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Great Moments in Racing: The Rain-Delay Near-Death Experience

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Photo: EZ-UP
Photo: EZ-UP

The racing off-season is kind of a dull time anyway, but when you hit the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, it's like your inspiration disappears into a literary Bermuda Triangle.

But whereas other writers might take the opportunity to relax and enjoy some time away from the keyboard, I am far too desperate for attention. I crave the constant validation that having my writing read by a couple of hundred Internet people I've never met provides.

Thus, I am in the position of having to write, but not having the foggiest notion of what I should commit to pixels.

After several hours of lazy, half-hearted pondering on the subject, I finally decided that I'd burn away some of the dead air by sharing some of my favorite racing moments from my own life with you. Boring as they might be, maybe reading them will help spark your own memories and create a warm, nostalgiac, fuzzy ambience that will quickly make you forget how uninspired these columns actually are.

The Rain-Delay Near-Death Experience

A few years ago, I was working on a NASCAR Southwest Series team as the PR flack. We were racing at the late, lamented Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, California, and the weather was threatening. During one of the practice sessions, the sky suddenly opened up, sending rain down in torrents on the track.

I was sitting by the hauler chatting up one of the SPEED crew who was around for the Craftsman Truck Series race that was the main feature that weekend. Halfway through my subtle attempt to interest the guy in my driver, one of the crew dashed up and said, "We need the EZ-UP down at the pits."

I excused myself hurriedly and ran up into the hauler. I emerged with the canopy, packed in its bag and weighing about fifteen metric tons (granted, I might be exaggerating, but it was really heavy). Sadly, the aforementioned crewmember had since departed back to pit road with the significantly lighter pit tarp. So, screwing up my courage and the very very little physical strength I possessed, I proceeded towards our pit with my exceedingly heavy burden.

Did I mention that our hauler was the entire pit road away from our stall, which was near the pit exit? Oh. Well, it was.

Crews up and down the pit road dropped their own hurried attempts to shelter their equipment from the downpour to stare in disbelief at the ennobling sight of an out-of-shape, wheezing, fogged-glasses-wearing PR flunky half-carrying and half-dragging a full-size EZ-UP canopy down the length of the pit lane. Remember when Dale Earnhardt won the 1998 Daytona 500 and all the crews lined up to salute him? Picture that, only instead of cheers, high-fives, and sentimental lumps in the throat, imagine incredulous laughter, sardonic applause, and plenty of pointing.

My fevered and agonized brain struggled to find ragged strands of nobility in my increasingly desperate plight. I was helping the team, I reasoned. Should I collapse from a pulmonary embolism upon my arrival, they shall extol the virtues of the martyr, placing my picture in tasteful decal form on the B-post of the race car for the rest of the season. Odes to my bravery would be written by the sport's scribes, while soft-focus Ken Burns-style documentary features would air as a testament to my endurance against the odds.

Okay, so the hypoxia from not being able to breathe was affecting my judgment a little. But it kept me going, even in the face of the loss of feeling to my fingers, my arms feeling like Stretch Armstrong's, and my dignity in tatters.

I finally reached our pit stall after what seemed like six weeks of agonizing effort. Gamely, I offered to help erect the damn thing, but my offer came out like so: "Hmbblrphfghhh (wheeze) frrblaphf urrrghhh (gasp)." Abandoning the attempt, I sought out a blank spot of pit wall and sat down to see if I could get rid of the sparklies invading my eyeballs. The pit lane still echoed with sarcastic applause and laughter, but thankfully I could barely hear it thanks to the blood pounding in my head and eardrums.

I should probably mention at this juncture that it had stopped raining when I was about five feet from my goal.

To this day, the folks from the team that I still keep in touch with invariably lead off any conversation with, "Hey, remember when we almost killed you?" followed by raucous laughter.

Ah, memories.