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Monday, July 25, 2005

Tony Vickio Lap 22

Suited Up and Ready to Go
Originally uploaded by Sally Ann.
Experiences of "The World Famous"
by: Tony Vickio

Painting at the Famous Race Tracks

Lap 22: Back to School

I woke up at 5am! I couldn't sleep. Imagine something you've thought about for years but you knew you could never do it because of the cost, and suddenly, out of the blue, you get the chance. Like I said in "Lap 1", racing has been in my blood since I was 2 and I have enjoyed being involved in some sort of racing ever since. All I could think of was the next three days! My wife (Harriett) just smiles at me. She knows I'm acting just like a "kid" and instead of saying something, she just smiles.

After I "hit" the shower, I put on a pair of Red underwear. You see, whenever I raced, I wore Red underwear. I figured it took "balls" to get into a race car and race to "win" and red, being an aggressive color, would help! Some nights it worked, sometimes it didn't. I guess it always did work as when I crashed, I did so "aggressively"! Well, today I had them on and I was "ready" for the unknown.

When I arrived at the track there was only one man there form the Skip Barber Competition School. He was a mechanic and was working on one of the cars. I walked over to him and said, "mornin', how’s it going?" Without looking up, he says, "Christ, you are here early". "Yeah I know. I live just down the road; it doesn't take long to get here". It was kind of early; I had an hour and a half to wait. Suddenly I think, "don't be talking to this guy, you might distract him and he will forget to tighten a nut on the steering and it may be on the car you will be driving!" I turn and walk away!

I was so excited, I forgot I had a coffee in the truck, so I walk over to the backside of the pits, where my truck was parked and got my luke warm coffee. I walk back to the Pit wall where the cars are. I sit up on top of pit wall, take a sip, more like a "gulp" of the coffee before it gets totally cold. It's nice and cool and there is not a sound. I look around, towards Turn 1 (the 90) where the track drops down and goes out of site and today, no haze, you can see Seneca Lake off in the distance between two hills. I look back to the track and picture, in my mind, driving down the front straight 120 mph, picking the brake marker 200, hard on the brakes and at the same time double clutching (heel and toe) and shifting down to 3rd gear to 70mph. Turning in from the far left side of the track, hitting the perfect apex point on the inside of the corner, accelerating through the corner, drifting out, just running up on the outside curb and down the straight. I snap out of it......I can't wait! I turn to my left and there, in two rows, are the Rear Engine, Open Wheeled race cars. I immediately get goose bumps! "Christ, I can't believe this is happening", I think way back to the ride I gave Harriet (Former Zippo owner) and how things have progressed from there. Then I think back of all the laps I have run on this track. At that time it would have been around 2,500 or almost 7,000 miles! I can't wait to get out there! "Come on you guys, where are you"! I say out loud.

Finally some Red Dodge Neons and two Red Dodge Vans pull up to the front of the NASCAR Garage. This is where the office and the classroom are. I walk over to the man that is setting up a table and spreading all this "official" looking paperwork out. He says, "You’re here early". "Yeah, I live just down the road and I can't wait to get started", I say. He gives a slight laugh and says, "You must George’s man". I say, "I guess I am". He smiles and says, "That’s George". Apparently George has done this for many others who couldn't afford it. My thoughts are interrupted by the man saying, "you might as well get started and fill out these papers". You sort of give you life away and then on this other form is the space for the credit card number. I dig in my pocket for the piece of paper with George's credit card number. A shot of adrenalin goes thru me as I can't find it! "Oh No!" I mumble. I frantically stick my hand in my other pocket, where I do not carry anything and there it is! I put it there so I would know where it was when I needed it. If I have to use it, it means I had a bad day!

Everyone sort of shows up at once. It is hectic! We are separated into groups of our racing experience. I was in the Competition group. There were only about five of us. One young kid, about 20, was there. He was from Sweden. He even had a "handler" with him to take care of all of his affairs. He was hard to understand. I can't remember his name, but he had to take the school in order to get his license to race in the US.

It was class time. There were about 25 in the school. Class lasted about four hours of the first day. After lunch we went to the cars. Ahhh Yesss!!! The cars are open wheeled, rear engine machines powered by a four cylinder Dodge engine. They have no wings like Indy cars do. They want you to "drive" the car, not the car drive you! They are capable of 160mph, but at Watkins Glen, 130mph is the max you can get on the back straight before you hit the "Inner Loop".
We get suited up and assigned a car. This is "your car". If it is damaged, they know who did it! My car was blue and number 72. I'm standing by it looking at this really neat race car thinking......72. Let's see 7 plus 2 is 9. 7 minus 2 is 5. No, that's not going anywhere. Let's see, 7 plus 2 is 9, 7 minus 2 is 5, 5 plus 9 is 14 which makes 5. I'm standing there staring at the number realizing it doesn't mean s***!

Two crew men come over and it's time to get fitted to the car. The steering wheel is off and I can easily slide in. The wheel and pedals are all adjustable. The front bodywork is off so they can adjust everything. Once set we go over instructions on what to do on the track. There are spotters all over the track to watch every driver at every critical point. You make one lap at a set RPM and stop at the Start/ Finish line. There an instructor will get on a radio and if there are any issues, they will tell you. You go another lap. Very intense scrutiny. On the third day you are turned loose! This is what I have been waiting for.

I will give you a lap of the Watkins Glen Circuit as seen from the seat of a Skip Barber Dodge race car. "Down the front straight at about 115mph, slightly down hill into a 90 degree, right hand corner. You double clutch (no sincros in the tranny), heel and toe (that means you brake with your heel, while, at the same time you are revving the engine with your toe, so you can downshift, using the clutch with your left foot. You want to keep the rev's up so you don't slide the rear tires, it could spin you out in a second. You go into the 90 at 70mph. Half way through, you accelerate full throttle. You shift to fourth and fly up through the "Esses and down the back straight. Now 5th gear. 130mph at the end of the straight and "hard" on the brakes, two down shifts to 3rd and through the "Inner Loop". Accelerate and into 4th, down into the boot. From there it is, 3rd, 4th, back to 3rd, up to 4th, and back to 3rd, up to 4th and across the finish line. If it wasn't for the kid from Sweden, I would have had the fastest lap. He was FAST! I kept him in site for four laps, then he was gone!

That night I called George and told him "how much fun I had". I learned more in those three days than I did in my 12 years of racing. It was awesome!

On the track, coming out of the, boot" there is a 12'x36' Zippo billboard (which I painted). I had my friend/photographer Jack Eckert take a picture of me, at speed, in front of the billboard. I framed it and sent it to George.

If anyone is thinking of getting into racing, take this school! It will give you a head start that you will not believe! The school will come into play in later tales. Now it was back to work and on to a new adventure.

About two weeks later, in the shop, the phone rings. I find the portable on a work table and pick it up, "Vickio Signs", I say....... "Hi there, this is Donna".

Lap: 23: Back to work


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