Lap 28

 

Pat, the girl I had shared the addendum kiss with on the rally, had apparently really enjoyed her first race working corners. I had taught her how to work the phones that first weekend we met and she caught on very quickly. It was not long before she had joined Chicagoland. She became very active in the club and was soon on the board of directors.

The North Suburban Sports Car Club (NSSCC) held the last race date of the season each year. Most races in Council were not more than half an hour long. NSSCCís race was an hour long and they called it "The Enduro". There was a lot of competition and even some bad blood between NSSCC and Chicagoland in those days. I am not sure why, but it may have something to do with the fact that NSSCC had most of the drivers and Chicagoland had most of the race staff. I think NSSCC hated having to ask Chicagoland to staff their races for them. It was nothing personal, because members of the two clubs were usually good friends and heck, Pat and Ray an NSSCC member were even dating.

At one Chicagoland Board meeting, the directors decided to compete with NSSCC and hold a long race of their own, only it would be much longer. The club had the date for the first race in October and decided to make it a 55-lap race, or a one and a half hour event. Long races had to be held at the end of the season because they were hard on equipment. If a guyís car broke at the end of the season, he had plenty of time to fix it.

The length of the race decided, they needed a name for it. The Enduro was taken, so they could not use that. As they pondered this, Pat said, "Why donít we just call it ĎThe Long Raceí" and so it became. The first few years, they added an "o" to the name each year, so the second year it was called "The Loong race," then it was "The Looong race". This soon became cumbersome, so the club settled on 4 oís, and from then on it was "The Loooong Race." This again was Patís idea.

Pat agreed to be registrar for the first long race. At a board meeting, the Board was discussing the merits of letting people with no ties to the Midwestern Council into the race. Pat said, "I wonít turn away anyone with $3." Some of the Board members took this comment in a way Pat had not expected, much to her dismay. Everyone else thought it was pretty funny.

The event proved to be very popular because with a race that long, it was easy to co-drive it. Most cars had to make a pit stop to refuel anyway, so it was no big deal to change drivers. You had to race at least once a year to keep your competition license current, and a lot of guys, including me, kept their license a few years longer that way. Being the first weekend in October also placed it a week or two before the SCCA Runoffs. Many SCCA National drivers would enter The Loooong Race to use it as a test session before heading to Road Atlanta for the Runoffs.

When I first started working corners, a gal named Judy was running Central Control. Central Control is the nerve center of the track and runs all the communications from the corners to stewards to grid, etc. Whenever something happens on a corner, the phone person calls in to Central Control and reports it. Should a corner need an emergency vehicle, they tell Central Control which dispatches the necessary equipment. Things can get very hectic in Central Control very quickly, so it takes a cool head to handle it. Judy was very good at it and as it turned out, so was Pat. Pat took over Central Control when Judy decided to step down, and held that position for about five years.

It was Pat who suggested that Liz and I get more active in the workings of Chicagoland. We agreed, and soon we were doing the monthly newsletter "The Downshift". I would write it, and Liz would edit and type it. Duke of Mr. Dukeís had given us a stencil machine. Liz would type the newsletter onto stencils and I would put them on the machine and print out it out. Two other club members, Stan, and his wife, another Judy, would come over and help us collate, staple and paste address labels on the newsletter. Somewhere, I came into possession of an electric stapler and Stan loved using it, so that was always his job. Once The Downshift was done, we would play a board game or two, like Speed Circuit or something we referred to as marbles. I do not recall the real name of the marbles game, but that was Stanís favorite and we played it often.

Not long after we began doing the Downshift, I was elected to the Chicagoland Board of Directors. Liz and I volunteered over the next few years to do other jobs as well. I served as Banquet Chairman, Picnic Chairman, Race Chairman and Chief Steward. I also served a couple of terms as President of the club. Liz was Race Registrar for several races, and served a couple of years as Membership Chairman and, of course, helped me with the banquets and picnics. Chicagoland had become a huge part of our lives.

When the club was looking for a new place to hold our monthly membership meetings, I suggested my old favorite watering hole, Mr. Dukeís. Mr. Dukeís became Chicagolandís home for many years and we held several annual awards banquets there as well as the monthly meetings.

Once a year, NSSCC, at their Enduro race, held a bike race around Blackhawk Farms during the Sunday lunch break. This was a popular event and consisted of two laps around the 1.9 mile track. I thought we should have something similar for The Loooong Race and came up with the idea of a Big Wheel race for the kids.

NSSCCís bike race was fine, but was more for adults and bigger kids. The Big Wheel race would be for little kids 6 years old and under. The club thought this was a good idea and we went ahead with it. We split the kids into age groups and had them race around pylons on the front straight. The winners of each age group got a nice plaque and everyone in the race received a prize.

