Lap 19

 

One day in the spring of 1971, Jack called me and said, "Terry, I think I have found a navigator for you." Jack was a sales rep for a company that sold laboratory supplies. One of his customers was the University of Illinois at Chicago. He said the buyer he called on there was an attractive single girl. He had told her about gimmick rallies and she said they sounded like a lot of fun. He told her he had a friend who was always looking for a navigator, if she was interested. She was, so Jack gave me her name (Liz) and number. I gave her a call and made a date with her to go on a rally. I was not really keen on blind dates, but Jack assured me I would be pleased and besides, I really did need a navigator. OK, I could use a girl friend as well.

Liz lived in a basement apartment on the northwest side of Chicago near Logan Square. I borrowed my Dadís new Pontiac and drove into the city. Liz had given me good directions, so I easily found the place and even a place to park. I rang her doorbell and smiled when she opened the door. Jack was right, I was pleased.

We headed off for the old Harlem and Irving plaza and on the way I explained the duties of a navigator to her. She asked a few questions and really did seem interested and eager to try her hand as a navigator. She certainly seemed to have more interest than other girls I had gone rallying with. Now I was really pleased and thinking this just could work out.

We arrived at the Harlem and Irving plaza and registered for the rally. After I paid our entry fee, they gave us our car number, general instructions and dash plaques. All the rallies would give each of the competitors a commemorative dash plaque. It would have the date and name of the rally, and usually the rally clubís logo. By this time, I had collected several and instead of using my dashboard, had glued them to the back of the clipboard I used. As a matter of fact, I do not recall anyone who actually put them on the dash of their car. Jack had not told Liz about the dash plaques and she seemed quite pleased with this unexpected little gift.

We took the general instructions back to our car and began to study them. I told Liz the generals are the key to the rally because it is here that the rally master sets up his gimmicks. You had to pay special attention to the definitions, especially to those for things like "marked crossroad" or "side road". If the rally master defined a term in the generals, you could count on it being part of a gimmick. The generals were usually several pages long, so I always liked to arrive well before the start time to have plenty of time to study them.

Just before the start time, the competitors would all gather around the starting car. At the start time, they would begin calling out car numbers, assigned by the order in which you registered. When your number was called, you would go up and be given the route instructions and the score sheet. Many teams would run back to their cars, jump in and peal out of the parking lot as fast as they could. We got ours and walked back to the car. Then, instead of heading out of the parking lot, I began to read the route instructions and score sheet.

Liz was a little impatient and asked, "Shouldnít we be heading out?" I smiled and said there was no hurry. "But everyone else is leaving," she said. "Those are novices," I told her. "Look at that car there," I said. "That is Terry and Diane of SUDDS, arguably the best gimmick rallyists there are, and they are not leaving."

Somewhat mollified by this, she joined me in reading the route instructions. I told her to circle any term in the route instructions that was defined in the generals. "Then," I told her, "when we get to a route instruction with a circled word, we will be reminded that the rally master has a special definition for it and we can read it again." She thought this was pretty clever of me, and began circling words. Finally, I declared us ready and started the car. I asked Liz to read the first instruction and we pulled out.

As we worked our way through the course, I could tell that Liz was really into this. It turned out that she loved doing puzzles of any kind, especially word puzzles and crossword puzzles. She even does her crossword puzzles in ink. As I have said, a gimmick rally is just a puzzle where you use a car to help you solve it. The key to the puzzle is to uncover the gimmicks put in by the rally master and not fall for them, thus staying on course.

Liz got excited when we came into the first checkpoint because it showed her we were on course, rather than just relying on my word. I pointed out that there are usually off-course checkpoints as well. Once, I sent her out to take a closer look at a sign, but forgot to remind her that the generals had said that separate signs on the same structure are separate signs. That came back to haunt me later.

We got to the end point in Naperville in good time and turned in our score sheet well ahead of most of those who had rushed out of the start point. We found a table and ordered a pitcher of beer and some burgers. I was disappointed that Jack and Margie and Charlie and Cora we unable to join us on this rally but it gave me more time to talk one on one with Liz. We had not had much time for small talk before or during the rally, so I still knew very little about her and by this time I already knew I wanted to know a lot more.

When they read the synopsis, I groaned when they got to the separate signs on the same structure gimmick. I knew I had blown it. It was Lizís first rally and I could not expect her to remember that. If I had gone to check the sign myself, I probably would have recognized the gimmick. Liz would probably have gotten it, too, if I had reminded her. She had proven to be pretty sharp. Even so, after they finished reading the synopsis, I was feeling good. I felt we had done well and should get a trophy, which I knew would thrill Liz. I mean, heck, she had been excited about the dash plaque!

