Letter to Lenny
Just a short note of
introduction to this rather long-winded spiel; maybe a word or two that
will make the whole thing a little clearer.
A few weeks ago,
another grumpy, raunchy, miserable old goat like myself asked the readers
of one of the many racing message forums if they could remember where they
saw their first race and if so, who had won it.
I chose to send the
old gent, whom some of you probably know, the following email in answer to
name is Len Calinoff; he has been around racing since real horses were
used for power, his best efforts at driving a midget were all timed with
either a sundial or an hourglass, and he is also the publisher of
OpenWheelRacing.com, which is owned by his son, Mike.
Lenny suggested that
the letter should be published for others to enjoy and I agreed provided
that it could also be sent to The Vintage Racer as I felt that the readers
at this site just might be able to relate to it as well.
Writing it brought
back an awful lot of memories, people, places and events; things which had
remained in the background of the vast, vacant reaches of my mind for
years suddenly seemed to have occurred only yesterday.
I truly hope that
reading the following jars loose a few good recollections for some of you
folks as well.
Good morning Lenny,
I read your question
about the first race I saw and who won it; Iíve tried my damnedest to
recall that information, but am coming up with a complete blank.
One of the curses of old age perhaps?
Yeah, I know.
Iím younger than you are, but senility doesnít play any
favorites, I guess.
At first I thought that
the first race might have been a midget show at West Peabody; or maybe a
Could it have been at
The Pines over in Groveland? the
bullring in Hudson? maybe the
old Manchester Motordrome? or
a modified show at Norwood Arena? maybe
Westboro? the dirt
track over in Dover?
Itís sort of like
they were all tossed into a blender, swirling around and mixing themselves
into a blur of crystal clear memories which are clouded all together.
I do remember watching
my Dad work on some funny little cars they called midgets about the same
time I started to walk.
I do remember them
towing those little cars down the street with a rope wrapped around the
front axle and the thrill that I felt when they fired those noisy rascals
up, spun them around on the pavement and came back to the shop.
(I still get that same
thrill whenever I hear a racing engine fire up.)
I do remember an
unheated, single stall garage, an old Ford coupe and removing the fenders
with an axe and a sledge hammer, fabricating a roll bar out of old black
iron water pipe, using elbows and flanges and bolting that roll bar to the
I do remember that the
Weed V-bar chains cost me $13.00 for the pair for the rear tires and a
local garage owner charged me another $15.00 to make up a chain for the
right front. Big bucks for a
kid just starting high-school and working part time for something like
twenty-five or fifty cents an hour.
I do remember flat
towing that old coupe down to one of the local beaches in the middle of
January to race it on the ice. The
fact that I was a few years short of being old enough to obtain a
driverís license was not even a consideration.
Things like that just werenít as important then.
By the way, flat towing
an old Ford coupe with chains on three tires and welded spider gears on an
icy road is something everyone should experience at least once during
Welding spider gears in
a single stall garage next to the bucket of gasoline which youíre using
for parts cleaner is something which no one should ever experience; that
might be a story for another time?
The good news was that
the insurance company did pay for the garage and tools but we couldnít
reach an agreement as to the value of the old Ford.
I do remember the
seemingly endless hours until the next weekís race, but there always
seemed to be more seemingly endless hours of work to be done on the
I do remember that
somehow along the way I managed to acquire a wife, a house and a couple of
Still not quite sure
exactly how that all came about.
I do remember the hours
spent on the road, headed to whatever track.
Picnic lunches and swimming holes that we always managed to find to
make the trip easier and to give us some fun times with wives and kids.
I do remember rough
sawn, splintery planks in rickety old grandstands, lots of noise, lots of
dirt and dust flying around, maybe a dozen or so 100 watt light bulbs
strung around on some pretty nasty looking wires hung from some equally
nasty looking old posts, giving the illusion of light at least in the
spots directly underneath the bulbs.
Sometimes going down
into turn one was about like driving into one of those black holes at the
end of the universe.
Sometimes you could
actually see the back of the car in front of you, or maybe the little
puddle of light from the next bulb. At
least until the dust really started to get thick; then it was guess where
you were at by whatever you could find that looked familiar.
I do remember the lump
in the throat that the National Anthem always seemed to bring; even when
it was just a scratchy old record, played over a lousy PA system.
I do remember that
EVERBODY would stand at attention, remove their hats and place their hands
over their hearts. You could
actually see the pride folks took in being an American at those times.
I do remember flagmen
starting the races from the track. Crouching down in the middle of the track with both the green
and yellow flags; holding the field until it seemed certain he would be
caught up in the middle of the mayhem which his waving of the green would
I do remember that on
more than one occasion that did happen.
Iíve got a couple of friends who still bear the scars.
I do remember the dark,
dirty, rocky pit areas. The
assorted burns, cuts, bruises and contusions.
