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Friday, June 03, 2005

Tony Vickio Lap 16

Bill Elliott
Originally uploaded by Sally Ann.
Experiences of "The World Famous"
by: Tony Vickio

Painting at the Famous Race Tracks

Lap 16: Race Time

We are at the track, early as usual on Saturday. Today is the Busch Race. Felt good not to worry about cars sliding thru the grass. I didn't feel good about cars hitting the wall! The usual sellout crowd is coming in. It's about 6:45 am and we are in the "War Room" at the Maintenance Office; Yup, cookies, doughnuts and cakes, supplied by the food vendors at the track. One hand washes the other. When they need something from maintenance, they are taken care of. When maintenance is hungry, they are taken care of. Once you are on the "inside", it is pretty neat. Hungry during the day? Just go to the Hospitality Tent and eat. One thing about Alabama is, the food is good, but man is it fattening.

We are drinking coffee while talking to Mike and the boys. The NASCAR Garage opens at 7:00am. We've got a lot of time before the Busch race. We all move out to the closest pick up truck. Mike takes his spot at the back, so he can put his foot on the bumper. The rest of us shuffle for position. It's gets a little tense before we are all nestled in around the box of the truck. Elbows on the box, coffee in hand, I just happen to look to my right...........I do a double take. There, standing by the Sign Shop, all by themselves are Sal and Harriett. They are staring at us! By the look I'm getting, they are thinking, "what the hell are you two dumb asses doing? Get over here with us". I turn back, wondering if they saw me look. I look at Larry; he's oblivious to the situation. I sort of jerk my head up and over my right shoulder, in their direction, and like a ventriloquist, talking with my lips stretched tight and not moving, I say, "they’re looking at us!", while shaking my head in their direction a couple of more times. Larry looks over and says, "Ah......, they caught me, let's go see what they want". We take our elbows off the truck, turn and walk over to them. "What are you two idiot's doing, leaving us here by ourselves"? I told you that's what they were thinking! When does the race start"? they ask. I said, "About six hours". "What the hell are we going to do for six hours?" they both say at once. "We're going to the garage; we will meet you here later". Away we went.

Any NASCAR fan would "kill" to have a "NASCAR Garage Pass". A NASCAR Garage Pass is one of the most sought after credentials in motor sports. You can not buy one, they are not for sale. The only way to get one is to have it issued to you by NASCAR. We are lucky enough to know the right people. We have been around racing long enough to know how to use the pass. We go in, look all around, talk to some guys, and take our pictures and leave. We spend an hour or so in there watching all sorts of things. Engine changes are always fun to watch. We've seen enough, so we head back to the women.

The Busch race has its share of wrecks. One car through the grass has Allan, from Atlanta, working late that afternoon. What concerns me is the car that hit the wall right at one of the logos. As soon as the race is over, we are at the sign shop gathering the supplies we will need to fix the damage. Mike comes over and asks how many logos got hit. I say, "Just one". "You’re lucky", he says. "Tim will be out there to do the white", he says. Tim is the track painter. Come to find out, we don't paint any of the white on the wall. Tim will do that for us. We just take care of our logos. We get out to the damaged logo and go "up". WOW! I have never seen a hit up close before! On TV it looks like the wreck is over in a second or so. Up here, you stand by the wall, look off towards Turn 1 to see where the skid marks start. Way, way, way over there I can see the start of the slide, maybe 500 feet or more. They do a lazy twist, come up the banking and impact the wall about 200 feet from the logo. Then the marks continue down the wall, across the logo and stop maybe 200 feet past the logo. A big, black rubber mark is left on the wall. Tim will repair this up to our logo. Good thing! The total "hit" is over 400 feet! We repair the logo, repainting just where the black rubber marks go across the logo. This didn't take long and we had fixed our first hit. In a future trip, we are faced with repairing 13 logo hits (a record), that forced us to work on the "high banks" late that night and come back Sunday morning, right before the race to finish up. We needed Track Security and the State Police helicopter on that job. Stay tuned for a future tale!