Clubs would give out master trophies to the top ten percent of the cars plus three novice trophies. The novice trophies went to the top three novice cars finishing outside the top ten percent. You could enter as a novice until you finished in the top ten percent three times. Although Liz was obviously a novice, I had long since graduated to the master level and had entered us as masters. This was a well-attended rally and had 162 cars entered. That meant they would be giving out 16 master trophies. I was confident we would win one.

I continued asking Liz questions about herself, and answering her questions about me as we waited for the results to be read. When they began reading the results, Liz said we should stop talking and listen for our car number. I laughed and said we had plenty of time before they got to us because they start with the last place cars and go up.

Grudgingly, she continued to answer my questions as they read the results. Hey, this was our first date and I wanted to know more about this attractive lady! Several times as we talked, she would suggest we be quiet and listen. I would again tell her it was not time yet. When they got into the 20ís, she would have none of it so I finally shut up. The first novice trophy went to 25th place and a disappointed Liz said, "See, we should have been listening. We probably missed our number." I assured her we had not.

The second novice went to 22nd place and Liz was even more certain we had missed our number. When the top novice went to 20th place, she was totally convinced that, because of my big mouth, we had missed hearing our number. Finally, the rally master announced, "In 17th place is car number 21." That was our number, and Liz squealed with delight at placing so high in a field of 162 cars. I groaned in disappointment, because I knew we had missed a trophy by one place. If only I had reminded her about the separate signs on the same structure!!!! No matter, at least Liz was thrilled and I had a new navigator and girlfriend.

On our way back to Chicago, we stopped at Mr. Duke's. I still hung out there even though Ernie and I no longer lived in the apartment across the street. I was living with my parents in Bensenville, just a mile or so away. I was still attending law school at night and working as a law clerk during the day. They did not pay law clerks much, so living with my parents was the only place I could afford.

I introduced Liz to Ray, Dukeís brother, who was tending bar and told him we had been on a rally. "Where is your trophy?" he asked. I admitted we had not won one. "Why not?" asked Ray, "You always win one." "I screwed up," I said. "Shame on you, Terry" Ray chided. "First time out with a pretty girl like Liz and you donít win her a trophy!" I could always count on Ray to rub it in.

The Midwestern Council was holding a race the next weekend at the Dane County Fair Grounds in Madison, Wisconsin. After we left Mr. Dukeís, I asked Liz if she would be interested in going. She said it sounded like fun and agreed to go with me. She also told me she had had a great time and would love to go on more rallies with me. She even promised to remember about the separate signs on the same structure thing. This blind date stuff was looking better all the time. I made a mental note to call Jack and thank him.

The next Saturday, I picked Liz up at 5 in the morning and we headed for Madison. It was a pleasant trip even at that ungodly hour as we spent the time en-route getting to know each other better. At the track, I introduced Liz to Bunky and could see Bunky was impressed with my new girlfriend. Liz was impressed with Bunky too and took an immediate liking to him. Don was there with his Formula Vee, so Liz met him and a bunch of others as well. Liz proudly told Bunky about how we had finished 17th out of 162 cars in the rally the week before. Bunky asked if we had gotten a trophy. I said, "No, we missed by one place," and he said, "But Ace, you always get a trophy." Boy! You screw up just one timeÖ.

I introduced Liz to Patís boyfriend, Ray, but Pat was not there that weekend. Ray wanted to put us out on a corner but this was Lizís first race and I did not want to overdo things so I declined. We spent a pleasant day watching the racing as I explained to Liz what was going on.

At the beer bash, a friend of Rayís showed up with a sprint car on a trailer. He was going to be racing on the ľ-mile dirt track in Sun Prairie that night. Some of the guys expressed interest in going to watch him race. I asked Liz if she would be interested and she said yes. I was getting to like this girl better all the time. We decided to take just one car to Sun Prairie, just a few miles east of Madison. So Bunky, Don and Ray piled into my fatherís brand new Pontiac with Liz and me and we headed for Sun Prairie.

We had a great time drinking beer and watching the sprint cars slide around in the dirt. Finally, around eleven pm, we decided it was time to head back to Madison. Ray had over-served himself and on the way back, he announced that he was about to barf in my fatherís new car. I yelled at him and told him he'd better wait till I stopped. He didnít, but he did manage to get the window rolled down and stuck his head out of the car in time. At least Bunky did not join in.

