How Racing Changed My Life
As you probably noticed in my last post, damn near everything reminds me of racing and what I lost this year. Even if it's just that there is no racing on certain weekends when there had been for the past 12 years.
I had a rough time this weekend, because I should have been in Cleveland with a whole bunch of my racing friends. We would have gone out to eat on Thursday as a group, catching up on everything since we last got together and discussing the racing and how the season was going. Friday, Saturday and Sunday would be been spent at Burke Lakefront Airport from gates opening until after 6:00. My sunscreen always got a workout at Cleveland, which is why I ignore those reports that say SPF 30 is as high as you need. I get burned when I use SPF 30, but not when I use SPF 55. That's all the proof I need.
Friday would have been excellent because it's less crowded and that was the day we'd head into the paddock and the pits, after first visiting our friend Rick in the merchandise trailer and trading hugs and hellos and howareyous. I would have stalked Oriol until I got his autograph on some new item, as well as my Catalan flag. If it were last year and Katherine were still around (she's in DTM this year – go Katherine), we would have found her and her cute little dog and petted the dog and chatted with her about how things were going. We'd run into various people we run into at every race, hug, exchange pleasantries and then chat about this, that and the other – all technical racing terms.
Then we'd take our annual trip through the pits and watch qualifying from the pits, even though you couldn't see shit in them and would spend half the session in front of a team's big screen TV which showed drivers' times and speeds.
Saturday would have been a bit busier and while we would have gone to visit Rick (and spend more money on Champ Car gear), we wouldn't have gone into the pits. Depending on everybody's moods and the temperature, we might go into the paddock.
Sundays, however, were never paddock days (except for Mom, Roadrunner and me, as we'd run through the paddock after morning warm-up to get to Mass). Sundays were usually too stupid busy in the paddock and the pits, so we'd stay in our grandstand and hang with our friends for one last day until the next race, whichever and wherever that may have been.
2001 at Cleveland was slightly different for me, though. Friday at the fan forum I answered the question "Who won last year's race and for which team did he race?" correctly. My hand wasn't the first in the air, but the person's who was didn't know the answer, he just figured it was probably Juan Pablo Montoya as it seemed he had won every race that year. As soon as I heard his answer, my hand shot into the air and Scott Pruett picked me. I answered correctly, "Roberto Moreno driving for Pat Patrick." I wanted to say "My Pupo!" but decided not to do that. ;-) Anyway, I won the chance to be a "CART Fanatic" which I already was, really, but this meant that I got to be teamed with a driver (in Detroit that year, the Fanatics actually got to ride in the parade car with their driver, but they cheated the Cleveland Fanatics). The people running the forum handed me a bag and a kid who answered the other question another bag. My bag contained stuff for Paul Tracy, his had Alex (Sandro) Zanardi. (Do yourself a favor and watch those two clips of Alex on the Letterman show, it shows what an absolutely great guy he is, and just one reason why I loved CART/Champ Car, because most of the drivers were that unbelievable.) Now, if you know me in my racing form you know that I hate Paul Tracy and that I've called him PFT since the 1992 season. The other kid, on the other hand, was a huge PFT fan, so we traded bags.
As a CART Fanatic I got a t-shirt that declared me as such (I still wear it to this day), a lanyard of some sort, and I don't remember what else, but the big thing was that before the race, during the drivers announcements that I got to do what I called the "geek walk," which was walk across the podium stage with my driver. I was disappointed there was no driver parade which would have kicked butt, but Sandro was lovely. As they announced his name, I waited for him to mount the steps to the podium, but he was too much a gentleman, and insisted I go first. I was thinking, there's no way those people want to see me, they want to see Sandro!!! So, when I got to the top of the steps, I waited for him and let him walk across first. My mom has pictures and I'm pretty sure I look extremely embarrassed. As we walked off the stage, he said to me, "Well, that's it, short and sweet." He was talking about the driver introduction portion. After that, I got to go out on to the grid and stand by his car while he got into it and the usual pre-race stuff was done. When the PA guy announced that all unauthorized personnel had to leave the grid that did NOT mean me! Woohoo! I got to stand next to the car while the call was made "Gentlemen, start your engines." I think I was a little too worried about getting off the grid in time to appreciate being there and feeling the rumbling of the engines go through my body as 20 turbo-charged engines started at the same time. I'm pretty sure there were tears. I was able to get Sandro's autograph on my friend Patty's hat. She's a HUGE fan of his and while I loved him, he was HER driver and I was more than happy to get it for her.
Three short months later we almost lost Alex Zanardi in a horrific accident where he lost his legs. Honestly, I wouldn't recommend clicking on that link. I don't use "horrific" lightly. I would recommend clicking on this one however, where he finishes the 13 laps from the year when he lost his legs. I cry every time I see that video. The first two minutes are a little cheesy, musically, but it's worth watching because there is just something special about watching everybody in pit lane run to the pit wall when he drove past the first time...and then the picture of the crowd cheering for him. The cheesy music pops up again at 4:20 or so, but again the video is worth it - just hit the mute, unlike you enjoy Sheena Easton.
As summer continues and weekends that would normally see me leaving the state come around I'll probably be thinking more about this...and telling you what I'm missing. So be prepared. ;-)
Thanks for listening this time.