The Big Wheel race was a huge success. We made it as much of a real race experience as we could for the kids. There would be PA announcements about big wheel registration being open. The kids would sign up and be given a number to wear on their backs. Then we would announce that tech inspection for the Big Wheel race was now open. The kids would bring their big wheels over to Tech and we would inspect them and put a tech sticker on it just like the one on daddyís racecar. At lunch break on Saturday, we would announce that the track was now open for big wheel practice. The races were held at lunch break on Sunday.

Starting grid for a Big Wheel Race with Blackhawkís old race control and T & S stand in the background

Jimmy, who did the art work for our race entry forms, drew one cover showing a car pulling out of the driveway, towing a racecar on a trailer and a big wheel tied to the luggage rack on top of the car. NSSCCís bike race went away, but to this day, Chicagoland still holds the Big Wheel race during The Loooong Race weekend and it is as popular as ever. We celebrated its 25th anniversary a few years ago.

Bunkyís son Ethan takes the lead in the Big Wheel race

The new race control at Blackhawk

In 1972, Chicagoland Sports Car Club decided to take a gamble and sponsor a race at Grattan Raceway, which is about 20 miles northeast of Grand Rapids, Michigan. This was a gamble because Council had never held a race that far away. It would be a long tow, especially for the guys from Wisconsin. Organizing a race at Blackhawk is difficult enough, but to do it at a track this far away was a huge project.

The track itself was going to prove a challenge to our drivers. It is two miles long and incorporates a 3,200 foot long straightaway, a 160 degree hairpin turn and a downhill reverse camber turn. There were several elevation changes as well. That was something we did not have at Blackhawk or the State Fair Park. It was also in a very picturesque setting and even had a lake by corner ten where you could swim.

Despite the challenges, the club went ahead and managed to pull it off. We got enough entries to at least break even. We had a new track to enjoy and a whole bunch of new stories. Even towing racecars on trailers to the event was interesting - at least for some people. A father and son team who raced a C Sedan were towing to the race from Wisconsin with their homebuilt motor home. It was kind of cool looking with fake flower boxes under the windows, but they could not see the racecar trailer behind them from the front seats.

They stopped in Grand Rapids Michigan to get gasoline and, to their horror, found that they had an empty trailer. There had been a racecar on it when they left Wisconsin. They jumped back into their motor home and headed back the way they had come, looking for the missing racecar. To their great relief, they found it just a few miles out of Grand Rapids. They had apparently neglected to tie the car down when they loaded it on the trailer. Amazingly, the car had managed to stay with them for most of the trip. It finally rolled off the back of the trailer down into the ditch and through a barbed wire fence, coming to a stop in a farmerís field just off the road.

It was the usual custom in Council that whenever any of us saw another Council member pulled over to the side of the road, we would stop to see if we could be of any assistance. I recall one time when Liz and I ran out of gas just about a half mile from a toll booth on our way back from Blackhawk. I left Liz with the old panel van we owned at the time, and began to walk to the tollbooth so I could call for assistance. I was still about a hundred yards from the tollbooth when our van pulled up alongside me. Another Council member recognized our vehicle and stopped. When Liz told them we were out of gas, they dumped a few gallons of race fuel in and drove toward the tollbooth to pick me up. Things like this were common, and when someone had broken down it was not unusual to see half a dozen cars pulled over, most of them towing trailers with racecars.

Being more than a little embarrassed at losing their racecar, father and son were trying to hurry and get the car back on the trailer before anyone from Council saw them. No such luck, as soon one, and then another and another Council member stopped to help. Turns out, some had even seen and recognized their racecar sitting in the field and were looking for them at the track to tell them where their car was.

Their car now safely secured on their trailer they set out again towards Grattan only to run out of gas after a few miles. They had stopped for gas when they discovered the racecar was missing but in their haste to go find it had neglected to fill up with gas. This little "misadventure" was now an irrevocable part of Council legend.

Since our first venture to Grattan was somewhat successful, Chicagoland decided to do it again. In a moment of extreme weakness, I agreed to be Race Chairman for the event. I had to get the entry form printed and trophies ordered. I had to arrange for worker lunches and order beer for the beer bash. All that was easy, but nothing else was. I had to locate a fire truck, a Doctor and even corner equipment like flags, brooms, oil dry, and fire extinguishers. In those days, Council did not have its own equipment - we just used the trackís equipment. Grattan did not have any to provide to us, so I had to arrange to borrow it all from the local SCCA region.

