I grew up on racing. Specifically NASCAR racing, yet I am a fan of motor racing in general. If there’s a motor, four wheels and high speeds, I’ll be cheering it on while wishing I was the one behind the wheel. I grew up in Ohio, where local tracks seemed to be everywhere and guys like Dave Dayton and Moose Myers were the ones to beat at the dirt tracks. Ohio native Tim Richmond even made the big show, the Winston Cup Series, in 1980 at Pocono.
My dad, Clyde, was true car guy. He was a talented mechanic and car painter. I recall hanging around him watching him work. Whether it was rebuilding a carburetor or cutting up my mother’s lace table cloths to use as a paint pattern, I was always there soaking it all in. He was a wheeler-dealer too. There were always at least six or seven cars around, sometimes more. Clyde was always buying cars, fixing them up, painting them and then selling or trading them. He loved all kinds of cars, but the ones I remember most are the Cadillacs and Mopars. There was this 1970s Coupe deVille that I swear was 20 feet long. I used to lay in the back window on long trips to Tennessee to see the grand parents. Then there were the Chargers. Wow. In particular was a Hugger Orange 1969 Super Bee with a 440 six-pack. I can close my eyes and still see it today. It is the first car my 8-year old self had an emotional connection with. I suppose it’s because some of my earliest memories of being with my dad were formed in that car. It was loud and it was fast. As Talladega Nights so eloquently put it, it had “Hot, nasty, badass speed.” My aunt Micki found that out one day riding with dad and me. I was in the back seat when Clyde put the hammer down, opening up all six-barrels on a deserted country road outside West Alexandria, Ohio causing poor Aunt Micki to wet her pants somewhere between 110 and Oh My God!
The first NASCAR race I witnessed, like many other fans out there, was the 1979 Daytona 500. The Blizzard of ’78 had hit Ohio with what seemed like 100 feet of snow and there was really nothing else to do but watch TV. I watched the entire race with my dad start to finish and wow, what a finish it was! To see Cale and Donnie (I didn’t know their names at the time) crashing into one another and then seeing the 43 win the race filled me with excitement for the sport that continues to this day. I remember telling dad that I wanted to do that! Clyde, a quiet man, said, “Yeah, that’d be somethin’.”
Sadly, Clyde passed away that summer, just a few months after my ninth birthday. A victim of a perforated liver caused by a slip on the ice while carrying a tire for a car he was working on. I was with him when he fell on that tire. It didn’t seem like a very bad fall, but he mentioned his side hurt pretty bad. A doctor’s visit assessed him with a bruised rib and so no medical treatment was given. After he passed, it was determined that the rib had broken and punctured his liver. Mom had to sell all of the cars, including the Super Bee. I felt as if I had lost a friend when that car left the driveway and in some ways, a piece of dad. Even the car seemed sad, it’s headlights pointing toward the ground as the tow truck hauled it away to a new owner. I like to think that it found a father and a new young friend to make memories with.
I have kids of my own now, ages 11, 15 and 20. We’ve also made memories with cars. From a full-on Clark Griswold-type 4400 mile vacation across the Southwest in a Chevy Malibu to racing my oldest son around the track in a Lamborghini Gallardo and an Audi R8. I have also shared my racing passion with my sons, taking them to several NASCAR races. The three of us talk about cars as if they are part of the family. Heck, they are part of the family, even if my wife and daughter think the three of us are nuts. -MJ