Lap 40

 

In 1979, we decided to go to Road Atlanta for the SCCA Runoffs, which were held in October. Jerry and Judy decided to join us and we hitched their new pop-up camper behind the Mobile Traveler and headed south. It would be our first long trip with Eric, who was now almost four years old. We camped at a very nice campground on Lake Lanier, which was only a few miles from Braselton, Georgia, the home of Road Atlanta. This was about 30 miles north east of Atlanta.

Lots of Midwestern Council people made the trek to the Runoffs each year, and many camped at Lake Lanier. Vic and his girl friend, Martha, were there along with many others. We set up camp, and the next day drove the Mobile Traveler to the track. There was a small museum near the entrance to the track, and after buying our tickets, we went to check it out. There was an IMSA BMW 320i Turbo sedan on display and Eric gave Martha a tour of it. She was very impressed with this not-yet four-year-old kid pointing out things on the car to her like the exhaust on the side of the car and telling her, "That is where the fire comes out."

Later, while we were walking around in the paddock, a D Sports Racer drove past us. This one had the body style where the rear bodywork completely covers the rear wheels, a body style that is still popular today in that class. I pointed to the DSR and said, "Look, Eric, that car has no rear wheels." He stared at the car for a while but he could not see any rear wheels. He seemed somewhat dubious about this idea of no rear wheels, but I was his father and, at least back then, he still thought I knew what I was talking about. "How does it go?" he asked. "They put all the weight in the front to balance the car and keep the back off the ground." I said. He was still not too sure about that and watched as the car drove away from us. A few yards past us, the car went over the crest of a small hill and the back end of the car rose up enough so that Eric could see the rear tires. "It does too have rear wheels!" he exclaimed triumphantly pointing at the car.

A short time later, someone came around a corner in the paddock on a motor scooter, and I had to jump back to keep from being run over. Even so, I recognized the scooter rider. It was none other than Paul Newman, the movie star. Newman had gone through the Bondurant driving school to learn how to drive for the movie, Winning. We had seen part of that movie being filmed at Road America a few years earlier. That movie gave Newman the bug to go racing for real.

He started out in 1972 racing, of all things, a Datsun 510 in SCCA regionals in the Northeast Division. It was not long before he hooked up with Bob Sharp who, based in Connecticut, was the east coast equivalent of Peter Brockís BRE, and both were racing 510ís.

Paul Newmanís Datsun 510

Bob Sharp Racing (BSR) acquired the first Datsun 240 Z in the United States. The car was not due to be sold in the US for another couple of months, but Sharp saw the car at an auto show in New York. Already having ties with Datsun as a result of his racing 510ís, he asked Datsun if he could buy a 240 Z for racing. He was told none were available unless one of the show cars was damaged.

The car Sharp had seen in New York went from there to an auto show in Toronto. There, as luck would have it, a model sat on the roof of the car putting a big dent in it. Datsun quickly pulled the car off the show floor. Someone from Datsun called Sharp and told him to go get the car before Datsun execs changed their mind. Thus, BSR came into possession of Chassis number 6, the first 240 Z in the country. Peter Brock would have to wait a couple more months before getting his, but by the end of 1970 they were both racing Zís

Sharp won several divisional titles in that car and the CP National Championships in 1972, 1973 and 1975. The car was sold, but Sharp eventually bought it back and restored it. His son, Scott, who now races in the IRL, won his first National Championship in GT-2 in his father's original 240, which had been up-graded to 280Z specs in 1986.

By 1977, Newman was racing BSR-prepared Datsuns in SCCA nationals. In 1979, Newman was one of four drivers given a shot in the new 280 ZX. He won the Northeast Division and qualified for the Runoffs. Paul was very proud of his driving skills and often told people he would like to be known as a race driver who acts and not an actor who races.

We found a spot along the fence at the south end of the track to park the Mobile Traveler and watch the races. One of the features of Road Atlanta that really stands out is the red clay of the grounds. It is everywhere and gets into everything. By the end of the first day at the track, we had transferred an awful lot of red clay into the Mobile Traveler. We never where able to get all of that stuff out, and wherever that old Mobile Traveler is today, I bet there is still some Road Atlanta red clay in it.

By this time, my son, Eric, knew of my preference for Budweiser. He was quite excited when, at lunchtime, the team of Budweiser Clydesdales was driven around the track. "Dad! Dad!" he shouted. "Look whatís coming! Itís the Bud horses!!!" It was the first time I had ever seen the team too, so I was excited as well, and toasted the team with a cold one as they pranced by.