Sunday morning, we go through the same routine. "Where are we going to watch?" Harriett says. "I think we will go down inside Turn 1 by the infield wall. It is as close to the track as you can get", I say, with a certain amount of authority. This is where the Jet Blowers, wreckers, ambulances and Pace Car park. It is beyond the spectator fence, right on the edge of the track! I tell her, "it’s right down from the Tri Oval, near the Start/Finish, let's go on the track, out to the Tri Oval and watch the Pre Race show and the Driver Introductions". With our "All Access" maintenance credentials, we could go anywhere, even on the track. We are standing with all the VIP's, watching the show. I notice this guy next to me in a suit. I pay no attention. When he walks away I look and say,"S***! That was Dan Marino". You never know who you might see here. The show is over and a stage, towed by a brand new John Deere (track sponsor) tractor is pulled into place. A bus pulls up and right in front of us, the drivers start piling out of the bus. The Driver Introductions are about to begin. I got some good photos! All the drivers parade right in front of us as they are introduced to the crowd. When the Driver Introductions end, we head for our spot inside Turn 1.

I unlock the gate at the fence (Mike trusts me with a "Master" key. That way we don't have to call security every time I need a gate unlocked when we are working), the people lined up there just look at you like, "how the hell do get to go in there?" We walk in and there is "Buster", the Pace Car driver. I go over to him, shake his hand, and talk bull. Over there by the Jet Dryer is "Jimmy" Elkins. He works in Maintenance and is a good friend of mine. More on Jimmy later as he has a Dirt Track Late Model race car. During a race, he drives the Jet Blower. Standing by Jimmy is my cousin, 'Ernie" Thurston. He just started his new job at Daytona Speedway, working For ISC (International Speedway Corp.) He heads up Track Safety. We go up to each other and "hug". Italians you know. Mafia. We all mingle around, excitement growing as the race is about to start.
What a view! You can see the whole Tri Oval, the start/finish, right near us and Turn 1. We turn around and there is the Turn 1 Jumbo Tron (a huge TV showing the race for the Turn 1 Grandstands). What a spot to watch from! The sound of the cars, this close, actually hurts! The race is going smooth. When Dale Earnhardt gets the lead, the 150,000 fans roar. I mean, the sound is something you have to experience, you can't describe it! It actually drowns out the race cars! As the race goes on we hear this horrendous sound, a metal to concrete sound. We look and right in the Tri Oval is Dale and Bill Elliott. They had both slammed the wall. Dale and Bill are sliding right towards us, maybe a 1/4 mile away. Dale is on his side, Bill's car is on fire, they are hooked together. The fire is going into Dale's car. Now more cars wreck......"the Big One!" They are headed right for us, like slow motion, they get closer and closer and not slowing down much. They slide right by us, maybe 30 feet away, and come to a stop. You can't imagine how far they slid! I got a little nervous about getting hit with debris as there is no catch fence where we are. You could feel the heat we were so close. No one was seriously hurt. Dale had some burns. It was scary! The thing I remember the most was the sound of the cars hitting the wall. It was awesome!

The race is finally over. This is cool! As soon as the race ends, all of us go right out of the "slot" in the wall and onto the track. We drive around Turn 1 and 2, riding with Ernie, to the end of the back straight where a there is a gate to the outside of the track. The guards are opening the gate by the time we get there. We are back at the Maintenance Office before the winner is in Victory Lane!

We stay for the party after the race. Harriett and Sal we're ready to "get out of Dodge". The next morning we were headed for Chattanooga at dawn. It is a "long" ride home. The next adventure has Larry and I going south, in July, but not for a race. After that, I almost ended up getting killed at Watkins Glen!

Lap 17: Almost the Last Tale!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tony, these just keep getting better and better. Please keep write'n man.

10:48 PM  
Anonymous The Famous said...

There are some awesome tales coming!

6:56 PM  

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