Those just the ones from working on the car; injuries from some of
the after-program disagreements are probably best left unmentioned.
I do remember lots of
race track hot-dogs with mustard, relish and the ever present dirt and
dust, not to mention the added flavor of grease and oil ground into your
hands, gallons of race track cokes, watered down with too much ice and I
can still taste the wax from those paper cups.
Oh yeah, and arenít the french-fries, salted down and smothered
in ketchup, at any racetrack the best youíll ever taste, anywhere?
I do remember racetrack
clowns who could keep the fans entertained between the heats and during
intermission as well as while the track clean-up crews did their jobs.
They tossed candy to the kids, went up into the stands and made
those funny balloon animals and hats and brought smiles with balancing
acts, trick bicycles, firecrackers, sparklers and confetti.
Smiles not only to the
kids, but also to the older folks, who for those wonderful few moments got
to be kids again.
Bring on the clowns;
God bless Ďem.
I do remember fans
coming into the pits after the show, wanting to be close not only to the
drivers, but to the cars as well. How
great those ice-cold beers, shared with family, friends, and those fans
tasted. Even if they were
really warm and mixed liberally with dirt and dust.
I also remember the
smiles of the kids when they were seated in those beat up old race cars,
yanking the steering wheel from side to side, making all sorts of motor
noises while in their minds they ran the Indy 500, on the beach at
Daytona, and maybe even the 24 hours of LeMans, all at the same time.
For some reason, I
donít remember feeling all that tired for that shared hour or so.
I do remember lots of
driverís names; most probably never heard of by the large majority of
todayís fans. Hell, most
were probably never heard of by the large majority of yesterdayís fans
either, although some of them might ring a bell or two.
Freddy Brown and his
dad Howie, Ronnie Marvin, Paul Martel, ďDirty ErnieĒ Gilbert, Cy
Colby, Cy Miller, Buck Moses and a whole bunch more who raced every
weekend; certainly not for the money, maybe for whatever little
recognition they might receive, but mainly because these guys were racers.
Sadly, all are no
longer with us.
I do remember the long
rides home. Dirty and tired,
but full of the intoxicating joy that can only be known by those who have
played hard, taken it out to the edge, and won.
I also remember the
long rides home, dirty and tired, every joint and muscle sore and aching,
towing a completely torn up race car and feeling whatever feeling it is
that comes from knowing that youíve given it your very best, only to
come up just a bit short.
The agony of defeat?
Places like Langhorne,
Trenton, Bridgehampton, Summit Point, Limerock Park, Martinsville,
Williams Grove and also Catamount Stadium, Thunder Road, The 106 Midway
and Bryar Motorsports Park, Arundel and Oxford Plains, Lee USA, the Star
and Oswego, Stafford Springs and Thompson, along with so many others.
Even a little place down a narrow dirt road in Bradford, Vt. called
Bear Ridge Speedway.
Just a few more of
those places swirling around in that blender.
Some still in operation, others are now shopping malls and housing
developments or simply vacant lots.
Lately it seems like
itís usually the spotless garages or the air conditioned media center at
NHIS; my hands donít get very dirty shooting pictures or typing on my
keyboard, the foodís good and everybody knows the names involved.
I still manage to find
some way to get some grease under the nails and a spot or two on the clean
shirts, just to give the wife something to complain about.
While I never did gain
fortune and fame playing this silly racing game, I sure have gotten rich
beyond measure in the education Iíve gained, the friendships, the
enemies, the stories, and all the memories.
Especially the memoriesÖ.
In hindsight, even the
bad ones are special today.
Lenny, I feel sorry for
those who hear the stories and say, ďMan, I wish I could have done
To them I can only ask,
ďBut why didnít you?Ē
Life is so much sweeter
when youíre a player, is it not?
I think so, and Iíll
bet you agree with me on that?
Have you ever wondered
if they have racecars in Heaven? If
they donít, I guess weíll have to spend our eternity in Hell and be
happy about it. Weíll be
amongst all our friends, doing the thing we love.
Man, that sounds like
itíd be close enough to Heaven for me.
Sorry to carry on so
long, I was still just trying to remember whatever it was that I was
trying to remember that I wanted to tell you about.
The first race, the
first race track and who won?
It seems like only
yesterday, but then again, yesterday at times gets caught in that blender
and is suddenly a whole lifetime of yesterdays away.
I still have not a clue as to where, when, or who.
But man, what a great
trip itís been.
Sure wish I could have
spent the month in Indiana; even if the motors are in the wrong end of the
Hey old man, keep
kicking and giving folks a hard time, being miserable and try to stay
healthy. Keep in mind that
the world is full of youngsters who know it all.
nasty, ugly, dirty old men like us are rapidly becoming an endangered
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Last Updated: 01/26/2009 10:46 PM