Paul Newmanís 280 ZX

When the CP race began, we paid a lot of attention to Newman, who was in a three-way battle with Bob Leitzinger and Logan Blackburn. Eric paid close attention as well. Newman went on to win the race and the Championship. He set a new CP lap record of 99.557 mph, breaking Bob Sharpís old record. On winning the title, Newman declared, "This is better than the Oscars!"

Paul Newman on the Podium
1979 CP National Champion

A month or two later, I was in the kitchen making dinner when Eric came running up from the family room where he had been watching TV. "Dad! Dad! Guess what!" he shouted. "Paul Newman, the racing driver, is going to be in a movie!" Well, at least with my son, Newman had his wish to be known as a race driver who acts and not an actor who races.

The next year, one of our Council friends was at the Runoffs. She managed to get an invitation to the Datsun hospitality tent where she met Paul Newman. She told him the story about Eric being so excited that Paul Newman, the racing driver, was in a movie. She said he laughed out loud and seemed pleased to have at least one person know him as a racing driver first.

Paul Newman, Racecar Driver


It was also later that year of 1979 that Vic and I decided to spice up the annual Workerís Party. The Workerís Party was held in November, after the end of the Midwestern Council racing season. It was always a nice party and worker awards, such as the Lou Schaupner award for Worker of the Year, were given out. The Schaupner award was sponsored by the Chicagoland Sports Car Club and named after a long time Chicagoland member and worker who had passed away. Vic and I just figured a little entertainment would make it an even better party. I came up with a couple of ideas and Vic loved them.

First, I suggested we do a take-off on the Johnny Carson skit "Carnac the Magnificent." The skit involved Johnny's putting on a robe and turban, and giving the answers to questions still sealed in envelopes. After holding the envelope up to his head and giving the answer, he would open it and read the question. These were usually very funny, and everyone would laugh. Some were intentional clunkers and the audience would boo, upon which Carson - as Carnac - would insult the audience.

I played Carsonís role, and Vic was my Ed McMann. We could not legally use the name "Carnac the Magnificent," so I decided on Canrac the Magnificent, which is Carnac spelled backwards. For a costume, I wore a robe Liz had made out of some old drapes for one of Bunky and Mary Annís annual costume parties. She had gone as Merlin, the magician, and the blue robe had stars and quarter moons on it. It had a hood, but under the hood I wore a turban fashioned from a Holiday Inn towel with the words "Holiday Inn" plainly visible.

Then came the hard part. I had to come up with some answers and questions that were funny. That actually turned out to be not too hard, and I soon had a dozen or so, including some of the expected clunkers and insults to go with them. Of course, I made them all racing related. I would test them all on Liz, and if she smiled I knew the crowd would laugh. If she groaned, I knew they would boo. A perfect plan, I thought.

After the dinner, the chief of race staff introduced Vic, who proceeded to give the usual Ed McMann introduction of the famed mystic from the east, with some modifications, of course. Our envelopes had been hermetically sealed and kept since noon that day in an empty mayonnaise jar on the back porch of the Blackhawk Farms track ownerís house, guarded by his wife Marsha.

Vic introduces Canrac the Magnificent famed mystic from the east

The crowd laughed when I came out of the back room in response to Vicís introduction, so I thought we were off to a good start. At least they thought my costume was funny. Vic handed me the first envelope and we were off. Taking no chances, I had written the answers on the outside of the envelope so I did not have to memorize them all, but the audience could not see that.

We came to the first planned clunker, and I was ready for the expected boos with an insult. Liz had groaned at this one, but the audience thought it was hysterical and laughed out loud. I saved the insult for the boos I was sure would come. They laughed again at another intended clunker, but I had an ace up my sleeve. Vic handed me another envelope and I knew they would boo this one. I held the envelope up to my temple and divined the answer, "Datsun, Turtle Tap, and Terry Aasen".

Canrac divines the answer

There was an anticipatory murmur in the audience and I knew I would be using an insult on this one. I ripped open the envelope and pulled out the card with the question which was, "Name a car, a bar and a star!" As one, the entire audience erupted into a loud, lusty "Booooooo!" Vic smiled at me and said, "There you go." I glared at the audience and said, "May the bird of paradise leave a deposit in your beer!" The ice now broken, they began to boo questions I thought they would laugh at, and soon I was down to one last insult, which I had to save for the last envelope.

I did have one huge crowd favorite. The SCCA was really our competition on the regional level. Even though many of our members belonged to SCCA as well, there was a rivalry between us. I held up the envelope to my temple and said, "Disneyland, Disneyworld, and the SCCA." Again there was a buzz in the crowd as I opened the envelope. I read the question, "Name two amusement parks and a Mickey Mouse Club". This brought forth both laughter and cheers! The audience loved it and gave us a big ovation.

