Lap 43

 

Of all the jobs I did for Chicagoland, my favorite was Chief Steward. I was thrilled and honored when the club named me to be Steward. I knew it was a big job with a lot of responsibility, but I was up for it. Chicagoland was running two races a year at this time, one early in the season and our traditional Loooong race in October. Each of the clubs in Midwestern Council had a Steward. The Steward and a couple of other members of each club made up the Contest Board, which would meet monthly. The contest board was the governing body of Council and would formulate the rules, classify new cars and hear any protests that were appealed to it.

A club Steward would usually serve as Chief Steward of the clubís race and name a couple other clubs' Stewards as "Stewards of the Meet. The Chief Steward essentially runs the race and enforces the rules. It is as close to being a god as I will ever get. When youíre the Chief Steward, nobody turns a wheel on the track until you say so. The Chief Steward is positioned on the bridge, and has headphones so he can hear all the radio or phone communications. Central Control relays the Chief Stewards orders. He is assisted by the Stewards of the Meet. The Chief Steward and the Stewards of the Meet also deal with any race day protests.

While I was delighted at being named Chicagolandís Steward, Lou, another long time member, was less than happy with it even though we were good fiends. He had expected to be named for the job. I asked him to be assistant Steward, and he reluctantly agreed, probably figuring that gave him a better shot at being Steward when I gave up the job. Chicagolandís first race came and I was on the bridge bright and early. All of the guys whom I had asked to be Stewards of the Meet were there as well, but Lou was nowhere to be seen.

At my first race as Chief Steward, I conducted the morning drivers meeting and called for the first practice group to head for the grid. Soon, race day was in full swing, but still no sign of Lou. Finally, just before noon, Lou appeared on the bridge and asked me how it was going. I said it was going well, but I was behind schedule. One of the Chief Stewardís main jobs is to keep the race day on schedule. This could be tough to do, especially if you have a lot of clean up to do between sessions.

Lou brightened at the news that I was behind schedule. "Well" he said, "how far behind are you? Maybe I can help you catch up." "One minute," I replied. Lou stared at me and then walked off the bridge. I never saw him the rest of the day. He never was named Chicagolandís Steward, but he and I remained good friends.

One of the Council members, with more money than he knew what to do with, was racing a Lola B sports racer. This car was far and away the fastest car in Council. He usually would lap the entire field twice in a half hour race. The Contest Board even approved his application of a strobe light on top of his roll bar. This was so the Corvettes and Camaros he was lapping would be better able to see the sleek, low-slung car as he overtook them.

During his race, corner six called in to say that Frank, in his Lola, had passed under the yellow flag. That is a big no-no in road racing. I told the starter to black flag 24 yellow. One of my Stewards of the Meet was standing behind me and heard my order. He said, "Thatís Frank. You canít black flag him!" I turned around and looked at him, "Why not?" I asked. He said, "Because he would never pass on the yellow on purpose." I said, "If I thought he had done it on purpose, I would park him and tear up his license." The Chief Steward could do those things.

Frank dutifully responded to the black flag, and came down the pit lane. I went down to talk to him personally. Usually, one of the Stewards of the Meet would do that. But because this was Frank, I thought it best I do it myself. Frank rolled to a stop at the end of the pit lane and I said, "Hi, Frank. You were reported as passing on the yellow." He nodded his head and said, "Corner six, right?" I said, "Yes, it was." Frank said, "I am sorry. I was committed before I saw the flag and was expecting to be talking to you." I said, "OK, go on back out, but watch for those flags." He said, "I will, thanks" and he peeled away back onto the track. He never even lost a position.

Another time, I was talking to another guy reported for passing on the yellow. He was driving an old dune buggy he had converted to some sort of a sports racer. It was a rear-engine car and I had to shout for him to hear me. The brief conversation went about like the one I had with Frank, and there was no confrontation. The guys on the bridge could hear me shouting at him, but could not understand what I was saying. They did not realize that was the only way the driver could hear me, and thought I must really be mad at him. Back on the bridge, one of the Stewards said, "Boy, you sure read him the riot act!í I had no idea what he was talking about.

I was talking to another driver during a race and told him he had passed on the yellow in corner one. "What car did I pass?" he asked. I said, "I donít know. Wait here and I will go find out." "NO! NO! Thatís OK! I donít need to know!" Besides Frank, I was also able to black flag the president of Midwestern Council twice. I loved that job.

The main responsibility of the Chief Steward is to ensure the safety of not only the drivers but crew members, guests and race staff. That was a responsibility I took very seriously. At one race, I saw a G production car come down the pit lane during a practice and turn into the paddock. As I watched him, he drove through the paddock at what I thought was an excessive speed. I knew who it was and from my position on the bridge, I could see where he parked his car. I waited until he stopped and got out of his car. Then I paged him to come to the bridge and report to the Chief Steward.

