The reason I said yesterday that I’m in a happier frame of mind has to do with a phone call from my old friend Bill Thompson. Before I get to the subject at hand, I need to mention the importance of two people in my life, especially in growing up, the aforesaid Bill and Keith Hackett. We were all misfits; we all mistrusted the high-school system as we found it and rebelled by exploring as much of the adult world as we were cunning or ballsy enough to attempt. Amazingly, we did not normally fail.
Bill and Keith have been my friends since the early seventies, the time of Nixon and Watergate, of crimes and betrayals in politics and surprisingly enough, some great music. As we got older we didn’t hear from each other as much; everyone was busy getting on with life, but we all knew the other two were still in the world and in the end not that far away. Bill proved that again yesterday by calling. Now it looks like we’re going to have ourselves a little reunion somewhere, sometime down the road. I love it. I’ll be there, folks. Trust me.
Bill Thompson must be the toughest man in the world. As much as I felt I’ve had it hard, let me guarantee you Bill’s had it harder. I don’t have his or Keith’s permission to talk in public about their personal lives and so I most definitely won’t, but suffice to say Bill’s road has been exponentially harder, and for longer. Among other things, Bill is a survivor of Katrina/Rita. That by itself qualifies him as a true tough guy. I bow down to my friend Bill. Trust me.
There was a lot that was absolutely silly about how we used to see and describe ourselves, but the fact was it all helped strengthen us against the local environment in which we found ourselves, whether silly or not. And so: one could say “we’re gettin’ the band back together,” and in a way you wouldn’t be wrong.
Case in point re: stories of the road—Keith and I made it to Daytona in 1976 for a weekend of Speedweeks; we weren’t going to be able to stay but one night, but we made it a good one by going to New Smyrna Speedway for one of the first nights of the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing. What we didn’t know was that a major cold front swept through the area that day and dropped the temps to freezing. Neither of us were prepared for that in any way. We were both damned certain we’d freeze, literally freeze to death in those stands. Keith kept warm by drinking from the flask of a fellow attendee and we both found ourselves near the trashcan bonfire more than once during the evening.
But what a show. With Dick Berggren in the announce booth alongside Doug Gore (also from Stock Car Racing magazine), there was no doubt the commentary would be fun. Maybe it was the fact that this was one of the first race nights any of us had seen that year, I don’t know, but both of them were in rare comedic form.
One driver gave them good reason. I do not remember his name, but I know two things: 1) his car was completely done up in primer; and 2) Berggren announced that this was the driver’s first night in racing competition anywhere—mind you, this was the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing, and the entries included Bob Senneker, Darrell Waltrip (oh, him—just a future NASCAR HoF’er and all), Jim Bickerstaff who I saw back at Heidelberg which made him larger than life to me even then, Tom Reffner (just off his attempt to better Dick Trickle’s record of 67 feature wins in a season, for which he raced several times in FL without success), a squadron of supremely talented drivers from around the state and a number of the very best late-model drivers in the United States and Canada.
Then there was—That Guy.
I don’t remember his name. I might have the program from that evening’s show, but it’s in a box somewhere. Please don’t make me go get it. That would hurt. Anyway, there was a pill drawn for starting spots in the heats, and That Guy just happened to draw the pole for heat one.
That Guy must’ve been pleased. But not for long. Turns out the heat he’d lead to the green flag also included Senneker, Waltrip, Bickerstaff, and the hottest drivers anywhere in that division at that time. Yeah: Good news: We’re on the pole; bad news; WE ARE GONNA GET SMOKED.
And so That Guy led the field off turn four to the green.
And turn four was as long as he held it. By the time the field reached the starter’s stand, That Guy had gone from first to last. By the time the leader reached turn three on his second lap, That Guy was still trying to complete his first lap. So Berggren calls: “I CAN JUST HEAR HIM NOW: I DON’T WANNA BE HERE!!!!! MOMMYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!” as the leaders passed him high, low, damn near drove through him. That might’ve been the only laps he drove that night. But here’s something else. He drove more laps in a late model than I have.
These two men have been my friends longer than anyone else. The fact that we have out-of-nowhere gotten back together is, I swear, an act of Lisa’s. Nothing now can be totally by accident. Here I say my thanks to my lifelong-and-thereafter friends, and to my wife for-always who I honestly believe made this happen. I love you all.