Lap 15

 

While the first time I worked corners at a Midwestern Council event had been at State Fair Park, they only raced in Milwaukee once a year. The real "home" for the Council is Blackhawk Farms Raceway in Rockton, Illinois. The track is actually a few miles north of Rockton and a couple miles west of South Beloit, Illinois - almost on the Wisconsin state line. One common joke was that if you go too far off corner one, you would need a Wisconsin driverís license to get back to the track.

The track was built exclusively for club racing and no spectator events, like the June Sprints, are held there. It is a great track for club racing, being just 2.1 miles long with only 7 corners and 9 flag stations, making it fairly easy to staff. Even so many a race was held with no one manning station 3a or 6a. Sometimes even corner two would be left un-staffed. These were high-speed corners and very little off-track action took place there.

Blackhawk Farms Track Map

Despite my harrowing near death experience in corner one at State Fair Park, I decided I liked working corners, and shortly after that made my first trip to Blackhawk. I had also joined the Chicagoland Sports Car Club. Chicagoland was the second largest club in Council and one reason was our worker schools. Volunteering as a worker was, and still is, the easiest and best way to get involved in the sport. Chicagolandís worker schools served the club well as a recruiting tool. The club also organized its workers into a real race staff and sent mailings to them reminding them of upcoming events.

In those days, each club in the Council was expected to supply their own workers for their races. While many members were drivers Chicagoland was known as the "workers" club because we had more race staff workers than any other club. North Suburban Sports Car Club was the biggest club in the Council and they held a very popular indoor drivers school each year. As a result, they had by far the most drivers of all the clubs, but few workers. To staff their races, North Suburban and all the other clubs would ask Chicagoland to turn out its race staff so they would have enough workers.

The guy who pretty much headed up Chicagolandís race staff was a fellow named Carl. He had a favorite saying, "If you didnít bring it with you, you canít put it on." He repeated this advice regularly to all workers, old or new. We referred to it as "Carlís Corollary." He advised all who would listen that you could never really know what the weather would be like when you got to the racetrack, so you should be prepared for anything. He said you should bring clothes for hot weather, cold weather and rain regardless of what any weather forecast said. It was not long before I realized that this was good advice and always took a bag with a variety of clothes including rain gear, coat, hat, gloves, sunscreen, and even salt tablets with me to the corner.

One of Chicagolandís worker schools was held on the same weekend Bunky had decided to throw a big party at his place in North Aurora. Bunky was divorced and had moved into a small house in North Aurora. He was working as an assistant principal of a grade school in Aurora at the time.

It turned out to be one heck of a party, starting on Friday night and lasting until Sunday afternoon. Jerry and Lynne even came down from Milwaukee for the event. Charlie and Jan had also joined our club and they were there as well, along with several other Chicagoland members. Friday night, we partied hard into the wee hours of the morning. Most of us spent the night and just crashed on the floor, couches, whatever. Those who were instructing at the workers school on Saturday got up and left the next morning. I can only imagine what the students thought of their hung-over, bleary-eyed instructors. Most of the instructors came back in the afternoon after the school to rejoin the party, which was building up a new head of steam as we headed into Saturday evening.

Sunday morning, Jimmy and I were poking around Bunkyís refrigerator, looking for something to eat. We hit the jackpot as Bunky had three pounds of bacon stashed in the freezer. We also found a couple dozen eggs. More bodies were beginning to stir in the house, so we decided to cook the whole mess. Jimmy did the bacon in the oven while I started cooking scrambled eggs on the stovetop.

While the bacon and eggs were cooking, Jerry came shuffling into the kitchen, looking like hell. He had an aspirin bottle in his hand and complained in a low raspy whisper, "I have heard of cruel and terrible people, but those who would tempt the sick with an empty aspirin bottle are the most despicable!" He had gone into Bunkyís medicine cabinet looking for something to relieve the raging headache he had self induced and found only the empty aspirin bottle.

After we had eaten all the bacon and eggs and were trying to decide if it was too early to have a beer, Jimmy said, "Sounds like Bunky is up." Sure enough, the unmistakable retching sounds of Bunkyís usual morning after ritual were coming from the bathroom.