We dropped the guys off in Madison, and Liz and I headed for Chicago. We did not get far before I decided I also probably had a bit too much to drink. I asked Liz if she would drive. She agreed and we finally got to her apartment around 2 am Sunday morning. I drove home and crashed. A few hours later, my Dad came into my room and wanted to know who had thrown up all over the side of his brand new car.

There was no rally the next weekend, but I asked Liz for a date anyway. I took her to see a movie and then out to get something to eat after the movie. Pretty normal date, right? But the movie was "Grand Prix," staring James Garner. Well, I figured if Liz and I were going to have a future, I might as well break her in right. The next Saturday there was a rally and, praise the Lord, we did win a trophy. Liz was thrilled and I was hooked.

For our next date, I wanted to ask Liz to go to the June Sprints with me. I knew she liked camping and had often gone camping with a couple of her girl friends, one of whom had a big German shepherd they brought along for security. We were getting along great, but I was concerned that she might be a little apprehensive about sleeping in a tent alone with me. By this time, I really liked this girl and did not want to do anything that might strain our fledgling relationship. I decided to fix this by having a chaperone of sorts. Jerry and Lynne were coming to the Sprints and Jerryís younger sister, Mary Ann, was coming with them.

I had known Mary Ann forever and even had the honor of escorting her to the Iola Winter Carnival Ball once when she was serving as a Snow Princess. I called Mary Ann and asked her if she would sleep in my tent with Liz and me, thinking Liz would be more at ease with her sharing the tent with us. I really do not think this was necessary because I was pretty sure Liz trusted me by now, but it made it easier for me to ask her to go with me.

Liz agreed to go and on Friday evening, we drove up to Old Man Millers field. Jerry and Lynne were already there with Mary Ann, and I introduced them to Liz. As I was pitching my tent, Charlie and Jan pulled in with their overloaded Sunbeam Alpine and Liz met them for the first time. Then Bunky, Jimmy and Tom also arrived and I got to introduce Liz to Jimmy and Tom as well.

I was also able to introduce Bunky to Mary Ann, whom he had not met before, and I could see he was quite taken with her. Bunkyís first marriage had ended in divorce and he was a single man again - and definitely on the hunt. It was not hard to tell that Bunky was keenly interested in Mary Ann, and why not? Mary Ann was a very attractive young lady and a schoolteacher. Bunky was into education administration and was an assistant principle of a grade school in Aurora, Illinois.

We sat around the campfire, drinking beer and sang the usual songs, with Jerry playing the guitar. I was glad to see Liz was enjoying herself. She even seemed to enjoy, or at least did not mind, the risquť songs. At bedtime, Mary Ann, as agreed, came and laid out her bedding on one side of the tent, with Liz and me occupying the other side. Liz and Mary Ann retired to the tent, but I stayed up.

As I have said, Jimmy and I would usually be the last ones around the fire but, Charlie hung in there with us this night. The three of us sat by the fire, drinking a few more beers, when a light rain started to fall. That was enough to send us to bed so we quickly put out the fire. Charlie apparently had had more than enough to drink and I watched with some concern as he crawled on his hands and knees back to his tent. I watched until he made it to the tent and began to fumble with the tent flap. Then I went into my own tent.

I should have watched a little longer because Charlie managed to get the flap open, but as he started to crawl into the tent, he passed out with only his head inside. Jan woke up when Charlie opened the flap and saw him stick his head in and pass out. She tried to wake him to get him all the way into the tent, but to no avail. Then she tried pulling him the rest of the way in, but there was no hope of that happening either because Charlie weighed at least twice as much as she did. She finally gave up and went back to sleep. Charlie spent the rest of the night with just his head in the tent and the rest of him lying outside in the rain.

Unfortunately, when I went to bed, I had left the flap of the tent open and we got some water in the tent. Poor Mary Ann was on the low side of the tent and her bedding was getting wet. She moved to higher ground to keep dry. When she did, someone put his arm around her and giggled. No, it was not me! I was sound asleep and had even been really careful to keep my hands off Liz. I did not even know what was going on.

Sometime in the night, Bunky had joined us in the tent, unannounced and uninvited. When Mary Ann moved closer to him, he thought it was because she was interested in him and he made his move. She was not and this was more than she had bargained for, so she got up and went to sleep in the front seat of Jerry and Lynneís van.

