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Saturday, April 16, 2005

Tony Vickio- Lap 9

Originally uploaded by Sally Ann.

Painting at the Big Tracks
by Tony Vickio

Lap 9: Right out of Stephen King

Charlie and the "Michigan Gang" have the cardboard patterns scattered all over the Grass. It resembles a giant jig saw puzzle. The Winn Dixie logo is center front and fairly large. Looking at the drawing, it shows a white background with Red and Blue letters. Charlie had already started laying out the pattern for Winn Dixie when I walked over and told him, "instead on painting the red letters first and "cutting" the background white around them, let's paint the whole background white, then paint the letters". It will take more time but it will be brighter. The red will show much brighter if sprayed over white instead of the green grass. "Your the boss", he said grinning. "Let's get a gun and some white and we will spray this huge, white rectangle". It measures about 70'x175'. We string the guide lines and gathered everyone around to give them lessons on the sprayer. Paul jumped right in, clean cloths and all. He was over aggressive! Before I could explain something, he was already trying to do it! A big problem later! Charlie was immediately at "war" with the gun! If he touched it, he somehow got paint on himself. The gun was brand new, but as you will see, this machine was "alive"! I missed Raymond, the guy that helped me when I first came down here. He moved on. I don't know if he did it on his own or was let go, but I missed him. He would have earned his keep hauling the paint buckets out to the sprayer on this job as there were 200 five gallon pails! The projected amount of paint required for this job was 850 gallons. We had 1,000 gallons sitting on the trailer!

After an hour or so and 150 gallons of paint, the rectangle was done. We packed up and headed to the motel. I wanted to be at the track at sunrise as tomorrow was a going to be a long day as I wanted to paint the five small logos. Bobby and I headed for the bar at the motel. The bar tender had our supper behind the counter. Time to relax! The bartender's husband was at his usual seat at the end of the bar, by the fake wood panel wall, where the light was dim and he could hide in his smoke cloud (non stop smoker). Off to his right was an ashtray filled with freshly smoked buts, some of them still smoking, a mug of draught beer sat between him and the computerized Poker Game. The glare from the screen cast a bluish tint to the smoke in front of his face. He would sit there, sip the beer, puff on the cigarette hanging from his mouth, head turned sideways at a tilt and tipped back a little, one eye partially closed to avoid the smoke in his eyes and play that thing all night! It made me wonder why anyone would go through that annoyance of smoke in your face instead of just putting that cigarette down for one minute! I turned back to my beer and slowly took another sip. We ate like pigs out of our Styrofoam containers right there at the bar, had a few more beers and headed for the room. Long day tomorrow!

The alarm goes off! I reach out to hit the button. My eyes suddenly open wide and I remember where I am! "S#*#" is say out loud. Bobby says, in a low sleepy voice, "what"? I say, "s#**, it's time to get up"! "Yea", he says. "let's get moving, long f#**+# day today", I say. Bobby says, "Christ, it's still dark". "I know, it will be light when we get there", I said. As we were driving in, I was wondering if the Michigan crew was up. I should have called Charlie, now we will have to wait until they show up, I thought. We drive right by the entrance to the track, on purpose, and headed for the Deli. I turn right, into the parking area and stop. Coffee, Apple Pie and walk up to the counter. Hi "honey", the cashier says. She's still there! The other girls are already starting to cook lunch, you can smell it. Mmmmm, smells good! I look at the "stuff" they are cooking......I actually find myself staring at the "stuff" for a moment before I snap out of it. I realize I don't know what it is, but it smells good. I say "hi" to the cooks, who are now staring at me, and I walk out the door.