He finally made it to the kitchen and said, "Damn, that bacon smells good. Where is it?" Jimmy replied, "Sorry, itís all gone." "Well," Bunky said, "letís make some more." Jimmy said, "There isnít any more - itís all gone." "Thatís impossible!" Bunky exclaimed peering into the freezer, "I had three pounds in here!" As I popped open a beer I said, "You did, and it really hit the spot. By the way, youíre out of eggs, too." "You ate everything?" Bunky asked incredulously. "We were hungry." Jerry said, "Now, why the hell do you keep an empty aspirin bottle in your medicine cabinet?"


Unlike oval racing (like at the Indy 500 and in NASCAR), road racing went on - rain or shine. I spent many a weekend standing on a corner at Blackhawk in a pouring rain, watching cars splash around the track. I remember one race particularly well. Charlie and I were working on corner six at Blackhawk in a driving rainstorm. Despite our rain gear, we were soaked and miserable, because it was windy and cold as well.

My rain gear consisted of rubber boots and a hooded poncho. The wind would blow the poncho up and the rain, which sometimes appeared to be coming down sideways, soaked my clothes under the poncho. I had also made the mistake of tucking my pants legs inside my boots. My jeans were soon completely soaked and were wicking water down inside my boots. Before long my boots had filled up completely with water and whenever I would take a step, there would be a squishing sound and water would spill out of my boot. On the other hand, my body heat had warmed up the water in my boots and while my feet were wet, they were at least warm.

At one point in the day the rain was coming down so hard that we could not see corner five at all, and it was only a couple hundred yards away. Charlie said "Damn, it is coming down like a cow pissing on a flat rock!" My grandfather had a dairy farm, and I had spent a lot of time on that farm as a kid. I had seen cows pissing. The urine comes out like itís coming from fire hose. I may not have ever seen one do it on a flat rock, but the image Charlieís statement called up cracked me up. Despite my misery, I laughed out loud.

After a while, the rain let up enough so we could see corner five. A Formula Ford exited corner five, got on the gas too quickly and spun out off the track, coming to rest in a huge puddle between five and six. Since the car was on our side of the track, our captain told me to go to the Fordís aid. Off I went, "squish, squish, squish." The driver told me he just needed a push to get started, so I began to push. The driver dumped the clutch, the wheels caught some traction and off he went. I lost my balance and fell face first into about six inches of water, thus ensuring that my entire body was completely soaked.

As I climbed to my feet, I noticed an orange Corvette parked nearby with the engine running. The windows were steamed up so I could not see the driver, but that sure looked like Bunkyís car. I walked over to the car, "squish, squish, squish," and knocked on the driverís side window. As I stood there, soaking wet and shivering from the cold, the window slid open a bit and sure enough, there was Bunky.

"What are you doing here?" I asked, "I thought you were working corner four?" "I was" Bunky replied from the cozy, warm and dry confines of his car, "but I got a hole in my rain suit." I stared at him dumbfounded and finally said "Well F--- you!" and headed back to my corner, "squish, squish, squish."

One year, a Chicagoland sponsored race was rained out under completely sunny blue skies. Since it was the first race of the season, we named it appropriately "The Seasonís Opener" and gave everyone who came through registration a church key (bottle/can opener). Although Saturday had sunny skies, it had been raining a lot the week before north of Blackhawk in Wisconsin.

Blackhawk has a creek that runs through culverts under corner five and under the main straight just north of corner seven. When we got into the track that Saturday morning, we found the creek had completely flooded corner five and there was about a foot of water running across the track. The main straight was still dry but was being threatened by the still-rising waters.

Despite the fact that the track was not raceable, the track owner - a fellow named Tito - refused to let us out of our contract. He contended that since it was no longer raining, the water would go down and we would be able to race on Sunday, if not later that day. The stewards met and decided to let cars practice anyway by letting them drive hard to corner four, where they would be flagged down to line up, and drive slowly through the water in five. Once through the water, they could race all the way around the track back to four again.

