We were camped at the Gun Club one Saturday night when Donnie joined us. He had some bumper stickers with him advertising Wisconsin Cheese. He told us that if we put the bumper stickers on our vehicles, we could get a ten percent discount on our tickets. We all put them on, and on Sunday morning, we headed for the track. I had left first to get a good spot along the fence by corner eight. I told the guy at the gate that I had my Wisconsin Cheese bumper sticker on. He said, sorry, but that promotion applied only to Saturday admission. I said OK, paid for our tickets and drove on in.
Bunky pulled in about an hour later and immediately came up to Donnie and me, complaining that the bumper sticker did not get him a discount. I asked him, "Did you say the secret words? You had to give them the secret words to get the discount." "What secret words?" he asked. I said, "You had to say 'Eat more cheese.'" Bunky stared at me and then yelled, "You never told me that!" Unable to keep a straight face, I started to laugh. Bunky then realized I was kidding and said, "Oh, damn you, Ace!" and stomped away. Bunky is just too easy a target.
Liz and I would often invite friends to join us at the races and camp with us in our motor home. Steve and Deanna were among those who joined us. They lived in Indianapolis, and I had met Steve through work. We both represented our companies at the Hazardous Materials Advisory Council, a trade association for shippers of hazardous materials. HMAC held four to five meetings a year, and Steve and I would usually hang out together at these. We often brought our wives along for the annual conference, which would be held in various cities around the country. Thus, Liz and Deanna had met and we were soon good friends.
They joined us several times for CART races at Road America. They would drive up from Indy on Friday, and we would go out for a nice dinner. Saturday morning, we would get into our old Itasca motor home and drive up to Road America. We would watch the racing on Saturday, and then go to the Gun Club to camp Saturday night.
We no longer had to forage for firewood because an enterprising local would now cruise the campground with a pickup truck full of firewood for sale. I recall once when Steve said he would buy the firewood. He flagged down the pickup, told the driver we wanted some firewood, and asked how much it was. The guy said it was five dollars for all you can hold. Steve said OK, gave him the five dollars, and held out his arms.
Now Steve is not a big guy, and I did not think he was all that strong, but I was sure he could hold enough wood to give us a nice campfire all evening long. This turned out to be more than true, and I was amazed as the guy kept piling the wood on. Steve’s back had to be groaning, but he kept telling him to put on more wood. We had a heck of a fire that night, and even let Bunky add as many logs as he wanted. Of course, Jerry was not there or he would have been banned from doing so, plenty of wood or not.
Sunday morning, I would usually get up early and drive to the track to get in line for the gate. This was so we could get a good spot at the fence to park for race day. Parking spaces along the fence were on a first-come, first-serve basis back then, and the best spots would go early. You had to be in line when the gates opened at 7 am. I would get up around five and while everyone else was still sleeping, or at least still in bed, I would drive us up to get in line. Some folks would actually camp outside the gate all night to be among the first into the track. We preferred to camp at the Gun Club where we could plug in and have a campfire.
We first started doing this when we moved from Canada Corner to corner five. We would get in line behind those who had camped at the gate so that we could get a spot along the fence on the outside of corner five. After having that as our favorite viewing spot for a few years, the track began renting out this area for hospitality tents and no one was allowed to park there any more.
The gang with our motor homes in corner five
That morning with Steve and Deanna, I found a good spot along the fence in corner three. One of the support races was the American Racing Series in which all of the competitors drove March 86As, an open-wheel formula car. As the cars came by on their pace lap, Steve asked Eric who he thought would win. Without hesitation, Eric said "Paul Tracy". Even I was a bit surprised because I had not really been following this series and had not heard of Paul Tracy. Steve offered to bet him five dollars. Eric accepted, and why not? If he lost, I would have to come up with the fiver. Besides, Eric knew that Tracy had won eight of the eleven races run so far. Eric did not lose the bet because Tracy led all but the first lap.
I should not have been surprised, because I knew Eric knew his racing. Once, when Eric was about ten years old we were parked on the outside of corner eight. Bunky, Jimmy, Mike and I were having a discussion about Mario Andretti. He had a new sponsor that year and none of us could recall who had sponsored his car the year before. Mike suggested we ask Eric, who was playing with Bunky’s son, Ethan, behind the motor home. I called Eric over and asked him the question. Of course, he knew the answer and said, "Beatrice Foods". Mike said, "See, I knew Eric would know."
Paul Tracy is now one of the top drivers in the Champ car series. I actually got to meet him in person, purely by accident. Well, it was Paul who had the accident. We were in corner eight at Road America for a Champ car race. Tracy crashed in our corner on the second lap. As he came walking dejectedly along the spectator fence, I leaned over and said, "Paul, I have a golf cart. Would you like a ride back to the paddock?" He looked up and said, "Yes, I would." I ran and got the golf cart I had rented for the weekend. Paul climbed in, and we headed for the paddock.