Canrac opens an envelope

Finally, Vic announced, "I hold in my hand the last envelope!" and, of course, the audience cheered loudly. Once again, I glared at them and said, "May your last meal be a workers lunch!" Canrac the Magnificent was a hit. Vic and I did it a couple more years at the workers party, but then Vic moved away and Canrac was retired.

Our second skit was a bit more ambitious. I suggested we do a racing version of the Abbott and Costello classic "Whoís on First?" We called our version "Whoís on Corner One?" using corner captains rather than baseball players. I got a copy of the Abbott and Costello skit and rewrote it to fit corner captains and corners. Vic played the straight part as Abbott, and I did the Costello part.

This really turned out to be hard work. It is a long bit and we had to memorize it and get the timing down. One of the hard parts is that many of the lines are repeated, and the Costello character has to know when to change and move on. We worked very hard at this and practiced it time and time again. We had a tape version off the original, which we listened to many times to get the timing down. I told Vic the cardinal rule in comedy is to never walk on your laugh, so if itís your line next and the audience is laughing - wait until they finish.

Vic played the role of the chief of race staff and I was the chief steward of the race. I came out and asked Vic how our corner staff looked. He said, "It looks good. We have some especially good captains". I said, "Good, whom do we have?" and Vic said, "Well, you know they have some funny names nowadays like Crash, Wreck, Mayday Mary." I said "Ashes Aasen, yes I know, so who do we have?" Vic said, "Well, Who is on one, What is on two and I Donít Know is on threeÖ" and we were off and running.

We got to the point where I expected to get our first real laugh and were rewarded with only a few snickers and a little laughter. The same happened thing when I thought we would get our second big laugh. Now I was worried. Had we worked so hard only to be a flop? Finally, we began to hear more laughter, and at one point, I even heard Bunky say "Oh, God, I love it! I love it!" Maybe it would be OK. We were finally well rewarded when we finished and got a huge cheer and standing ovation. They all loved it.

Vic and I were both very relieved, because he had been just as worried as I was. I asked some folks why they did not laugh from the beginning, and they said they were afraid they would miss something. I guess they did not know that while we were amateurs, we were professional enough to know not to walk on our laugh. Still, I have new respect for the pros like Abbot and Costello. We did OK, but were nowhere close to the outstanding performers they were. But it was rewarding and a lot of fun. We were asked to do it again at the Midwestern Councilís annual awards banquet and did it again for the Chicagoland banquet. It was a hit every time.

For another workers party, I had Denny weld a special prop for me. I had him cut an old exhaust pipe in half and weld the two halves to a hoop that would fit around my body. I tore holes in the front and back of an older workerís t-shirt, and when I fit the tail pipe through the holes, it appeared as though I had been impaled by the exhaust pipe, much like the old arrow through the head gag.

At the workers party, Denny announced that they had created a new workers award for valor. This was to be given to a worker who, with little regard to his own safety, went out of his way to protect the drivers on the track. He said, "The first recipient of this new award ran into the middle of the track to remove a hot exhaust pipe that had fallen off a car, even as cars bore down on him. I am proud to present Midwestern Councilís first award of valor to Terry Aasen!" I then came out from the back with the exhaust pipe sticking out front and back to receive my fictitious award. The audience loved it and laughed and cheered heartily.

We nearly always camped at the track, so Liz and I rarely stayed in a hotel room. However, I now had a job that called for lots of travel, and I spent many a night alone in a hotel room. The workers party was held in November. We decided it was too cold to camp and got a room at the Holiday Inn.

After a great party and lots of beer, we went back to the Holiday Inn. In the middle of the night, I woke up and found myself staring at an unfamiliar wall. I knew I was not at home, but was unsure of where I actually was. This happened from time to time when I traveled on business, and sometimes would be in as many as four different hotels in a week. I thought to myself, "Am I in Memphis? No Chattanooga, maybe? No, I donít think I am in Chattanooga either."

I decided that if I rolled over and looked at the rest of the room, I would probably realize where I was. When I rolled over, my heart nearly stopped as I discovered a woman lying in bed with me. Panic hit me, and I though "Oh my God! What have I done?" Then I recognized the woman. It was Liz, of course. Relief flooded through me as I shook her shoulder and said, "Liz! Liz! Thank God, itís you!" She looked up at me, a little irritated at being awakened from a sound sleep and said, "Who the hell else did you think it would it be?"

Copyright © 2006 by Terry Aasen

 

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