In order to give the drivers some reference as to where the outside edge of the asphalt was, I volunteered to stand in the water at the edge of the track. Although the corner station was under four feet of water, we managed to staff the phone, which was still above water. The guys in the Turkey Racing Team, for some inexplicable reason, had an inflatable rubber raft with them. They inflated it and promptly christened it the SS Dark Meat. One of them got into it, rowed over to the phone box and tied up to it. Amazingly, the phone worked!

It was kind of weird to see the cars scream into four, stop, line up and creep slowly through five. Things were actually going pretty well until it was Dennyís turn to take his DP Triumph GT-6 through. Denny was a Chicagoland member and a friend of mine. I noticed that he held back a few car lengths as the car ahead of him made its way through the water. When I signaled him to come through, he revved the engine a couple of times and I knew right away what was coming. I could almost see Dennyís evil grin inside his helmet. He dropped the clutch and roared into the water throwing up a wall of water ten feet high on both sides of the car.

Up until that point, I had managed to remain dry. I was barefoot and had my pants legs rolled up to my knees. Denny made short work of that when he roared past me and that wall of water he had created came crashing down, completely drenching me. I swear I could hear Denny laughing as he drove away towards six. He would later gleefully tell people he thought I needed a shower and if I would not take one myself, he would give me one. Well, I guess that is what friends are for.

When the water began to come across the main straight as well, the Stewards cancelled the rest of the dayís activities. Tito would still not let us out of contract, despite the track being flooded in two places. He was sure all would be fine on Sunday, so we had to stick around. I had a room at the Holiday Inn in South Beloit, as did many of us. We headed back there and began to party. We all had coolers of beer so it was the natural thing to do.

The creek at the track was not the only tributary that was overflowing its banks that day. The Rock River, which was just a mile or so north of the hotel, was also in flood stage. As I drove back to the hotel, I noticed that the field across the street from the hotel was flooded. I did not think much of it and checked in, changed into dry clothes and joined the party. Later in the afternoon, I was out on the balcony, drinking a beer, when I noticed water from the field start to run across the road. I pointed this out to the others and as we watched, the water began to run into the hotel parking lot. I quickly ran down and moved my car to the high side of the parking lot next to the hotel. Others soon followed suit.

Within an hour, the hotel was an island completely surrounded by the floodwaters. Our beer supply was running low and we began to worry. Denny, however, saved the day. His tow vehicle was a big old four wheel drive International. It had a lot of road clearance, so he was able to safely drive through the floodwaters to a liquor store and replenish our beer supply. We now had plenty of beer, with dozens of unclaimed church keys to open it. We were happy.

I had always heard stories of how Volkswagen Beetles could float. Therefore, it was with some interest that I watched some guy in a Beetle try to drive up the flooded street behind the hotel. He made it about a half a block before his forward progress stopped. Soon he was moving back the way he had come. When the Beetle turned and continued moving down the street sideways, I realized the stories were true - Beetles could float. I called some of the others to come and take a look, as this was not a sight you see often. This poor guy was now at the mercy of the current and we all laughed as he floated out of sight.

Late in the afternoon, water flooded the hotel basement and all the power went out. The hotel asked us all to leave but there was nowhere for us to go since only Denny had a vehicle that could make it through the floodwaters. We just partied on in the dark when night fell.

Sunday morning, Denny braved the floodwaters once again. He and a couple of other club members headed back to the track to see Tito. Since the water was even deeper this morning, Tito had no choice but to let us out of our contract. We all cheered this news when our delegation returned, especially since they brought more beer.

By mid morning, the waters began to recede. One of the girls in the club decided it was time for her to leave. She opened the door to her car and water poured out. To her dismay, there was about four inches of water on the floor of her car. Denny fixed this by pulling the carpeting back and taking a hammer and screwdriver and punching holes in the floor of her car. Well, we had warned her to move her car to high ground.

By noon the waters were low enough that we all headed for home. A half-mile from the hotel, there was no evidence of any flooding at all. That was a memorable race weekend for sure.

Copyright © 2006 by Terry Aasen

 

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