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Saturday, March 19, 2005

Tony Vickio-Lap 5

Pace Car
Originally uploaded by Sally Ann.

Experiences of "The World Famous"
by: Tony Vickio

Painting at the Famous Race Tracks

Lap 5: We paint the "Grass"

I walk out onto the grass with the same courage and stride of a Roman Gladiator ready to battle. I stepped into the area, took looooooong, sloooooooow steps. My body moving in slow motion, muscles taut, arms slowly swinging, head turning slowly left to right posturing for a fight. I was ready, mentally prepared to perform for the Roman masses, prepared for a bloody victory. I took a deep powerful breath and I looked across the track and up into the stands and then ....whooosh....... my breath left me as if someone had smacked me in my gut with a ramming log. My Coliseum was empty. No one was there, not even a bird. My enemy wasn"t a lion, it was the GRASS! My courage was gone. I was about to be eaten! I could actually hear and feel the grass growing up around me! Another panic attack! How many could I live through? A couple more before the day would end.

I heard a noise! I look to my left, Mike and Raymond, my helpers, were kneeling on the grass, opening up a 5 gallon pail of white, "enamel" paint. They were fighting with the tabs on the plastic lid. It reminded me of two cats playing with a ball of yarn, batting at the pail, rolling on their backs and scratching it with their feet to get it open. It was quite a sight. I open my mouth to say something......I stop and think, no use, I just shake my head, turn and start to walk away. Then I hear one of them say, "*t!!" I didn't want to turn around. You guessed it, the contents of the pail, all 5 gallons of white paint, is now on the ground. I'm looking at it, my eyes are bugged out. I can't speak! The loss of five gallons of paint isn't the problem, the big, white spot on the grass is! Disaster and we haven't started yet! Now we are trying scoop up the paint with shovels. What a %**king mess. Finally, I tell them, let it dry and we will clean it later....somehow. I can't let the spilled paint distract me now. Let's get painting!

Mike suddenly stands straight up and says, "I remember we had 2x4s! We used 2x4s for a straight edge to spray the letters" he said with a surprised look on his face, like he's thinking, "Where did that come from?” I thought, "That’s not a bad idea. This will give us a nice, straight edge on the letter. I'll have a solid edge I can spray along. I will spray an outline then it is easy to just come along and fill in the letter. As I'm thinking and looking at the red flags on the ground, I see a problem! I have to figure where the hell a letter is in this maze of red flags is before I can paint! After a couple minutes of staring, squinting and making my eyes blur, the "T" magically appears. I can see the "T"! I scream right out loud, "I CAN SEE THE “T”. I look at the guys and they are staring at me! What do you mean you can see the "T". You have to remember, they think I know what I'm doing! Oh man! When I finally see the "T", I also see something that indicated things might be going my way. When I located the "T" in this maze of flags, I see the big, white spot in the grass, where Raymond spilled the paint, was inside the lower part of the "T". I just dodged a bullet! We will be painting right over the spilled paint!

About seven hard pulls and the sprayer is running. Dark smoke, white smoke, even some sparks came flying out of the exhaust on the, well used, five horse power Briggs & Stratton engine. The rope cord was frayed and didn't look like it had too many pulls left. I could tell it hadn't been started since the last time the grass was done. It was sputtering so bad, it actually shot out a couple of perfectly round, white smoke rings out of the exhaust! They floated peacefully out across the grass in slow motion, about a foot off of the ground, slowly rolling around and around. I watched them disappear into just a whisper of light gray smoke. I thought, "I wish I was going with them"! Back to the task at hand. After about three minutes, the engine smooths out a little. It never did run "smooth". The muffler was shot. Now instead of a nice, peaceful, quiet day, the steady drone of this un-muffled engine reminded me of how a B-24 would have sounded taking off from one of the old runways the track sits on. The hose was covered with dry white paint. As I moved the hose around, pieces of dry paint would crack and fall out. Through the cracks in the paint, you could see the hose used to be blue. The gun handle was no different. It also was covered with dry, white paint. The nozzle had so much paint on the tip it looked like a golf ball with paint coming out the end. "I can't be fussy", I thought, somehow it sprayed paint and that is all it has to do.

It is time! "This is it", I mumbled to myself! I put two guys on the 2x4s, kneeling on the grass at each end of the 2x4 and I step into the "T". The spray gun has a pistol grip with a large trigger that takes your four fingers to pull. There is about a 30" extension on the gun to the nozzle. This helps your back, you don't have to bend over too far. Inside of the "T", I spray a test pattern. I am now experimenting with the pressure, and most of all "spraying paint!" We devised some ingenious hand signals because the engine noise was so loud we couldn’t talk to each other. Pointing my index finger up and twirling it around, gave Raymond the signal to increase the pressure. Pointing my thumb down and moving my hand up and down gave him the signal to decrease the pressure. When I signaled, Raymond would move his head to mimic my hand signals! I couldn't look at him because I would start to laugh! More pressure.....he would twirl his head like I was twirling my finger, while turning the pressure knob. Less pressure, his head would bob up and down, like my thumb, while turning the knob. Oh my God, what a sight!

