It’s been a month to the very day since Scott emailed me asking that I write some columns for him. I apologize that it took so long to get going, but Life was giving me some lip, and I had to take care of the problem.
Some of you will know me for my work with Crystal Motor Speedway or ‘CMS.’ I ran their website from 1992 until 2015 and did the track’s photography from 2005 to 2015. I also did live video streaming from CMS from 2002 through this last September on Races On The Web. Ron Flinn is an extraordinary man to work with, and I learned a ton in my time there.
I also worked at the old asphalt version of Tri-City Motor Speedway and Owosso as a photographer, and at I-96 when Jeff Chapko owned it, doing both the website and photography for the speedway. All of those tracks were unique in their own way, and I loved all of them.
In 2005, I followed the ASA Late Model Series across the Mid-West from Kalamazoo and Springport in Michigan to tracks in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Tennessee doing live in-car cameras in three to four of the cars entered in those races.
I had the opportunity to meet and work with some young men who went on to race in the top level of NASCAR. I found that both exciting and exhausting. I’m not sure how some of these racers do a traveling circuit. We would cover a race one week in eastern Ohio, and four days later, we would be in northwest Minnesota. Travel time alone was crazy, let alone be ready to work the race.
From the time I was young, I’ve been involved in racing in one form or another. As a young boy, my Father took me to three different Indy 500 races in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I vaguely remember the winners, but I easily recall the speeds and the wrecks. It set the tone for much of my life.
I attended a lot of early 1970’s race events with my Father at Crystal Motor Speedway, then named Crystal Raceway because it was only seven miles from where I lived. He often told me about a race track that had been built in a huge pit that was three miles or so north of Greenville along M-91. The fans sat on the outer edges of the pit, and the racers went into the center of it.
I remembered that fact one day as I drove north out of the city, and sure enough, I found the spot that he had told me was there. I often wondered how chaotic it would get if a car broke to the outside of the track and up towards the fans. The pit is still there, but you almost have to be looking for it to notice it.
College, marriage, and my career ‘interfered’ with my racing habits for a time. My visits to the track in Crystal and the events running at the Ionia Free Fair grounds became ‘occasional’ events in my life, but something that I always had on my ‘when I get time’ list of things to do.
As it happened, late in 1985, a friend asked me to sponsor his beater 1968 Chevy Nova Streeter at the track in Ionia. There used to be a commercial about the guy ‘who liked the product so much; he bought the company.’ That was me. I bought the car, spent the money to get it up and running, and quickly figured out that ‘going fast’ was about forty percent of the battle on the track.
We continued the last few races of that season, but I spent a lot of time talking to guys like Roger Wing and Rick Stout about racing. Stout had been a year or two behind me in high school, and I spoke a lot with him. I was afraid to approach a guy like Roger Wing but soon found him to be a fountain of information if you weren’t there to waste his time.
‘Picking your moment’ was the key to be able to talk to some of the faster guys. If they were wildly trashing on a wrecked race car, that would be a wrong time to bother the guy. I learned a lot just watching what they did and asked why when things were back under control.
The next year, my little team began to get better. As I joked a few years down the road, ‘In our second season, we learned it wasn’t enough to have a tire that held air; we learned that it mattered how much air it held.’ We learned about air pressures, anticipated ‘tire growth’ under speed, and then ‘stagger.’ I had taken physics in college and soon figured out that I could use that information to race.
I’ve been a fiction writer for a long time, with a lot of books for sale up on Amazon, so writing is a passion for me. I’ll continue this tale in the next column. Thanks for reading. See ya at the races! Take care!