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Monday, June 13, 2005

Tony Vickio Lap 17

Talladega "Digs"
Originally uploaded by Sally Ann.

Experiences of "The World Famous"
by: Tony Vickio

Painting at the Famous Race Tracks

Lap 17: Almost was the Last Tale

I was in my shop, working on some business signs, when the phone rings. "Vickio Signs", I speak into the cordless phone. "I can't hear you, could you talk louder", I say as I'm walking towards the wall mounted TV to turn the volume down, I can't find the damned remote so I actually have to turn the volume down by hand! There, now I can hear! In that low, slow, southern voice, it's my friend Mike McWilliams, General Manager of Talladega Superspeedway. "Hi Mike, how are you doing?" I say. Mike gives his classic answer, "I'm workin' like a dawg!" We talk fro a minute and then he says, "how would you like to come down here for a week. We have so much work that you won't be able to get it done in the two weeks before the race". I say, "Sure, what do we have to do?" Mike says in his slow, low voice, "we have a ton of wall logos to put on, a lot of them. A media company will be here to go over the layout with you". I tell him I'm bringing one man with me and he says, "Be here the 12th".

"Oh great!" I think, and not in a good way! I hate being out in the sun and heat! Alabama in July! Oh God! Wall painting, he said. I start to make a list of what I need to bring. My computer and plotter are the big items. The paint and other materials I can get down there. There is a big sign supply house in Birmingham and the track has an account there. They also supply a man to travel to Birmingham when we need something. One more thing I need.............somebody to take with me! I get on the phone and call Larry Orr (Orr Signs). He went on the last trip and I don't want to pounce! "Hey Larry, want to go to Talladega?",I say on the phone. He says, "The race isn't until October". I tell him the story. He says, "I'd love to go". So in July, four days before my birthday, we, once again, are heading south.

We pull into the all familiar surroundings. We are greeted by friends. Most of them say, "What are you doing here"? In the Maintenance office, we are talking to Mike about the job, when I remember we don't have a place to stay yet. "Mike, where are we staying?” I say. "Oh", he says, "the track owns some houses on the other side of the road (Speedway Blvd.). You can stay in one of the houses." We get in our truck and follow Mike. We turn into a gated entrance to this beautiful, huge house. I say to Larry, "this can't be it!" Just then, Mike stops and gets out of his truck. "Holly s***", I say. Larry and I look at each other with our eyes bugging out and say, at the same time.............."WOW"!

I don't know how many rooms it has, but it's BIG! It has a beautiful sun porch, where we spent our free time watching TV. Most of all, it had "central air". It was July and HOT! We got settled in and the next morning we were up before sun-up. We always start early. I opened the door to the car port and was hit with the same heat blast as you get when you open the oven to check on the Thanksgiving turkey! "Holy s***!" I holler. "Holy Christmas" comes out of Larry's mouth. I can't believe the heat and the humidity and the sun isn't even up yet. This is not going to be good! We stop at the familiar Deli, where the girls look at us like their thinking, "what the hell are you doing here? You shouldn't be here!" We tell them we have a lot of new logos to paint and go look for a Styrofoam cooler. We find one and load it up with Gatorade and Ice. We are ready!

At the track, Mike is filling us in on the new logos. Mike takes me with him to the Main Office, where I meet several people from an Ad Agency. In a conference room, we sit down and watch some old tapes of past races. Their job is to time the "seconds", not minutes, a certain part of the retaining wall is on TV. We mark that spot and a logo will go there. The amount of TV time determines the value of the spot on the wall! This done, we are ready to make our patterns and go paint.

The heat is unbelievable! I can stand cold, but heat is my enemy! We work on the "high banks" from daylight until about 11:00am. Time to go to the air conditioned sign shop! We drink gallons of Gatorade and the sweat is dripping off my eyebrows and onto the backside of my sunglasses. Out on the asphalt you can look down the track and see heat waves like in the desert! This is insane! When the sun dips at about 3:30pm, we go back out and work on the back straight, where the wall is now in the shade. We are painting away when we hear this clanging sound. It's coming from the grandstands. We look over at the front straight Grandstands and there are about six men working on them. The grandstands are all aluminum. "It must be like working in a microwave oven", I say to Larry. Come to find out, they are painting the seats! Covering everything with plastic, taping it all down, sandblasting and painting, I didn't feel so bad after watching them. Our job seems easy now. The following day, at noon, we went to the Deli for more Gatorade. We were sitting at a table having lunch when the door opens and in comes the guys from the Grandstands. There was this one guy! He was about 5'-5" tall, 110 lbs, and hunched over slightly. His hair was sort of gray and uncombed. He had on a dark t-shirt and jeans. Was it a tan? No, it wasn't a tan, it was beyond a tan. He was all wrinkled, skin drawn up tight, and it wasn't a brown tan......he was black! I've never seen anyone so tanned and still alive! He was jittery, never standing still. I think his skin was burned down enough to expose all of his raw nerve endings! But the thing that stood out the most was his eyes. They were wide open, white and huge! The look of pure fright was in them. They were always moving, like he felt someone was going to sneak up on him at any minute and stab him in the back. You had to see this guy to get the full effect. Larry immediately dubbed him "Cinderman"! I said, "He looks like one of those big, old wooden matchsticks. You light it, hold it between your fingers and let burn out. When the flame dies out, the wood match stick is all black, bent and twisted, with a little puff of smoke drifting up into the air." This was him. Larry said, “You know why he has the sacred look? He doesn't want to go back to the grandstands". They all walked out the door following the "boss". As they were driving away, we found ourselves feeling sorry for him. We saw him a couple of times after that, then he was gone. We can speculate that he quit or just disintegrated into a pile of black dust.

