For the last three years, my father (who lives in Bethlehem) and yours truly (who does not) have met up in a field just north of Rossburg, Ohio for the 4 Crown Nationals, a weekend of dirt track racing held annually each fall at the short track of all short tracks, Eldora Speedway.
My father and I have shared racing the way most stereotypical dads and their sons might share fishing, or going to baseball games (though we have done plenty of that, almost exclusively at Shea Stadium, may it rest in peace). Every year from when I was nine to when I was twenty-three, we’d drive to Montreal for the Formula One race held there each June (or, Juin, if you want to be all French about it). This was something of an excuse to walk around the coolest city in the world, buy a lot of CDs with the incredibly weak (at the time) Canadian dollar, eat multiple meals at Ben’s (another place that has since been torn down and relegated only to the memories of my ever-crystalizing “youth”) and hang out with each other. Though, some of the greatest moments of my racing-loving life have happened in the hairpin of Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve, in particular Nigel Mansell’s final-lap breakdown and my hero, Nelson Piquet, taking the improbable/hilariously awesome victory in 1991 (this is seriously one of the top five moments of my entire life, I thought my head was going to explode I was so excited. And to see it in person – amazing!). You don’t realize things at the time very often, but looking back, those are some of the best days of my childhood – I can look back on these weekends, once a year right after school let out, and chart the course of my adolescence, for both better and worse. That’s a very specific window to have into your life as a youngster, and one that I’m more grateful to have as I get older. Though of course, at the time, nothing makes you feel like more of a grown-up than swearing without worrying about getting in trouble, staying up late and watching foreign-language television, and always being able to order dessert, no matter what the meal. Funny what sticks out to you when you’re a kid.
But at the center of this was always the fact that we both really, really love auto racing. My dad was brought up with Wide World of Sports, watching black-and-white footage of his heroes driving on tracks all over Europe, seeing tape-delayed Indy 500s, watching Daytona when it was still run on the beach, that sort of thing. And because of this, I was brought up watching live broadcasts on ESPN of F1 races, back when the WWL was half-financial news, and if you woke up early enough (a live afternoon race in western Europe means seven or eight AM here – ask anyone I’ve ever forced to watch one of these races with me, they can tell you), you could see them switch from stock reports to Bob Varsha’s lead-in for some race in an obscure locale that you knew you’d be the only one able to identify on a map at school on Monday. Seriously, who else in a fourth grade classroom can tell you where Spa-Fancorchamps is, but the one goofy racing fan?
And so this shared love affair/obsession continues today. Every year since I’ve moved to Indiana, I’ve gone to the 500, and almost every year, my dad has come out for it, too. In ’06, he came out for the two-night doubleheader at Terre Haute (best two sprint car races I’ve ever seen, with Daron Clayton taking both feature wins in heroic, albeit insane fashion), and now, since 2007, we’ve met up in Ohio for the 4 Crown. Two nights of camping, getting filthy dirty, and spending time doing nothing but talking about the things we love, it’s something I look forward to unlike most anything else in my year. Plus, the racing isn’t bad at all.