that huge New York racing community sent them psychic
support. Finally, Adrian began to rally, faintly. Rita was at the
foot of the bed when he first opened his eyes.
|“Have I had an accident?”
“In the sprint car?”
“What did Dad say?”
Within hours Adrian’s eyes began shining a little more brightly.
When he remembered that his Dad had died six years earlier, Rita
began to hope that he actually would recover.
The only thing
really unbruised was Adrian’s smile. He couldn’t walk – or even
stand – when they first wheeled him into therapy. But the second he
got there he asked the director if he’d be able to “leave here 100%”
and he punctuated the question with a big ol’ grin. The Doc, a
little stunned, replied, “There can be no guarantees, but with an
attitude like that you just may come close.”
exactly what happened. By the following March, Adrian was back
teaching. And he began volunteering at Motorsports Expo – just one
of the many ways he repays the racing community for its good wishes.
Quite understandably, Adrian never raced again, but he sure
stayed involved. Lori married a sprint car driver, Jeff Cook. When
the sprinters come to Can Am Speedway, Rita’s barbeque fires up at
their home in Evans Mills – and the driveway looks like the pits at
Knoxville during the Nationals.
So, that’s who Adrian Flath,
the greeter at Gater, is.
See what I mean about the deep
Adrian and Lori in the Coastal 181 booth at the Gater show
this past March.
(Cary Stratton photo)
© 2010 Lew Boyd, Coastal 181