Our time was up. We finished our week's work and got a good jump on the upcoming race. When we come back, there will be much more work, but like Mike said, we would not have been able to do it in two weeks. Went back north knowing the job wasn't done, but we would be back for the race. I was so glad to get the hell out of there! Don't get me wrong, I love Alabama, but not in the summer. It was way too hot for me!

When I got home, I went back to my own business until it was time for the Bud at the Glen in August. That's when the General Manager of Watkins Glen International, Matt Matusicky, wanted a grass painting done on the inside of the "Ninety". The Ninety is the first turn at Watkins, a 90 degree turn. It would be a small (40 feet) NASCAR logo. I go to the track and do the layout. I am working alone on this one. No where near as hot as Alabama, I am thinking as I start spraying. I'm out here, working alone and I pause to look around. It is so beautiful up here (the track is a little over 1,000 feet above sea level) on top of the mountain. A cool breeze is blowing, as it always does. You look around to the East and you can see the hills disappearing into the distance and look north and there is the south end of Seneca Lake (Watkins Glen is located on the Southern tip of this 40 mile long lake). It is so beautiful! I snap out of my gazing and start spraying some white paint on the grass. It's about 5:30 and I just want to get a first coat of white down. The track is nearly deserted. Not a sole here but me, the guard at Gate 2, Rudy and Matt. Rudy is out on the track checking the guardrail. He has his four wheel drive Ford "Track Truck" (Oxygen and acetylene tanks in the back, tools and a Speedy Dry Spreader on the back). I'm just about done with the first coat and done for the night, when Rudy drives by on the track. He's blowing the horn and leaning down as to look out the passenger window while waving to me. He's headed for the 90. I look up and wave back. He has this huge smile, the one he always has and drives on. At that instant, I look down the track and I see Matt, driving the reverse way around the track in his brand new Ford SHO Taurus. "No", I say under my breath. Rudy, still waving at me, Matt, also looking at me.............................They HIT HEAD-ON! The Glen track is 3.45 miles long. There are three people at the track. There are two vehicles on the track and they hit head on! What are the odds? I am standing there, spray gun in hand, mouth open and right out loud I let out a "Holy s***! I run over to the wreck, where Rudy and Matt are blaming each other and seeing there are no injuries and I start laughing. I laughed all alone; no one else saw the humor! Seconds before impact, Matt saw Rudy and slammed the brakes, even tried to back up! Rudy saw Matt at he same instant and tried to turn. That big Four Wheel Drive Ford ran right over the hood of the Taraus! The next day was spent telling the President, John Saunders, the story. To this day, I get a smile on my face when I think of "the Big One"!

Speaking of the next day, I wanted to finish the logo. I was starting to clean the gun so I could spray the last color. I was cleaning the white out of the gun when two of my friends stopped by. Greg and Scott own Freeman Communications were working at the track that day. I'm cleaning the nozzle, and talking with them when I notice a piece of something stuck to the nozzle. Not thinking, I reach up and pick it with my finger. Bad move! In one instant, one mistake, and you can die! The trigger of the sprayer is built into the handle of the gun. I'm holding it with my right hand and reach up to the nozzle with my left index finger. When I pushed on the nozzle to scrape the piece of grass off, it pushed the nozzle back and my right hand tightened on the handle to hold it steady and fired the gun. A small burst of paint, at 1,800 psi, was shot into my finger! It was swollen and hard. "God Damn!" I hollered. Greg said, "What did you do?" I told him and he said, "Get in the car; you gotta go to the hospital". I didn't argue. Looking back, I can't believe how lucky I was to have Scott and Greg stop by at the time they did! I really didn't know how serious this was going to be! The hospital is about two miles from the track. We go into the emergency room where I see a doctor who, after I tell him what happened, is more scared than I am. He turns without saying a word and walks, at a brisk pace, across the hall to a small office where he immediately dials a phone. He talks for a minute, while I'm sitting on the Emergency Room Bed thinking, "hurry up and fix my finger so I can go". He comes back, with this concerned look on his face, and say's to Greg, "do you have a car"? I thought, "How the hell do you think we got here?" Greg says "it's outside". The doctor asks, "do you know how to get to St. Joseph's, in Elmira?" Greg says, "I live in Elmira, I know where it is". Elmira is about 22 miles south of Watkins Glen. This next sentence from the doctor scared me! He said, "Get him there as quick as you can. I can't do anything here and there is no time to get an ambulance. They will be waiting for you. GET MOVING!"

We hurry out to the car, where Greg jumps in the driver's seat, me, in the passenger's seat and Scott in the back. I look over at Greg and have never seen him with a more serious look on his face and not saying a word, we sped out of the parking lot!

Lap 18: PAIN


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