Grattan did not have a fire truck either, which meant I had to rent one from the nearby town of Belding. They were kind enough to even volunteer to staff it for us. For the Doctor, I sent a notice to a medical school in Grand Rapids, asking for a volunteer. The school had agreed to post it on their bulletin board. With the race only a couple of weeks away, I was beginning to panic because I still had no Doctor. I began calling every hospital in the area, with no luck. Then one evening, to my great relief, someone from the medical school called and agreed to be there. Turns out this Doctor was a sports car fan and even owned a Jenson Healy.

On race weekend, I was as nervous as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Would the corner equipment show up? Would the Belding fire department be there? What if they had a big fire somewhere and needed the truck they had rented to us? Would my Jenson Healy-driving Doctor show up?

I was at the track early on Saturday with all my fingers and toes crossed. The SCCA guys arrived with corner equipment and even a few workers. I was thrilled to see the Belding Fire truck come down the road. Where was my Doctor? He arrived in his Jenson Healy just 15 minutes before the first group was scheduled to take to the track. I love it when a plan comes together.

I had neglected to do one thing, and that was to arrange for a pace car. I solved this by asking the Doctor if we could use his Jenson Healy. I told him Council required that the pace car must be driven by a licensed competition driver, so I would have to drive it but he could ride with me in place of the usual starter. I explained that all he needed to do was kneel on the passenger seat, facing backwards, hold a yellow flag out the window and watch the field behind us. He agreed, and I must admit I was a bit excited at getting to drive his hot looking sports car around Grattan.

The first race group of the day was Formula Ford and we set off on the pace lap. The Jenson Healy, as I expected, turned out to be a ball to drive and I was soon really into it, bending it around the Grattan turns. As we exited corner eight, also known as the bowl, I asked the Doctor, "How does the field look? Are they all together nicely?" He replied, "I donít know. I canít see them anymore". I quickly looked in the mirrors and, sure enough, there was no one to be seen behind us. I had enjoyed working out the Jenson Healy so much I had left the field behind. Chagrined, I slowed down so the Fords could catch up. I took it easier for the rest of the races and did not lose another group.

I recall another trip to Grattan when Bunky wound up having an interesting night. Two long time Council members, Dean and Linda, were there as they were for most races. Linda had some home made "banana" wine. I tasted it and did not care for it. Bunky, however, loved it and had more than his share. To no oneís surprise, a night of drinking lots of homemade banana wine leads to a rather ferocious hangover. Bunky did not work corners the next day. Jimmy and I were not even sure he was going to live. Mary Ann was not concerned, and was even a little smug about it. "It is just what he deserves," she declared. Still, Jimmy and I felt sorry for our stricken friend. However, we managed to overcome the sympathy, and were soon laughing about it.

Frankly, I must admit that I was also not feeling all that well the next morning. I was nursing a bit of a hangover and working corner nine all by myself due to a shortage of workers. Corner nine is a very fast corner, which means there is usually very little action. When short of race staff, the fast corners (like corner two at Blackhawk) are assigned fewer workers. The problem is that when something does happen in a fast corner, it is usually bad because of the higher speeds. Fortunately, nothing "bad" happened.

The corner station in corner nine is on the crest of a hill. I was standing there, wishing the guy with the jackhammer in my head would take a break when Dix pulled off the track in his H Production Bugeye Sprite. I called in and told Central Control he was off in my corner and watched as Dix climbed out of his car. His car started to roll back down the hill towards the track. Dix ran behind it and stopped it, then started to push it back up the slight hill. He called to me, "Terry, help me." I said, "No, I donít feel good. You can push it yourself." He said, "Itís your job to help me." I replied, "No, I am on the phones. Besides, if you wanted help, you could have coasted over the top of the hill and rolled on down to corner ten. They have three people there and could help you." After some more pleading from Dix, I finally relented and went to help him push his car to the top of the hill.

This was not the first time Dix had asked me to help him. I was working Corner three at Blackhawk once, when he spun his Bugeye coming into the corner. He went off the track to the outside and rolled over in the soft ground. The car came to a stop at a weird angle. It had rolled on its side and started to roll upside down, but stopped. All this happened slowly, like it was in slow motion. All I could see was the bottom of the car with the wheels still turning.

I ran across the track and around the car. There I saw Dix with his arm out, literally holding the car up to keep it from rolling all the way over. "Help me!" Dix yelled. I laughed and said, "I donít know Dix, looks like you have it under control." "Help me, you SOB," he yelled. "OK," I said "but there is no need to insult me." Then I pushed the little car back on its side and over onto its wheels.

Dix was one of the Councilís real characters. He used to say, "I am made of iron! Piss on me and I will rust!" He is also the one who, at the Runoffs, once said to the Chief of Competition for SCCA, "Hey, asshole, get off my cooler!" I think Dix set a council record by going several years without missing a race. I do not recall how many years but it was a bunch and I know he got an award for it one year.

Copyright © 2006 by Terry Aasen

 

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