By: Adam Sutton
He had roared by a minute before. Now, he was coasting, his motor dead. The distant roar of another engine was in the background, but my attention was in front of me. I could see his black helmet through the window. My memory says I saw his mustache. Smiling, I rose from my seat, poised to rain down support for my hero. My attention shifted abruptly to my left. “Fuck you! Mother fucker!”
I never really understood why I needed to pack the day before a trip. It only takes 2 minutes to throw a couple shirts, pants, underwear and socks in a bag. I only had one pair of shoes. How long should this take? But, there I was on Wednesday night packing for the weekend.
Dad and I had put a mattress from the basement in the back of the truck, and I’d grabbed some monstrous pillows to fill the gaps on either side of the wheel wells. Sheltered by the truck cap, the pick-up would be our home for the weekend.
As I went through the day at school and got home, I don’t remember being excited, but I must have been. Dad always got home after me, so I’m sure I was anxiously pacing the house waiting for him so that we could run off for a guy’s weekend! Mom didn’t allow TV after school, so pacing it must have been.
Riding shotgun, it was already dark and way past my bedtime. Dad ordered me into the back of the truck to sleep. There were two sliding windows to navigate: one for the truck and one for the cap. To fill the gap between the truck and cap, Dad had inflated an old bike tire to fill the void. I’m not sure why, something about heat and noise I think.
As I setup my nest in the bed of the truck, it was like Christmas Eve. I was full of angst as I looked forward to tomorrow. I was mesmerized by the lights of Philadelphia. They whizzed by as I looked out the windows of the truck.
Breakfast? When you’re sleeping in the back of a pick-up, what can you expect for breakfast? I don’t have a clue.
But, as we walked to the track, there it was in front of me: shiny, smooth lines, nearly empty interior with a tachometer the size of my head. It might as well have been gold bars. To me at age 9, seeing a stock car was akin to a religious experience. It made me whole. The only thing better would have been to see the jet black #3 car of The Intimidator!
Leaving the show car behind, we headed into the stands. There were so many stairs! So much glistening aluminum. As an adult reflecting back, it seems almost like I walked into a solar oven. Dad led me to the very top of the grandstands. The people below seemed like dolls and every hauler, confederate flag, sponsor, and inch of the track were visible. My heroes were all out there in front of me, but it was scary with even the slightest breeze making me unsteady high above the ground.
At my seat, the program was amazing. The cover art was a super cool green monster ripping up the pavement of the racetrack. And, I devoured it. It listed past winners, pole sitters, the weekend’s schedule of practices and qualifying sessions. It was a treasure trove of information.
I waited in earnest until The Intimidator took the track. He went past 3 times, but the first 2 he was moving so fast and the sound was so loud, it was all I could do to keep my 70-pound frame from toppling over. The final time past he had killed the engine and was coasting to pit lane.
What I hadn’t noticed was a row down and to my left. There was an overweight fellow who was as eager as me to see The Intimidator. We had both been waiting for this moment to salute NASCAR’s most famous driver. When that black #3 coasted by he dropped his red can of Old Milwaukee to be sure both middle fingers could be pointed skyward as he heaped all variations of mother fucker on my hero. If I had a dog, I think it would have been like watching someone kick it. I was 9. My dad didn’t like The Intimidator, but this guy hated him, or maybe it was the beer?
I wasn’t fazed. I still love Dale Earnhardt. Fat boy was an idiot. At 9, I knew that much.
Who was the fastest qualifier that day? No clue. What’d I have for lunch or dinner? Couldn’t tell you. But, that night we parked next to some guy with an RV. He didn’t know how to light a pilot light. Good for him, my dad did. I got some free Cokes out of the deal. I felt terrible after 2, so I didn’t drink Coke for the next 10 years.
25 years, later, the Confederate flags, copious amounts of beer cans, dudes with their least favorite car numbers sun burnt and X’d out on their backs all are secured in my memory. I remember Ricky Rudd backing his car into the wall right in front of us during the race, but that 2 second event is all I’ve got concerning the 4 hour race. Mostly, I look back on that weekend thankful to have been included: happy to be my dad’s sidekick. I experienced some weird—maybe inappropriate—stuff for a 9 year old that weekend. But, it was our thing. If I miss anything about being a kid, that’s it, having somebody who would setup whole days’ worth of events just for me. I know he loved NASCAR, and I did too. But, I just loved being there with him. Thanks Dad!