Friday, September 28, 2007
How it all began
Someone asked me today, "How did you get started in racing?" In retrospect I suppose I owe it all to my father. I grew up on a large ranch in Southwestern Oregon and we lived about 10 miles from town so if you wanted to go to town and be home before dinner you had better find a way to be fast. Actually it all began long before I was driving cars. I enjoyed my first encounter with horsepower when I had my first hose at the age of 5 months. Even though I we lived on a ranch horses where ok and even though I really enjoyed riding my bikes it was the speed of go-carts that really got me hooked on speed. Since the paved road on our ranch was a few miles long with hills, corners and long straight a ways not to mention lined with trees and barbed wire fences not to mention a few cliffs it was really invigorating to say the least.
Some of my first go-carts didn't have clutches so they had to be push started to get them going. My best friend would come over and he would push me down the short hill which was our driveway. As soon as the engine began to pop and catch he would jump on the rear of the cart and hang on for all he was worth. I used to love doing a four wheel drift onto the flat pavement of the main road and then really let her open up. One day he jumped on as I pushed the throttle but I guess I gave it a little too much. As I looked back to see what felt so different all I saw was his ass and arms flying across the road like a rock skipping on the water. As I looked backwards in fear thinking he would be injured for life I didn't realize where I was heading and it didn't take long to feel the steering wheel slam into my rib-cage as I crashed into a ditch along the road. As I ran back towards where he laid in the road I thought I could see and hear him crying in pain. When I finally reached him and saw him holding his bloody hand I realized he was crying... He was laughing his ass off. When he finally stopped laughing enough so he could talk he said, "If only you could have seen the look on your face just before you ran off the road. And then after you disappeared out of sight and crashed your wheel came flying out of the ditch! Boy were those the days.
My father who was in the lumber business was a workaholic and even though we had a beautiful workshop with every possible tool you could think of he was typically too busy to get involved in my hang ups with making everything go faster than it was safe to go. But there were a few times that stand out in my memory like the times he came over and found me working on my go-carts and said, "Hey, there's a race on TV and I thought you might enjoy watching it with me." Considering this was back in the 60's when auto races where almost unheard of that was just about the coolest words that could ever come out of a father's mouth to a young boy. Road racing was made out to be such a glamorous affair, one that was primarily for the jet-set Playboy way of life. I can remember watching as I sat only a few feet from the television set and hearing my father get almost as excited as I was.
It was those evenings while attempting to finish my homework that the daydreams began to occur. Visions of me in a green Lotus ripping off the gears passing everything at breakneck speeds in front of large crowds of spectators. Then I could almost feel the G-forces pressing me back and to one side of the cockpit and then the other while corners to almost pass by before I ever got to them in the first place.
There came a day when my father asked me what I was doing to my car and then asked if he could show me a thing or two. As if it were only this afternoon I remember handing him a screwdriver and then stood back as he dialed in the carb adjustments and how amazed I was that my car sounded so different with what seemed like such a simple adjustment. As he stood up and handed me the screwdriver he said, "Let's take'er out now and she what she'll do." As I eased down the road he eventually said, "I thought we were going to see how fast this damn thing was."
There was another day that truly is prominent in my mind. I had made the ten hour drive from California to go visit my parents in Oregon and when I got to the ranch my mother greeted me at the door with her usual open arms and she said, "It's so good to see you and your father will be so glad to know you're here." When I asked where he was she told me he was helping out one of the other rancher's with his tractor and would be home soon. Then she said something I will never forget... "You father just loves to tell everyone how amazing you are with race cars." I must tell you I was shocked... "Dad talks about me and cars? But it's dad who is the ace mechanic and he's the one who always knew it all." Then my mother told me, "Just the other day he was talking to one of his friends and he told them that in all his years he had never seen anyone that knew more about cars or that could tear apart an engine, transmission or whatever and put it back together faster than you. Then he told him that he had seen you take the carburetors off your car, fix them up and put them back on the car and they would be better than anyone could ever come close too. He even told them how you used to come home after school, change your transmission or clutch in less than an hour before you went back to town to pick up your date. Gary, he's just so proud of you."
My father was a man of so few words and for that reason alone I cherished hearing those things from him and my mother more so than one could ever imagine. I hadn't even realized he was aware what I had been doing to my car all those times. I can only imagine how wonderful it would be to have him here with me now let alone be able to take him to Mexico with us on this adventure. Some months ago I wrote how I had carried one of his pocket knives with me while I was on safari in Africa and how I might want to have something of his with me while in Mexico. I have already set aside some of the very hand tools that where his in a special place. In fact they would be the very same wrenches that I used from his tools when I was working on my cars those so many years ago. I know Jon will be sitting in the navigator's seat next to me but I know I will still occasionally hear his voice saying, "Come on, let's see what this baby will do." It was that voice that had a lot to do with how I got started racing.