Link Red-StaterWisdoms

Red-StaterWisdoms explores the differences between the Red and Blue states on social, personal and political issues.

My Photo
Location: New York

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Tony Vickio-Lap 8

Green grass
Originally uploaded by
Sally Ann.
Painting at the Big Tracks
By Tony Vickio

Lap 8: Getting Started

The motel we are staying at is between the Speedway and the town of Talladega. It is old and not very big. It was painted this dull blue color that just didn't fit the place. This is the closest motel to the track. The rest are in Oxford or Anniston, about 22 miles away. It does have a Dining Room and a Bar. The bartender (Kathy) got to know us well, as we were in there every night after coming from the track. There was nowhere else to go! If there were any bars in town, I wouldn't dare go in one especially with that Mustang out front with New York plates. By the time we made it to the bar each night, the Buffet in the Dining Room was over. Kathy would always have two big platters of food for us behind the bar, when we came in, no charge! This was good.

At the track everyone talked to us. We were the foreigners with the accent. This one guy, he drove a large Ford Tractor with a huge mower behind it. He was about 6'-5", 230 lbs. If you cut off your hand at the wrist, put a fingernail on the stub, that was the size of his thumb! Shake hands with him, you don't use your hand for an hour! I saw this hand, in fist form, about 6" from my face (a little later). Through conversation we found out his wife was the bartender at our motel. He rode that tractor all day, mowing. The track is on about 1,400 acres and it is mostly all grass. They have about 3 large mowers that run everyday. It takes about four days to mow the entire facility, by then the grass where you started has grown back and you start over. It is a non stop operation.

We are usually at the track a week before the race. Basically, except for the mowers and a few maintenance men, we are alone. Monday morning, Bobby and I go out to the Tri-Oval to see how it looks, prior to painting the logos. Driving around this huge facility is fun. No one around, you can drive eighty on those big runways and no one bothers you! Especially with the Mustang, it's hard to slow down. We fly out to the Tri-Oval, pull the car out onto the track and stop in front of the "grass" at the Start finish. Sometimes it takes a lap to come to a stop! We get out of the car and look at the grass. It looks like s#**! They have had a drought and it is an ugly, dark brown! I get on the Radio al call Mike McWilliams. Larry Johnson retired and Mike is the new General Manager. Mike is about 45 years old, 5'-8" and 220lbs. He has a neatly trimmed white beard and short "salt and pepper" hair. He is slow talking but has the respect of everyone. When he wants something done, he only says it once. Over the years, Mike and I became friends. When I talk to him on the phone I always say, "Mike, how are you doing"? I know the answer I am going to hear, "I'm workin' like a dog"! His favorite saying. I call Mike on the radio and ask if he can have the grass mowed on Tuesday. "Where are you", he asks. I said, "Out on the grass". I'll send a grounds keeper out to see you. I look at Bobby, "grounds keeper"? Sure enough in about 5 minutes, here comes a John Deere Gator and the "grounds keeper". I'd say he was around 35, 5'-9", 170 lbs. He had short hair and sharp facial features and rugged looking. He did not look friendly. He walks out to us and says, "What's the problem"? "No problem, I just was wondering when you could cut the grass". I didn't want to cut it this early, but I was afraid of the time that was going to be needed for the painting, especially with the crew I had and the use of their "cardboard patterns". I told him I would like to cut it down to 1". He didn't like that because the grass was already looking bad because of the drought. He finally said "OK, but right after we mow it, I want to spray for Fire Ants and then we will paint it green". I looked at him with a puzzled look and said, you are going to paint 6 acres of grass green"? He said "Yup, can't have it look like this on TV". When the fans come to a Race Track, most of them never think how did this or that get there or who did that? The Track is groomed, polished to perfection for the show. Behind the scenes is so interesting!

