Friday, January 27, 2012

The End Of An Era

I returned home from a great weekend at the Oswego Classic, but instead of going straight home, I had to stop at work. My check for surgery had been sent there and I wasn’t waiting to pick it up any longer than I had to.

I was looking forward to the weekend as it was the Star Classic weekend and the race division I worked with was on the bill as well. I had missed a show at Monadnock that was rescheduled from a June rainout. In the days leading up to the Star show, I had been contacted by many drivers and crew members about the fiasco at the race I missed. They were happy I was back from New York.

I was anxious to get to Star. Not only because I love the Classic but because some of my supporters were not aware that I had great news to share, my surgery financials were in order. And I was going to make sure I was healthy in time for the start of 2008 race season.

Our cars were parked in a horseshoe like fashion and as I walked in the center, competitors from all sides where hollering things like “Thank God you’re back”, “Boy did they f—k things up last week”, “Oh are we happy to see you” etc. I felt great. There’s nothing better than feeling wanted or missed. But these comments fell on the ears of a very egotistical co-worker. Some one I considered a friend and an ally for years, despite being warned by people that knew him much longer than I. But we always got along great and worked perfectly together. He did not take kindly to my praise and the disrespect given to the events of the previous week. I was going to pay for it.

The rest of the event, I was treated quite coldly by my right hand co-worker. A massive thunderstorm came through knocking out the track safety lights. I figured we could race our qualifying safely as we still had the driver’s radios. The heats did go off ok, with one incident and an up and coming driver didn’t hear the call for a yellow. Upsetting a veteran driver who took the law into his own hands and dumped the kid under caution. Sparking a war in the pit area, and leaving the heap of blame on me, by a friend looking for any reason to poke at me.

We were also doing a tribute that night to a fallen car owner whom we had just lost the previous week. We set up a plan for tribute in the drivers meeting. Easy enough. Come feature time, my ‘friend’ doesn’t do what he said he was going to do at the finish. Creating confusion for the drivers, fans and everyone present. A total cluster. I was furious. But as soon as I returned to the pit area I was told “ things were great, until this year”. Only one thing changed in 2007 from previous years. My name.

Another uniformed official e-mailed me that week saying “I don’t know why ----- is mad at you, he’s the one who didn’t do what he said in the drivers meeting.” But I’m not part of the clique. I was marked for failure as soon as I arrived to the welcomes of the competitors. This was the job I was begged to stay on, mind you.
We still had four races to get through before the season ended. Three of them two day shows. I hoped things would clear up. They didn’t. They got worse. It’s hard to do a job properly when then the person you rely to to help be in control won’t even speak to you. I slowly started noticing a split in the drivers and owners. Those who were behind me, and, those who wanted the “it” gone.

I just wanted to quit. But I made a commitment. I’ll stick to it. No matter how miserable I am. I almost walked away at Seekonk before the racing even began, the following week but I promised two drivers I wouldn’t. I still have the e-mail from a championship driver thanking me for staying and it showed at Monadnock how valuable I am. A higher up in the club and car owner sent me an e-mail stating “I wanted to let you know you’re doing a great job. A few drivers have told me emphatically that they feel “unsafe” without you there—that is a pretty important role”
But I was marked. I wasn’t the clique member. I wasn’t the drinking buddy during the week.
I barely survived a two day show in Connecticut a week later. But we returned to Seekonk the following week, another two-day event of working against animosity. Being fought against doing my job properly. I couldn’t work like this and I was stressing myself out before I even got to the track, never mind only when the cars were on the track. I was miserable.

Sunday morning I approached a higher up in the group. I had to. A person that supported me and pushed for me to stay against my will, the past few years. I told him as well as asking “You know I’m being forced out of this club.” To my horror he replied, “Yes, I know” and quickly changed the subject to next week’s race. I was mortified. I was also done.
Monday, I wrote the meanest harshest resignation letter I could write. I sent it to a good friend, who also does racing public relations for a living for approval. For forty-eight hours, I heard no reply. Nothing. Zero. So Wednesday, I wrote up a calmer, nicer resignation. Within ten minutes I had a reply, “I knew you’d come to your senses. This one is fine.”

I did arrive for the last race of the year, but not before sending my resignation to group officers and with extra copies in hand if needed. But I honored my commitment.
Many greeted me saying they were sorry I was retiring, and that they always loved the way I handled a race. But I was tipped off that the person that wanted me gone, my ‘friend’ was going to announce his retirement as well, to steal my thunder. Sure enough he did, but I stepped back and said nothing. And yes, he was right back on opening day 2008, as expected.
I called my last race. At the Thompson World Series. A favorite weekend of mine, since my first visit in 1979. Thankfully things went smooth and after the race, the four members of the Mod Chick Mafia in attendance met in victory lane. I wanted them with me for a photograph of my official retirement. Linda Kimel, Kelly Williams, Gail Doolittle and Elaine King helped me ‘celebrate’ while captured for posterity by photographers Howie Hodge and Jim Feeney.

I tearfully watched my beloved super modifieds from the infield. Trying to talk to as few people as possible. But even Mr Feeney said to me that it was good I was getting out. Take time to heal and move on with my life. After the super race I headed back to the pits, dropped off my radios, made sure here was no questions or disputes. There wasn’t. I hopped in my car and got out of there ASAP. Saying goodbye to no one, I didn’t even stay for the NASCAR modified feature, which I usually love at Thompson. I wanted to be far, far away.
Leaving twenty-seven years of racing scorned, hurt and betrayed. But yet, strangely some what relieved too.

But in a strange twist, less than two years later, the person who made my racing life miserable for over a month, showed his true colors. Mid-season, he signed in at the pit shack at Twin State Speedway, drove his street vehicle through the pit area once. Quit and drove off. Before the start of practice, never mind the race itself. Don’t think my phone wasn’t ringing with that story within minutes of his departure from friends at the track.

At least I honored my commitments to the end.


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