By the time we pull into the track, the Michigan crew is right behind us. I couldn't believe it! Good, I thought. This is good, something is going good! We pull up to the 1,000 gallons of paint on pit lane and stop. Where do we start? We gather in a group meeting at the paint trailer. Everyone has a coffee in hand waiting for me to give the orders. I can see it in everyone. They are excited and anxious to get started as they have never done this before. I decide it is best to split into groups of two. I wanted Bobby with me. They would each take a logo and layout the patterns (made of cardboard) on the ground in their locations. Some of these logos took over 50 pieces! Just like a huge jigsaw puzzle. The grass being 6 acres, it took time just to walk from one logo to the other. As we are putting the Winn Dixie Patterns down, I think of the hours, or days, it must have taken to cut these cardboard patterns. I could see it made it fairly easy to paint, but the time to produce them was not the way to go! Doing a grid would have been less time and effort. Anyway, we were stuck with this method, let's get it done!

We had two spray units. New ones! No more smoke rings! Mike McWilliams (general manager) gets things done! Bobby fires up the gun, puts a new 5 gallon pail of red paint on the sprayer and we are spraying! This time we're shooting "turf" paint (water based latex). Goes on better, more coverage. Spraying, once the patterns were down was brainless and fast. I would spray the edges and the guy on the other gun would fill in. Charlie was on the other gun. This is where it got ugly and it never got any better. Charlie had a big problem! After Raymond spilled the paint on the grass the first time I painted a logo, I now set up a "Paint Zone". It is an area where the sprayer and opened pails of paint sit. The area is covered with a blue tarp or lots of cardboard. It's a good thing I did this as Charlie had some sort of negative reaction with the sprayer. It was as if the sprayer suddenly took on a "life" of its own. Honestly, it was right out of a Stephen King book! It was like his book, "Christine", the car that had a life of its own and was out to kill people. This spray unit was "alive"! I swear, at times I actually caught Charlie and the sprayer staring each other down! It was all to clear to me, that sprayer was out to get Charlie! I don't know what he did or said to it, but their first contact there was serious hostilities. The first shot was fired when Charlie put the first pail of white paint in the sprayer. He was getting ready to prime the gun (you turn the nozzle to "prime" at low pressure you point the spray nozzle into the empty pail and hold the trigger down. You hold it until the paint starts coming out. You "bleed" the air out of the hose). Somehow, the nozzle got turned from "Prime" to "Spray". Not only that, but the pressure was at "high". The instant the air stopped coming out of the hose, the paint hit the bottom of the empty 5 gallon pail at about 200 mph and 1,500 lbs of pressure. Naturally, it bounced right back at Charlie! Basically, the front side of Charlie is now red! It covered Charlie! Good thing it was latex! He looked over at me with this "what the f*** did I do"! I look and I swear I saw him lick his lips to taste the paint! You can think what you want, but I know the nozzle was on "prime, because I put it there. This machine was "alive"! For the next two days, I actually found my self nodding to the sprayer as I walked by as to say "hi, how are you today" and not making eye contact. Humbly, I would think, "you are a nice sprayer, please don't hurt me"! as I walked past a little faster taking a quick glance over my shoulder to see if was chasing me. After the first few hours, it was clear, Charlie was doomed! The hose actually came loose once, right by where Charlie was holding it, spraying him again. He was coved with a different color of paint every night!

Same routine. Go to the bar, drink a Bud, eat out of Styrofoam containers, hit the sack, wake up by the alarm, deli, "hi honey", grass. Here we were, back again. Once again we have hit the weather perfectly. It is a beautiful, sunny morning. The grid layout for the Die Hard 500 went pretty smooth. The flags were all in and I am feeling good! Now that the "big" Die Hard 500 logo is laid out I decide to finish all the other logos and all we have to do tomorrow is paint the 500 logo. We are not using boards for the lines, it's all freehand. We start to paint. All morning we are laying paint. We have a system. Charlie and Paul are taking turns filling the outlines I am spraying, Peter is hauling paint to the sprayers and Bobby is helping me. Oh, and Missy is helping anyone who needs assistance. It is going good! We will be done painting the small logos today! I am smiling, it is going really good! Oh I try to keep it out of my head, but this one thought keeps haunting me................"it is going too good"!