After about five minutes of frantic hand signals, Raymond must have been dizzy by now, we got the pressure to what I thought was just right. If it was too high, it would blow the grass right out of the ground. Too low, it would just dribble out the nozzle. Now, it was just right! AAAgggghhhhhhh as Homer Simpson would say! With Raymond "running" paint to the sprayer, two guys kneeling on the ground with the 2x4 straightedge and a man holding the hose so it doesn't get in the wet paint, I pull the trigger! I didn't know it at the time, but this was the start of a new era! My sign business was about to take a "New Road"! I pull the trigger and spray a pattern along the 2x4! I spray a little more and the guys with the 2x4 pick it up and move it up the side of the letter another eight feet. I spray more paint along the board, they move again. This is so "cool"! The paint is thick, no thinner is used as you want it to cover the grass. I found my self thinking, "This is fun"! Of course I had forgotten about all the stress it took to get to this point and the consequences if the layout is wrong! We paint on! They have to move this board four times as the letters are 30 feet tall. All of a sudden, it’s "Time Out"! We need to get more 2x4s. They get so covered with the thick white paint, they are marking up the grass near the letters as we move them. This takes time. It’s like watching a Keystone Cops movie! Instead of one guy getting into a pick up truck and driving to the maintenance shop, everyone is trying to get into the cab! Those that can’t fit in the cab are jumping into the back of the truck........while it’s moving! It showed me, "I'm not alone"! Nobody wants to be out here! I walk over to the sprayer to shut it off and then I think, “With that frayed starter rope, will it start again?” I turned the throttle down and let it run.

Forty minutes go by and I finally see a truck on the horizon. The Keystone Cops are back! New boards, we move on. I tried not to get paint on the hands of the two guys holding the boards, but it became useless! It finally got to the point, when I sprayed up the side of the 2x4 I didn't even stop. I painted right over their hands! They didn't have to hold the board while I painted, it wasn't going to blow away, but I guess it made fell important. At first they jumped and looked at each other and shouted “What the hell!” After a while they didn't seem to mind! They actually told me keep going! Rubber Gloves?.....too late! Once I have the letter in an outline, another man on the other gun comes along behind and fills the letter in. He just gets into a rhythm of "swinging" the nozzle back and forth while slowly walking backwards. It's a brainless job......I wish I was doing it! The guys were fighting to take turns! They were shoving each other and hollering. “Oh my God! I told them, "I don't care who paints, just take turns! You spray outside of my line, I will kill you!" They made me nervous, so when I sprayed along the 2x4, I would paint inside the line about two feet. This gave them a big cushion. I ended up going over each letter anyway, as they were not painting in an even manner, leaving light and dark spots in the letter. To anyone watching, it had to be sight, two guys kneeling on the ground, holding a 2x4, another guy, me, spraying along the board, right across their hands, three guys fighting over the other gun and two guys holding the hoses up off of the wet paint while we painted. Oh, I forgot, Raymond, a Camel cigarette hanging from his lips, smoke rolling up from the cigarette into his face. This forced him to tilt his head slightly and squint his eyes. The pack of Camels rolled up in his T-Shirt sleeve, accented his muscles as he carried two 5 gallon buckets of paint to the sprayer at a time. Everyone had white paint on them. We finally get to the "G". I thought, "After this "G", one more letter to go"! I look at my flags and all of a sudden I get another panic attack! I realize the "G" is round! Round!............2x4s are straight. All production stops! It's like everyone walking in a line, the first guy stops and everyone is bumping into each other! They all stand around looking at each other wondering what's up? I look at the flags defining the "G", they are fairly close. I thought, "I have been spraying right along, I'm getting bolder. A bold thought drifts into my mind, "I'm going to try to freehand this". I would pick a spot between two flags and swing a slight arc between them, while walking backwards. I step inside the "G" and take a few practice strokes. I take a deep breath and here I go! The guys were "oohing and ahhing", like when you watch fireworks. I was like Fred Astair with a spray gun! Walking backwards and swinging the gun! My footwork was awesome! Like the old saying, "it was "Poetry in Motion"! To this day I will argue with anyone........I invented the "Moon Walk", not Michael Jackson! Moonwalkin' with a spray gun! I finished the "G" and found that freehand painting was so much easier and faster. I can get a decent line. Getting the "knack" of "Swinging" the wand (nozzle) and walking backwards, you can get a good, straight line. That figures! One letter to go and I get the hang of it! I take a string and stretch it between the flags on the letter "A" to define the straight line instead of the board. I spray right along the string. One thing that was hard to get used to was when painting grass you do not have to be perfect. You have to remember you are looking at this painting from across the track or from a camera in a blimp. You will never see a wobble in a line. On the newer grass paintings, there are more colors and they are more complicated, with outlines and blends. Later "laps" will tell of these.

