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Saturday, February 26, 2005

Tony Vickio-Lap 2

Talladega High Bank
Originally uploaded by Sally Ann.

Experiences of "The World Famous"
by: Tony Vickio

Painting at the Famous Race Tracks

Talladega Superspeedway 1992

I got there a day early, on a Sunday, got my room and was ready for a "cold one"! Thats when I found out there is no alcohol sold on Sundays! (The first sign things were going downhill) ! The Motel room I had was terrible! People were partying all night, it was like a Welfare Half Way House! Kids running all over, people with Bar-B-Q's right on the sidewalk! I got a new motel.

I set the alarm for 6:00am, so I would be the first one there. I went across the street and got a Breakfast Bun and headed to the track. Gate Closed! I'm early, so I wait. 7:00am, 7:30....8:00am, 8:30, still no one! Come to find out, the speedway is just across the line in a different time zone! I sure was early!

Once in, there were three maintenance men drinking coffee. I asked them if I could wash the car. They got the hose and said to have at it! There were two black men and a white man. They were right out of a movie. They had matching coveralls on, not washed in at least two weeks, and it was "hot"! How the hell they could wear these things was beyond me. The white guy had a hat on that was so sweat stained and dirty that you couldn't read the lettering on it! I think it was red, but I'm not sure. He had a beard that was about 8 inches long and stained from spit from his chewing tabacco! God, Festus in those western movies! He walked over to me and said "I see your from Watkins Glen"(the Pace Car), "they call me Outlaw". I said "hello"and introduced myself. He spits and says, " My wife, she's from Dundee"! I almost crapped! You see, Dundee is about 12 miles from Watkins Glen. I said, "How did you end up here"? He thinks for about ten seconds, looking lost, and says, " I used to drive tractor trailer. I hauled Grape Juice for Seneca Grape Juice and would stop for coffee in the little diner on the corner. My wife was a waitress I was haulin' juice down here and I talked her into going with me. Well, one day we were down here and I got a DWI with my truck and have been here ever since!" He brought her to the track the next day to meet me. They were nice people, even invited me to dinner, but I didn't take them up on it. I did bring a package back to her mother in Dundee for her.

In 1992, the speedway was nothing like it is now. The track only had about 30,000 seats. Now there are 190,000! There was a small, rusty fence around the track property. It was "bare bones". The Operations Manager, Larry Johnson, a chain smoker, was a great guy! Chain smoker isn't the right word. Chains have links, that means one at a time. Larry was a "rope" smoker.....................all the time! The only time I saw Larry without a cigarette was when he was coughing! The Operations Office was in an old house trailer out behind the track. It had a large canopy on it. It was made of tin and rumbled when the wind blew. Under the canopy was an old couch, smelled musty, you ended up smelling musty if you sat in it, I know, as I sat in it once! Some chairs,( none matching), one of those old, chromed, metal legged kitchen tables and a 55 gallon drum, cut in half, sitting on cinder blocks, to make a Bar-B-Q grill. I remember the grill on it was made of grating like you see on a garage floor drain. It was never cleaned and was almost solid with Gunk! There was some plywood on the ground to act as a floor. It was all warped so you had to watch where you walked. It was like I was wandering around in this "movie"and this was just the beginning!

We went over to this metal building that smelled like a rotted watermellon, and in there, in a dingy room was my office. They shipped the computer and vinyl lettering machine and materials up from Daytona and said " there it is and left"! Hit the light switch......nothing! Well, I try to get this running in the dim office as it did have a large window. I turned it on and found the program to be something I had never seen before! No information, manuals, nothing!! What a mess! They give me some sign orders, nothing big, and say they want them today! Well after a lot of wasted material, I figured out the basics. Remember......this is the First Day! Around 4:00 pm, I look out my window and there is a tall guy wheeling out this old Bar-B-Q grill, right in front of the window! He fires it up and proceeds to cook chicken. Can't remember his name, but he owned North Carolina Speedway. I ate chicken!

