Often times at the races the difference between a good day and a bad day is just a state of mind. Lately I’ve had to keep telling myself that just getting to the race track and having somebody with me that’s willing to help out is a victory. Such was the case Saturday morning as my wife and I loaded up and headed south to Steele, AL for an outlaw 5.30 class race. I think that both of us still had fresh memories from a couple of weeks back of the hot Georgia sun and the whipping we took on our minds. So as we rolled down the road, I started to feel really selfish and bad knowing that this too, was going to be another long, hot day and if things kept going the same way they had been, then it probably would be a less-than-spectacular result. We drove across the scenic Alabama countryside and I watched couples on jet ski’s having fun out on the lake, we drove past a shopping mall where families were eating, and going to movies….a little further down the road a camp ground and a picnic. Amber never complained, but I kept feeling smaller and smaller as I observed all the fun things that everybody else was doing with their Saturday mornings.
We got to the track, unloaded, and got ready for the day. As I was putting the finishing touches on the car, my buddy Mike (“the scooter guy” from AL) rolled up and he instantly brightened up my day. We visited, talked, and then he looked at me seriously and asked “how’s your walk with the Lord?” I told him that I felt like I’d been in a spiritual drought and had drifted, but that I’d been trying earnestly for the past month to turn it around and turn everything back over to God. I told him about feeling creepy and selfish for even being there…so we prayed together and I came to the conclusion that everybody present was there for a reason, so I decided that I’d better do my part and show up when it counted.
My first pass down the track was a 5.47, with a hard left turn just past the 60 ft. cone, and without my nitrous system engaged. I got back to the trailer and at first I didn’t even know what to do or say…but all I can say now is that somebody else must have been praying too, because after a couple of adjustments to the car and a revised strategy, I went 5.308 and qualified #1!! The next part of the challenge came in the form of a 3 hour rain delay, and a 25 degree change in temperature. Not to worry, my trusty crew chief and I made the most of it by taking a golf cart trip over to the Pilot truck stop across the street where we fueled up on Subway and coffee, got back to work on the car, then went right into eliminations running another, 5.308, 5.312 and 5.320 (that one was on the brakes) taking us right on through to the final round against fellow Phoenix tire competitor and friend Tim Jones.
Tim had lane choice, and lined up on the left which was fine by me as I’d been running right lane all night…as I glanced to my right I couldn’t believe my eyes as there were still people seated in the stands at 3:30 in the morning! At this point, regardless of the outcome, we’d had a great day in more ways than one…but the icing on the cake came in the form of a 5.304 pass and my first outlaw 5.30 class victory of the 2011 season!! The smile on Amber’s face as she met me back by the trailer, and the post-race congratulations from “scooter guy” Mike (who stuck around for the final…because he said he knew all day long that I was going to win, lol!), told me that everything had worked out just the way that it was supposed to. While it didn’t have all the hype of an ORSCA or ODRA win, it was BY FAR the most meaningful and my favorite one so far.
So last night I’m talking over a couple of racing-related things with the Mrs., like what service needs to be done to the camaro in the off season, where we should race, how the nostalgia funny car deal is coming together, etc., and after having a couple of good “Talledaga Nights” style, “I’m a driver’s wife”…laughs, it gets pointed out to me that I should step it up and run 5.0 or 4.70 in the camaro next season. Oh man – sounds like the speed bug has bitten somebody else……and suddenly I don’t feel so selfish anymore!!
Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.
I don’t believe that a person can excel in motorsports or in life without genuine, honest to goodness, always got-your-back type friends. I’ve got a few in racing that I truly cherish and my fellow 5.30 class competitor, Paul Baxter, is one of them. I met him about 3 years ago when I was first getting started at the drag strip. He came up from Atlanta to test and tune one Friday night in the fall of 2008 at my home town track here in Chattanooga. At the time he was running 5.0 seconds in the 1/8th mile, and for somebody like me who had never gone faster than 6.40, it appeared as if they would have to put asbestos down on the track after words to keep it from melting from the sheer exhibition of speed. At the end of the night he came over to where I was parked, introduced himself, then proceeded to tell me what a nice car I had and encouraged me to stick with it. I became an instant fan.
In March of 2010 I was down in Montgomery, AL where the ORSCA season opener had just gotten under way. After the first round of qualifying, I was sitting on the floor of Steven’s trailer stunned by what had just happened out on the track. It was my first attempt at running the 5.30 class with a brand new engine/transmission/suspension/nitrous/everything combination that had just been completed the night before…and my car went up into SEVERE tire shake, ripped into the body panels and headed right towards the wall in mid-flight. Paul came by, and made the comment that that looked violent – I responded by saying that he should have seen it from the inside. He offered up some veteran advice and encouraged me to stick with it. I went on to have a season that FAR exceeded my expectations, while he suffered set back after set back and never really factored into the overall points standings.
Early April of this year, I was back out at my local track for the “Battle of the States” 5.30 class race, and I was struggling….2010 ended on such an incredible high note, that unfortunately there was only one direction to go, and it wasn’t a lot of fun. It just seemed like there were a lot of distractions, drama, and stuff going on that just didn’t have anything at all to do with racing…and I was discouraged to the point of considering hanging up my helmet for a while. He encouraged me to stick with it, and told me that he was going to pray for me, and that he would help me anyway that he could. I think he qualified #1 that weekend, and it was his race to win, but unfortunately he suffered an early exit.
Fast-forward to this past weekend at the Saturday night shootout 5.30 race in Reynolds, GA. Paul called me earlier in the week to make sure that I was going, and to offer my wife and me a place to sleep if we needed it. I got to the track Friday and gave him a call to see where he was. He’d had to work a little later than expected and was running late. So I saved him a spot and went on out to the track to test. Right off the trailer I ran a 5.31, and things were looking pretty good…..Paul’s situation was a little less optimistic. After getting unloaded he had a thrash on his hands with trying to get ready for qualifications. I pitched in the best I could and we both sweated it out in the blazing sun and upper 90 degree heat to make the necessary repairs needed to get him on the track. For the rest of qualifying he was never really close and ended up seeded 24th out of 25 cars. I had my struggles as well, but fared better with a 9th place position. I was fairly confident that my first round opponent would be what’s known in racing terms as a “duck” ala “sitting duck,” and that they would be ripe for being picked off.
The elimination ladder was completed and it was posted that the #9 qualifier would be racing #24, therefore Paul would be my first round opponent. I walked up to his trailer and broke the news to which he replied, “Well, I hope that whatever happens will give God the most glory.” We had one of the closest races of the night, my .003 reaction time vs. his .007, however I couldn’t run the number and Paul put up a superb 5.302 E.T. for the win. I couldn’t be upset, it was just a good ole drag race between a couple of buddies, and I was on the losing end. Paul went on to slice through the rest of the field like a hot-knife through butter, and won his first race in 4 years.
It took me a couple of days to let his words sink-in about God’s glory, and what my role in all of this is….but the best I can figure is that it’s to share this story with others about how somebody who lives with a Christian attitude has impacted me directly and a lot of other people indirectly. It’s true that racing is high-visibility and that somebody is always watching, but the true measure of a man is what they do when nobody is looking.