In about an hour, here comes a large John Deere riding mower. The "grounds Keeper" is riding it. He is sitting upright in the seat, his feet are on two pedals and he steers the thing with two upright levers, one on the left and one on the right. The engine is in the rear and the mower deck is right under the driver. He revs the engine and "he's off"! We go back to the shop as it will take a few hours to mow. Back in the shop, Charlie, Missy and Peter are trying to sort out the patterns. As I watched them, I got a sick feeling in my stomach. I was wishing I had the artwork for these "patterns" before I came here so I could have done a grid drawing. You don't know what a "grid drawing" is? I will explain! Let's say you have a sheet of paper. On this paper is capital letter "A". On the paper it is 6" tall. The paper is covered with horizontal and vertical lines at 1/4" spacing. On the grass, you also "string" horizontal and vertical lines. Not a 1/4" as on the paper, but 12" apart. Now you count your spaces for the height of the letter on the paper (the height of the letter "A" on the paper is 24, 1/4" spaces. 6" tall), on the grass you count your spaces, (24) but on the grass the spaces are 12", not a 1/4", so you have your letter height 24 feet. I hope I didn't confuse you. If I did, don't worry about it until you go outside and paint some grass! I go over to where they are getting the patterns ready and walk up to Charlie. "Charlie", I say. "Is any help coming down"? I need help! He said, "Paul (owner of Britten Banners) is coming down, he will be here until we are done". One more man, not enough, but I was lucky I brought Bobby with me or I would be in serious trouble! Bobby became my "right hand man", literally!

Back out on the Tri-Oval, the mowing was done and the spraying of Fire Ants was underway. There are about three guys with these small tanks strapped to their backs, similar to the ones fireman use on brush fires, walking all over the Tri-Oval grass. A hose is attached to it and a "pump" handle is on the end. Here they are walking around, pumping "poison" on every ant hill they come to! More waiting! I get nervous! "Come on"! I whisper. I walk up to the "grounds keeper" and ask, "How much longer"? He doesn't answer, just walks away. Another hour goes by! I hear a tractor coming! I look. it's another John Deere type thing with a big tank on the back. A young girl is driving it. Walking along side of the tractor is an older woman (her mother) and a man (the father) each holding a coil of hose with a spray gun attached to the end. (They own a landscape company and do work for the track). It is a similar gun we use to paint the grass. In the transparent tank, on the back of the machine, is a greenish mixture, sloshing around as the tractor drew closer. The girl driving twisted around in the seat al pulled a lever. The engine revved up and the mother and father started spraying the "burnt" grass green! I couldn't believe what I was watching! No paint masks, nothing! Painting the Tri-Oval at Talladega Superspeedway green! WOW! When they were done, they were green! When you watch a NASCAR race on TV, look at the tri-oval grass. It will be a nice dark green. Then look as the cars go around the track at the other grass........scruffy and brown. A big difference.

Almost ready! I am anxious! I have these mood swings about this job. I feel good about things for a minute then I "swing" to a mood of severe depression! I think, "I opened my big mouth, I said I would do I have to do it"! Stop thinking of all this crap and get this job started, I tell myself.

Unless you have experienced it, it is hard to describe the pressure doing this type of work. When you take on a job like this, no one wants to hear an excuse. There are no excuses! Not even weather. You may have to work all night! When the race is televised "live" on Sunday afternoon that grass better have lettering on it.......period! The sponsors pay the freight! Enough of the pressure thing, lets get to work.

Charlie and the "gang" are unloading patterns. Piles and piles of cardboard. "Do you have a drawing of the placement of the logos on the grass"? I ask. "We have it", he said. I feel better! Now comes the slow job of measuring the "six acres" of grass to place the 6 logos. You do a lot of walking! I look up! The sound of a car coming. It pulls to a stop on pit lane and a man gets out. He is about 38 years old, 150 lbs, brown hair and dressed in Hager slacks, golf shirt and sunglasses. In a later "tale", wait til you see our sunglasses! It is Paul from Britton Banners. We shake hands, he thanks me for being there. He's looking all around, he's ready to work! I ask Charlie another question, "Did you order the paint"? He looks at me with this "why didn't I think of that"? look. My heart sunk to my knees! He said, "Sure, isn't it here yet"? Oh wow! things are looking better! I get on my radio and call maintenance. "Has anyone seen any paint for the grass yet"? I asked. Someone came back on the radio and said, "Yup, we unloaded the tractor trailer yesterday and put it on one of our trailers. Do you want it out there"? "No", I felt like saying. "Bring it out, we can park it on pit lane", I said. Paul said he ordered what the drawing called for, plus some extra, just in case. Damn good thing he did!

Lap 9: Here we go......Painting


Post a Comment

<< Home