After a couple of days there, I meet "Billy" Swinford. Billy owned a large construction company and did work for the track. He was a fixture there. He was about 5'-8" tall and 250 lbs. He was "from the south"! What a personality. He turned out to be a good friend! The way he acted, you would think he owned the place. Everyone knew him. He drove an old Ford pick up, complete with rust. Don't know where he got the rust, but this thing had it, with dents! Inside there was room for two people. The rest of the room was taken up by Two Way Radios! Track radios, company radios and God knows what else. He wore at least three radios at once! One would ring and he would jump, search around for the right one and say, "Hey my man"! I think he gave me the obsession always to have a track radio on at all times while working at a track. Larry Orr (Sign painter/Helper) now understands the reason! (a later story). Larry will come into play in later tales and knows what I'm talking about. He never kids me about always having my track radio after what happened in Chicago. Thats another story! I told you so Larry!!

Billy called me one afternoon on the radio. I was out on the track painting "Talladega" on the retaining wall. Back then they only needed it done twice; one on the front straight and one on the back straight. The retaining wall is about 43" tall. It doesn't look large on TV, but the word Talladega can be as long as 120 feet! Painting it on the Banking (34 degrees) is another story at a later date. Well back to this story. He called and said, "Hey signman, ya done yet?" I said "yup". He said ,"Meet me at the Office'. I went over and he said he was taking me to supper! Good! "Get in the truck". I get in, oh I forgot, he always had a large beer cooler in the back and it was always full.

We left the track and went about two miles down the road, turned down this old dirt road, went a mile and came to this river. We pulled in this clearing and by the river were two very old black men fishing. The sun was shining, sparkling off the water and reflecting off their white hair. Over under some pine trees, in the shade on an old, warped wooden picnic table, two more black men were singing and fileting the cat fish. Over to the left of them, a man was dipping the fresh fillets in this white "stuff" and cooking them on a grill. Yup, made of a half of a 55 gallon drum! Looked like the other half from the one at the Maintenance Office. $1.00 got you a fresh filet of Cat Fish. I can still see us sitting on that old tailgate, sun shining through the pines, drinking beer and eating catfish til dark. Things are about to change!

Back at the track the next day they gave me helper. Again, right out of a movie. His name was Raymond. About 6'-2", slim but all muscle, strong southern accent, bad teeth, jeans, complete with holes in the knees, they were held up with an old leather belt that was about ten inches too long. The loop hung way down from the belt buckle. His T-Shirt was white but dirty and to top it off, he had a pack of cigeretts rolled up in the left sleeve. Camels of course! No kidding! A tatoo on his arm that was realy bad, looked like he did it himself. He had no education, but was always willing to do anything as long as you explained exactly as you wanted it. Being chosen to help the "sign guy from the north", put him above the other workers. He would follow me around just like a dog. If I turned around quick, I'd bump into him. You could say, "Raymond, I need your right arm," he would saw it off with a hand saw without even asking why I needed it! We got along good! I felt a little sorry for him, but he was happy. That night I wondered why they gave me helper. I was just about caught up, race day was coming and I was ready to go home. The next day I found out why Raymond was there.....they lay a bombshell on me that changes my painting career forever.


Anonymous Cinderman said...

How you gonna clean up that 'Deliverance' story for a mixed audience?I anxiously await the results.

10:27 PM  
Anonymous The Famous said...

Which "Deliverance" story are you thinking of?

2:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story! Especially for an Italian! Do not listen to the naysayers-leave the details makes for a good read..your style is engaging and it flows...but you pissed me off, Vickio! How can you leave it on a cliffhanger like that..."It changed my painting career forever"...get off your duff and finish this tale...I gott a know!!!!

7:17 PM  
Anonymous Cinderman said...

Remember when Tinkerman,Cinderman and the Famous laughed their way down all those Alabama backroads. As each added more color to the tale the laughing jag got more out of control.Don't think 'the motel room-the morning after' could survive the blog censors.Too bad.

8:19 PM  
Anonymous The Famous said...

Cliff hanger? The stories haven't even started yet. I don't know how many "Laps" there are, but so many more interesting ones to come! More photos also!

Cinderman, I could tell it but I think it get the three of us I trouble! I will think of a way to tell it!

11:00 AM  
Anonymous Cinderman said...

Maybe Tinkerman could help. Does he know about this World Famous literary endevor?

9:17 PM  

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