When I told my parents that I wanted to build and race a dirt track stock car they were not pleased. My mom was simply worried for her child’s safety. My father felt that such an endeavour was completely beneath us. We were liturgical artists, not beer swillin’ rednecks. They did not stop me though and thought that it was just something that I must “get out of my system”.
The first dirt track stock car race that my family went to, I was racing in it. I was racing the first stock car that Jeff and I had made while down at the farm, which took seemingly forever to build. My terrified mother gave me strict instructions to “drive slow”. “Yes mom, sure” I said, realizing that there was no sense in arguing. The announcer then did his usual job of hamming it all up by yelling “get that poor guy out of there before he burns up!” after a wreck. It actually wasn’t that dangerous, but I guess that kind of hype sells tickets. The whole family then made the mistake of sitting on the outside of a turn and therefore, spent a wonderful evening getting pelted by clods of mud. The outside of the turn also happens to be where all the drunks like to sit because they love getting splattered by mud balls. My family did not return. To my parents credit, they did not stop me from pursuing this and continued to let me use the stained glass company truck to tow the car to races.
I learned so tremendously much building, improving and maintaining a couple of race cars for three years. We were on a comically small, shoestring budget. Many of the parts came from the farm in St. Genevieve. A small junkyard sponsored us and let us take a few parts from the pile of cars out back. When the car got crunched in a wreck, we would chain one end to a tree and then stretch the other end back out with a log splitter or backhoe. Then we would start welding. I am not sure if this is the best way to get an education but it gives you the skill of having to come up with things on your own and in a pinch. That is very hard to teach and a bit of a rare quality in modern times.
Racing cars around on the streets was done more than it should have. I, luckily, never got into an accident. This was mostly because my joy was the challenge and skill of driving well. I concentrated on doing it with skill. It was about my joy of the sport of driving, not showing off or being reckless. Many people that I race against got into accidents. This can cause a troubling tendency of making you to feel personally invincible, but I kept my wits about me. Later in life, I became a very careful driver because, if you’re not pushing your limits, what’s the point?
The photo is not us, but that’s the idea.