Bunky acted the perfect gentleman the rest of the weekend and probably did not even remember the incident in the tent, since he was a bit drunk. I think he realized that Mary Ann was not interested in him. In fact, she was seeing my friend Don. I had introduced her to Don at Jerry and Lynneís apartment in West Allis after a race at State Fair Park.

When we got up the next morning, we were greeted with heavy fog and the skies were still dripping. Jan told us about her ill-fated attempts to get Charlie into the tent and out of the rain. I felt kind of bad that I had not waited to make sure he made it all the way into his tent, but Charlie seemed no worse for the experience. Clean dry clothes and a little hair of the dog went a long way to improving his disposition and he seemed to think it was all pretty funny.

We headed to the track and hauled our coolers down to our favorite spot on the hill overlooking Canada Corner. As we settled in to watch the races, we were prepared for the worst and had our rain gear with us. I was a bit concerned as to how Liz would take to sitting on a muddy hillside all day in the rain, watching racecars. I was relieved to see that she seemed to have no problem with the muddy hillside, or the rain that continued to drizzle down. She even seemed eager for the races to begin. Maybe she could really be the one?

The crowd was a little small for the Sprints that day, due in large measure, I was sure, to the weather. No matter, the racing was good and Liz got to see Jerry Hansen win the A production race in his Corvette after the defending national Champion had dropped out. There was a new class this year called Super Vee. It was based on the more common 1600 cc VW engine with disc brakes, etc. We got to see them race for the first time. It never rained hard that day, but did sprinkle on and off all day long.

After several beers, Jimmy decided it was time to leave base camp and make the ascent up the muddy hillside to the summit. When he announced his intentions, Tom said, "When you get there, take a leak for me, too." I guess he figured Jimmy could save him a trip, but Jimmy replied, "No, I wonít. By the time I get up there, you probably wonít have to go." It was not uncommon for us to ask whoever was making the ascent to bring us back a brat or something from the concession stand, thus saving an arduous trip up the hill, but Tomís request was a new one.

At my recommendation, Liz tasted her first brat at the concession stand at the top of the hill. She liked it but, back at the campground that night, she got to taste brats the way they should be cooked, in beer and onions. This was the first time she would eat my cooking and she liked it.

As for the racing on Sunday, we saw Hansen win yet again - this time in A Sports Racer. This year, he had purchased the ex Revson Lola T-212. His only real competition was Jack Hinkle, who was back again with his same Lola T-165. The race was a runaway as Hanson started on the pole and led from green to checker, lapping the entire field in the process. Hinkle finished second.

As we left the track and headed for home, I asked Liz what she thought of the weekend. She said she liked it despite the rain and had a good time. She said the weekend had certainly been more interesting than camping in a state park with her two girl friends and a dog. Liz seemed to fit right in with the group and she told me she liked my friends. They all obviously liked her as well. This did not come as a surprise to me as I had a great group of friends and knew she would fit right in. Liz had also seemed to thoroughly enjoy the racing. Had I finally found a girl friend that would like racing as much as me?

Liz and I were dating every weekend now and it was not long before I took her to Blackhawk Farms to work corners with me. We got to the track in time for the workers meeting Saturday morning and I was assigned to be captain on corner three. Liz was also assigned to corner three so we could be together and I could teach her to work the phones. Girls were usually assigned to work the phones for a couple of reasons. First they tend to remain calmer during an incident. They are more than happy to just call for help while guys want to rush in to help. Also a womanís voice is easier to hear on the phones with race traffic in the background than a guyís.

Like Pat, whom I had trained previously, Liz picked it up right away. Working the phones was not exactly rocket science, but there were a few things to learn, like the fact that we never used the word "tire" as it sounded too much like "fire" and we might wind up with a fire truck arriving on our corner wondering where the fire was. If a car pulled off in our corner with a flat tire, it was reported as having a flat wheel.

In addition, there was a protocol to use when reporting to Central Control. One had to identify the corner that was calling and, when acknowledged by Control, repeat the corner number and give the flag condition of the corner and then the reason for the call. For example, a typical report would go "Corner one to Control." "Go ahead, corner one." "Corner one is yellow for car two four green, spun off track to driverís right." We never said the car number as twenty-four - it was always "two four" so central control would be sure to understand the car number.

Before each practice session or race, Central Control would ask for a course clearance and each corner, starting with corner one would report in, i.e., "Corner three is clear and ready." If you were not clear because there were still workers on the track sweeping up oil dry for example, you had to make sure Central Control knew about that so the Chief Steward, who always listened in, would not put cars on the track till every corner was ready. The phone person also would keep the rest of the crew informed as to what was going on in the race, such as who was in the lead, how many laps were left and, of course, if there were any maydayís called in from other corners.