Six hours of the paint sprayer engine in you ears sort of put you in a zone. Then, all of a sudden, like shutting a light switch off, Raymond shuts the sprayer offf.............Silence! I try to stand up straight, my back! Slowly, I am up! The spray gun is now loose in my hand, I look around at Raymond. Head tilted, smoke rolling in his face and he has this sh*t eatin' grin on his face. I smile back. It”s done! The grass is done! I raise my head slightly and sniff. Another sniff! I put my arm to my face a smell it. Holy S#@t, I realize I smell like a Briggs & Stratton engine! The smoke from that old engine had covered us! Just then, Billy comes on the radio and says, "Hey, Sign man, up here!" I'm looking around and he calls again, "up here, in the grandstand". I look way across the track and see him on top of the grandstand. I can see Billy waving. "Come up here and look. It looks great"! he says on the radio. I run over to the Pace Car and start to open the door, I look down and I stop! My shoes! Oh my God! They are covered with wet, white, enamel paint! Mixed in the paint is all of this "grass'! The "mixture" is about a half inch thick and slowly sliding down the sides of the shoes. It looked like my shoes were covered with a fresh salad, covered with too much Ranch Dressing! We decide to take Mike's truck! We headed out of the infield to the grandstand. This place is so big it takes a while to go from the infield, around to the back of the grandstand. We pull up to the grandstand and I jump out before he stops. I can't wait. I run to the grandstand, leaving white tracks behind, and up the steps to the top where Billy is standing. He is smiling. He always smiles, even if things are bad! I turn around and.........there it is! I stood speechless. I got goose bumps on my arms and up my back. My mouth was open, but not a word came out. I think if I was up there alone, I would have cried. I was looking at something I could not believe I did. I did it! I did it! I didn't know at the time what "doors" this one job would open in the future. Oh man, did I feel good! It was like I was seeing something in front of me and thinking, "how the hell did this crazy bunch of "nuts", including my self" do that! SMACK!! I jump and am back to reality. Billy slaps me on the back and said, "Beers are in the truck my man!" As we walked to the truck, I had to turn my head around and take another look, just to make sure it was still there and this was not a dream! I thought, "God, it’s done"! I felt like my feet were not touching the ground. I look over in the grass, the guys are picking things up......I felt good!

In my room that night I laid there thinking of the past week. I smiled and thought, "I can't believe I did that!" I felt "light", the weight was suddenly gone! I knew from that point on, there was nothing I couldn't paint. What a feeling! In later tales I find out how much I didn't know.....yet! I slept good!

The race on Saturday went smooth. Nobody slid through the logo. Sunday, the race was great! Earnhardt won! If someone slid through the grass and damaged it, it didn't matter. The race was over and I was ready to go home. I couldn't wait!

There was a staff party after the race. Everyone gathers for food, beer and talk. I thought I would go just for a while. Mike Helton was there. He was the president of Talladega Super Speedway at the time. He got up, called me up in front of everyone, put his arm around me and thanked me for coming down and getting them out of a bind! He also praised me for the fine job on the logo! If he only knew! Mike is now Vice President of Competition in NASCAR. We see each other a couple times a year at different tracks, and say hello, he's a friend. At the party, he asks, "When are you going home?" "I'm headed out right now." He said, "I think you better stay another night". I said, "Ooh no, I leaving now"! I'm ready to go home"! I wanna go home now! Come to find out, that weekend was when Rodney King got his beating. Mike didn't want me driving that "marked" pace car at night. Riots were going on all over the place. He was right, I stayed.

At daybreak, while everyone was still asleep, that Thunderbird Super Coupe was smokin' the tires, heading up route 59 to Gadsen, Alabama, and on up to Chattanooga where I saw something. I was in a hurry to get home, but I had to stop the car!

Lap6: A new job at Watkins Glen International

Tony's website


Anonymous Anonymous said...

How long did the grass painting stay on the grass? Did the enamel paint wear off?

9:16 PM  
Anonymous The Famous said...

Actually, after the race is over, they just let the grass grow for a week or so and mow it! "Turf" paint, what we use now, doesn't kill the grass, I don't know what this enamel did as I didn't go back there for a year. When I did go back, the grass was OK. Sometimes you can see traces of the logo on the dirt below the grass ofter the logo is mowed off, but basically, after mowing, the logo is gone.

12:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your best lap yet, laughed me arse off! Keep it up!

8:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since you are obviously a Nascar fan as well as a fine writer, how about some discussion on current stuff. I think a new hero emerged today at Atlanta. That 'back-flip' boy drove the wheels off at the end.Also that race is the greatest for doing something else for 450 miles and tuning in for a great finish. Whats 'the famous' think?

8:23 PM  
Anonymous Cinderman said...

Marveling at your riotous observations and imagery, and your memory of them. Cinderman is afraid though of how he could appear in future tales!

8:33 PM  
Anonymous The Famous said...

Glad to hear you are enjoying them! So far, the tales are only up to 1992! Much more to come and it gets better!

Brian Edwards? You are right on! He has a srint car/midget background, I believe, like Gordon. After driving that type of race car, driving these "school busses" is a piece of cake! They have a leg up on the "money boys" who by their way in. He will the next Superstar!

Cinderman, all I can say, "you have "earned" the right to worry! You still have time to leave the county!

7:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Give us a clue----about what you had to stop for.

11:58 AM  
Anonymous The Famous said...

You will have to come back here Saturday!

1:13 PM  

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