We break at noon. To the deli. It is hot and I need some Gatorade. You can tell it's getting near race weekend. The tables are gone as is the isle shelving. Stacks of cases of beer, floor to ceiling, thousands of them, fill the deli where the tables and isles used to be. There are so many cases of beer, they are stacked six feet high and have isles between them. They are unloading the cases from a tractor trailer as we walk in. The closer to race weekend, the more things change. They are so busy in the Deli she doesn't even call me "honey"! I walk away, Gatorade and some of that "stuff" in hand, with my head down. What's going on? Get a few new guys around and all of a sudden, no more "honey"! Oh well!

Back at the grass. I needed something from the shop. I can't remember what it was, but I do remember Bobby saying, "I'll go get it"! Either, he has seen enough grass or he just wanted another chance to drive the Mustang. I think it was the Mustang! Away he goes, tires smoking! The crew from Michigan watch in awe. I don't want to look. We are so used to no one being here we usually run on the old air strips around 80 mph. Well, a few days before the race, they open the Jail. Yeah, they have a permanent one right at the track. For the weekend, this fat guy parks his motor home right across the road from the jail and sets out a sign. It reads "Bail Bonds"! No kidding! State Police and Sheriff Deputies come in and take over securing the track. The track grounds run under state law from about four days before the race. Bobby got the part I needed and was on his way back, yup, about 70 mph. The Mustang has a strobe caution bar light mounted on the trunk with yellow lights in it. The top was down and Bobby was haulin' ass, back to the grass! Come to find out later, Bobby is color blind! As he's driving across the old runway a flashing in the mirror caught his attention. "Where is the switch, must have hit it with my knee and turned the lights on", he thinks to himself. He doesn't slow down, just keeps going while fumbling for the switch to shut the lights off while he's flying down the runway. Then came the siren! He thinks, "I don't have a siren"! He snaps upright in the seat, eyes wide and looks in the mirror. Alabama State Police in Hot Pursuit! Being color blind, he didn't know the yellow light from the State Police blue light. He thought it was the light bar on the Mustang flashing all that time! Bobby slows down and pulls the car over. The Trooper, who followed him about a mile was not happy! He steps out of the car, adjusts his hat and sunglasses and walks up to Bobby. Here is Bobby, hands 10 and 2 on the wheel, sitting there with a slight hunch, top down waiting for the ass chewin'! Right out of a movie was the trooper. About 6'-8", 250lbs. "What the f*** you doin' boy"? "You can't drive like that around here. Who the hell do you think you are? When you come down here you gotta obey the rules!"! he said. Bobby is sliding down in the seat. All he's thinking is here he is with the Official Watkins Glen Pace Car and this huge Alabama State Trooper towering over him.....what are they (Watkins Glen Race Track) going to say"? Yes sir, no sir", was all Bobby could say. The trooper, I don't know why finally let him go. Because of the Pace Car I would guess. When he got back, his eyes were really wide and he was all jittery. The weird part was how slow he was driving! I said, "What the hell is the matter with you? You look pale"? He says, "You ain't gonna belive what happened"! We gather around and with arms waving and sticking his stomach out to mimic the Trooper, he told the story. We all had a good laugh. It is too late to start the 500 logo, so we call it a day.

The routine.... Bar, Styrofoam, bed, alarm, deli, "honey" and grass. Today we paint the Die Hard 500 logo and we are done!! I'm getting really good at spraying lines. We move right along. Of course, instead of white, Charlie is now Black and Red. The battle with Christine goes on. Bobby and I are spraying right along when the Grounds Keeper comes onto the grass with his John Deere Gator. He pulls up to me, gets off of the Gator and slowly walks over to me. "What do you need"? I say. He says, "Mike (general Manager) just got a call from the NBC camera man on top of the Grandstand Tower (he looks over his right shoulder and up to the tower, 13 stories tall). He said you better go look at the "0" in the 500, it is not right. I said, "I haven't painted the "0" yet". I whip around and look! 300 feet away and Paul is trying to paint the "0" on his own!! Up until now, things were going good. Now, we have a crisis!

I turn and run towards the "0", hollering at the top of my lungs, "STOP, STOP"!

Lap 10: A major setback

Click on the headline "Tony Vickio-Lap9" for an enlarged view of Charlie's drawing.


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