He showed up on the bridge and I proceeded to chew him out for speeding in the paddock. I told him there were kids all over the place who do not know to watch for speeding cars. I really did read this guy the riot act and told him, "on the track you can drive as fast as you damn well please but I will not tolerate speeding in the paddock. If I see you doing that again you will be disqualified. Do you understand?" He hung his head and apologized and promised never to do it again. I dismissed him and after he left, one of my Stewards of the Meet, who had been listening, said, "Christ, I hope you never get mad at me!" That driver has gone on to be one of the top drivers in his class in SCCA. Nationals and runs up front at the runoffs nearly every year, but I bet he does not speed in the paddock any more.

For my first race as Chief Steward, I asked Jay, the Steward for NSSCC, to be one of my Stewards of the Meet. I was hoping that would bury some of the animosity between our two clubs. It did help, and he returned the favor by asking me to serve as Steward of the Meet for their next race. That was the first time in years that Stewards in our two clubs had done that.

NSSCCís race was named the Champagne Sprints. A sponsor had donated full magnums of champagne for the race. NSSCC ran 5 lap sprint races to set the grid for the main race, and the winner of the sprint would get a magnum of champagne. Council drivers, used to just winning a cheap trophy, now had something substantial to race for. It seemed like a good idea at the time, I guess.

Group one took the green for its sprint race. The green was quickly followed by a red flag, which stopped the race because there was a huge pile up in corner one. Group two made it all the way to corner four on lap one before we had to red flag that one. All of us on the bridge gave a sigh of relief as group three completed lap one with only a couple of spins. This was short lived, and they got a red flag on lap two for a big wreck in corner three. Group four went the whole five laps without a red flag, but there were two maydays called in. Group five was red flagged on lap one, after another big crash in corner one. Jay, the Chief Steward, was terribly upset, and I thought I could see tears in his eyes. I had never seen anything like it. One would think they were racing for a huge cash prize or something, instead of just a big bottle of cheap champagne. That was the last time we raced for booze in Council.

The next year, Chicagoland made a mistake and held a race on Motherís Day weekend. Saturday morning, we were greeted with pouring rain and near freezing temperatures. The schedule for the day called for two half-hour practice sessions for each of the five race groups. I was Chief Steward and opened the track for group one practice with the rain pouring down, but no one came out. I canít say that I blamed them, since I could barely make out the far end of the pit lane from the bridge. I could not see corner seven at all. The half-hour went by, and nobody came out on the track. I called group two out for their first practice and two cars answered the call. The whole morning went like that.

The author and Chief Steward on a miserable Mother's Day

About mid-morning, I called the race chairman to the bridge and told him to get hot

coffee and hot chocolate from the concession stand and take it out to the corner workers. He asked me who would pay for it. I told him to have it charged to Chicagoland and said if the club would not pay I would pay for it out of my own pocket. I had worked corners in conditions like this often enough to know what my corner workers were going through out there. The club did pay for it, as I was sure they would.

After all five groups had their first scheduled practice time on the track, I called for a driversí meeting during the lunch break. This was held in Timing and Scoring, where there was at least a roof over our heads. There, I announced a schedule change. I told them that there would be two more half-hour practice sessions after the lunch break. one for all closed-wheel cars and one for all open-wheel cars. That meant everyone would still have the same amount of practice time as scheduled and I could get my workers in off the corners a few hours earlier. All the drivers agreed, and even with the change in schedule, we never had more than ten cars on the track at a time. But the drivers all knew there was another half hour practice on Sunday before the races, and many decided to skip Saturday practice all together, hoping for better conditions on Sunday.

Once again, I called the race chairman to the bridge and told him to go into town and get the beer for the beer bash right away because we would be finished in a little over an hour. I also told him to buy a few jugs of wine, as I was sure not everyone would be interested in cold beer on a day like that. I was right, and the wine was well received. Many clubs often provided wine along with beer after that.

Except for the aborted flooded-out race, it was probably the shortest race day in Council history. I had everyone in off the corners by 2 pm. The rain never did let up and poured down all afternoon. Sunday had slightly better conditions but, all in all, it was a miserable weekend. Chicagoland vowed to never hold another race on Motherís Day.

I was on the bridge one morning at the Loooong Race when Earl, one of Councilís top drivers, came up to see me. "Terry, I have a big problem," he said. I figured he had had mechanical problems and wanted permission to race without completing the required five practice laps. I asked him, "Whatís your problem, Earl?" He looked at me sheepishly and said, "I forgot my sonís big wheel." I grinned and said, "You really do have a problem."

I knew Earl had a problem because I knew how big a deal the Big Wheel race was to my son, Eric. He had entered the race every year and looked forward to it all summer long. Finally, at age six, the last year he was eligible for the race, he won it. I have to tell you that he was one very happy kid that day.

I asked around and finally was able to find someone whose son was racing in a different age group than Earlís boy. He agreed to lend Earl his sonís big wheel for his race. Earl had a very relieved look on his face when I told him about the arrangement. His son even went on to win the race on his borrowed ride.

Eric takes his victory lap

Copyright © 2006 by Terry Aasen

 

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