Whenever there was a serious crash, the captain would tell the phone person to call in a "mayday". Maydays were called whenever there was a hard impact between cars, or cars and trees, guardrails etc. Roll-overs, flips and fires also warranted a mayday. Any time a captain felt he/she may need an ambulance or fire truck, they would tell the phone person to call in a mayday and request the desired emergency vehicle.

We had to make sure our phone people knew that when they heard a corner call "mayday," that they were to stop talking because the corner with the emergency always had priority. We would finish our report once Control had dealt with the emergency. Liz was soon making her calls to control like a veteran.

Liz working the phones at Corner three at Blackhawk
Notice the "Off" on top of the phone box. "If you didnít bring it, you canít put it on!"

Corner working can make for a very long day. You are on your feet most of the time and out in the hot sun or, worse, pouring rain. On top of that, working corners usually consists of long periods of boredom punctuated by brief moments of near panic. But you cannot get any closer to racing, other than being in the car. And, from time to time, things can get quite exciting, which keeps the workers coming back. Despite the rigors of the job, Liz seemed to enjoy the whole experience of being part of the racing event.

Instead of camping Saturday night, we shared a room at the Holiday Inn with Bunky and Jimmy. They took one bed and Liz and I got the other. Liz was OK with this arrangement because, by this time, she trusted me to act at least somewhat as a gentleman. Besides which, she was pretty sure nothing would happen with Bunky and Jimmy in the same room. She did mention that her mother would probably faint if she knew her daughter was spending the night in a hotel room with three men.

Unusual roommates in the Holiday Inn were not uncommon. One race weekend, Virgil and his roommate, Kenny, were holding a Cold Duck party in their room in the Holiday Inn. Virgil was Chicagolandís perpetual Treasurer, mainly because he was a college math professor and the club figured he would know how to add and subtract correctly. He was a big guy, with a full white beard, and always worked as a starter at the races. Kenny, his roommate, was in high demand among the FV drivers because he could accurately adjust a Volkswagen engineís valves using his thumbnail as a gauge.

At least once a year, the two of them would host a Cold Duck party in their room at the Holiday Inn. Those whose taste was a bit more refined than Cold Duck brought their own booze. This was all put into the bathtub, which was filled with ice.

Jimmy and I were enjoying the party when Mayday Mary, one of the other corner captains, came up to us and asked if we were staying in the hotel. Mayday Mary was a great girl with a super personality, but shall we say, a little overweight. She got the nickname Mayday because she seemed to have an inordinate number of serious wrecks in her corner. Lots of other captains also had nicknames, like Wreck and Crash, for similar reasons. Even I had acquired one, and was known as Ashes because I seemed to have a lot of fires in my corner.

I told Mayday Mary that we did indeed have a room. She then asked if she could crash on the floor. I said that would be fine. She was tired, she said, and wanted to get some sleep, so I gave her a key to our room. Jimmy and I partied a while longer and finally made our way back to our room. The lights were still on as we let ourselves in, and there was Mayday Mary, sound asleep in one of the two queen-size beds. Jimmy looked at her, grunted and said, "You invited her, you sleep with her." And so I did.

The next morning, I woke up as Mayday Mary came out of the bathroom. She saw I was awake and, eyeing the left over pizza Jimmy and I had had for dinner asked, "Mind if I have some pizza? I am starved." I said that would be ok and watched as she wolfed down the remaining cold pizza. For as long as I knew her, she never did mention the fact that we had slept in the same bed together that night.

Pat recalls with some horror the night she spent in the same bed between Virgil, our large treasurer, and Big Al. Big Al was known as "The Vulture" because he worked as a flat tow driver at the track. He had a Ford Bronco and, between races, he would go out and tow in anyone that had broken down on the track, but did not need a wrecker. To every one he towed in, he handed a business card that had a picture of a big old vulture and said, "You have been had by the Vulture!" After I started racing, I collected a couple of those cards myself.

It was common knowledge that the Bronco, which we think was originally white, had never, ever been washed and the back was always filled with trash. Big Al, as the name would imply, was a big man and probably washed himself only slightly more often than his famous Bronco. How Pat, who is a very intelligent woman, got herself into that predicament I will never understand.

Copyright © 2006 by Terry Aasen

 

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