Paul was not in a talkative mood, so it was a pretty silent ride. People would call out to him as we passed, and he would acknowledge them with a nod of his head or a small wave of his hand. As we approached the paddock area, I said, "Paul, I know you’re upset about crashing out of the race, but I still think you will win the Championship." He replied, "We will see." I said, "You have a lot of new fans this year because we all know you could have gone to the IRL, but you stayed with Champ Car. All the Champ car fans like me really appreciate that." He simply said, "Thanks" and told me where his paddock area was. I told him I knew where it was. I pulled up behind it and he got out of the golf cart, said, "Thanks for the ride" and walked away. He did go on to win the Championship that year.
In 1997, Steve and Deanna were with us again. We had found a spot at the fence on the inside of corner eight. There was a Trans Am race on Saturday and, once again, Steve asked Eric who would win. Eric quickly replied, "Tommy Kendall". At least this
time, I knew who Tommy Kendall was. Steve bet Eric ten dollars this time. I had some confidence in Eric’s pick because even I knew Kendall had won every race so far that year.
Greg, Jimmy, Deanna, Steve, Eric and the author
Dorsey Schroeder qualified on the pole for the Trans Am race. A light rain was falling as he led the field past our position in corner eight on the first lap. Steve was a little smug, since Kendall was not in the lead, but I saw him make a move to the outside as they entered corner nine. Sure enough, Kendall passed Schroeder on the OUTSIDE in the carousel - an unheard of move, especially in the rain.
Kendall opened up his lead, but by mid-race the sun had come out and the track was drying. Schroeder pitted first, but had a bad stop and lost any advantage he had. Kendall came in on lap 19 and had four slicks fitted to his Roush Racing Ford Mustang. He re-entered the track 45 seconds behind Brian Simo. He cruised around behind Simo, waiting for him to pit. Simo, however, had decided to gamble and stayed out on his rain tires.
Kendall cut into his lead as Simo’s rains started to go off, but Simo was still in the lead when they started the next to last lap. Steve was sure he was going to win the bet. But Kendall had his head down now and passed Simo on lap 24 of 25 for his tenth win of the season.
Steve is a Chevas drinker, and poured some on a ten spot to pay Eric off. He handed him a soaking wet, ten-dollar bill and told him he had peed on it. Eric did not seem to mind as he stuffed his winnings into his pocket. He told me later he knew Steve had not peed on the bill because it was cold, not warm.
One of the cars entered in the race was driven by a friend and former Chicagoland member named Rick. Since Rick’s pit crew consisted of one buddy and his 70-year old father, Rick started the race on slicks. He was sure the rain would stop and there was no practical way he could pit for new tires. Since he was starting at the back of the field anyway, he did not think it would hurt him much.
He soldiered around at the back of field for the first half of the race. Then the rain stopped, and he began picking off cars as the track dried. He moved up several more places when other cars pitted for dry tires. He nearly made it all the way to the top ten and was given the "Hard Charger Award" for passing the most cars in the race.
Nicky, who as a young corner worker had followed Greg’s trail off corner seven and had had his eyelashes and curly hair singed in my corner, had landed a job with Newman Haas racing. His primary job was to drive the show car around. This was the car Mario Andretti had driven the year before.
At that time, the primary sponsors of the car were K-Mart, Texaco and Eveready Energizer batteries. Nicky would take the car to K-Mart stores around the country and display it in hopes of attracting customers to the store. His other job was to dress up as the Energizer Bunny and parade up and down in front of their paddock area, pounding the drum. Well, any job in racing is better than none, I suppose. I never actually got to see him do the bunny thing, but I bet he looked pretty cute as he kept going and going and going…
Knowing we usually camped at the Gun Club, Nicky unexpectedly pulled up one evening in a straight bed truck with Newman Haas Racing painted on the side. We were pleased to see him, and after we had given him a beer, he told us he had Mario Andretti’s show car in the truck. To prove it, he opened up the truck and, sure enough, there was the car.
We all climbed into the back of the truck and took turns sitting in the car. It was so cool to think we were sitting in the same car that the great Mario Andretti had driven just the year before. It is surprising how little room there is in the cockpit of a Champ car.
Deanna takes her turn in Mario’s car.
On the trip back to Chicago after the races, Steve would lay down on the bed in the back of the motor home to sleep. After all, once we got to our house, he had another three hour drive to Indianapolis. I remember hitting a big pothole on the way home. I glanced in my rear view mirror and saw Steve a good two feet in the air above the bed. Not sure how much sleep he got.
Copyright © 2006 by Terry Aasen