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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Tony Vickio-Lap 26

die hard
Originally uploaded by Sally Ann.
Experiences of "The World Famous"
by: Tony Vickio

Painting at the Famous Race Tracks

Lap: 26: Under Attack

We work into the night. No food, no beer, no nothing except work! Thank God the weather is good and track's painting crew is doing the "white" on the concrete retaining walls, or we would not be able to finish in time (by race time 10:00am Sunday morning). The repair painting is going great. One reason is, there is no need for doing any new layouts, as the logos are already there, just damaged. Larry and I sail right along doing the new outlines and Steve follows us filling in the color. We are moving FAST!! The track maintenance crew brings out a light plant. This is a great help. A Light Plant is a gas powered generator that is on two wheels and towed behind a truck. There is a "mast" that is tilted straight up when the plant is stationary that has a cluster of 4 very high output lights on it. Once the mast is upright, you crank a handle and the mast extends to about 20 feet. Hit the switch and in a few minutes (takes time for the Mercury Vapor lights to warm up) and it's "daylight"! They even leave a man with it to move it along as we go. It is really late and the Dew is starting to come out! I learned years ago while doing grass signs, when the dew comes out......STOP! The dew here is like a rain storm just went through! I tell the guys, "We aren’t going to get done tonight, so let’s pack up and go back to the shop".

Back at the shop we reload the Gator with everything we will need in the morning. Our plan is to be here before sun-up and get moving on the remaining repairs. I figure a good two hours and we will be finished. We head to the Motel and some well deserved food and sleep.

It is Race Day! I have been to race tracks this early on Race Day before, but NEVER to work on doing repairs on Race day! This is "pressure" at its best, or should I say worst! Race Day is different. You can honestly "feel" race day! The security is different (more intense), the fans are different, the Emergency Crews are on track making their tours and checking everything, Jet Blowers are running, Pre-Race ceremonies will be starting to form and the fans will be streaming in. The whole place is a "buzz"! A city of 180,000 coming to life right before your eyes!

Yet here we are, just getting light, and we are climbing the "high Banks" to finish the repairs. For now, the city is Dead Quiet! Not many people awake yet from partying the night before. Up on top of the banking we look around at the Infield. Just light enough to see, the mass of Motor Homes and Tents look like a shaggy carpet. There is a light haze drifting over the infield. It is smoke from all the, now cold, campfires that burned themselves out hours ago. I tell Steve, "Some of those bastards won't even see the race after partying all night"! We quietly start to work. We are going faster than I thought. One more logo to fix and it's only 7:30. We walk up the banking in Turn 2 and stand there for a minute to catch our breath. Without looking around at the campers, I know that some of them are now can you tell? I can smell the Bacon cooking! Oh man does that make me hungry. The Alabama sun is peeking over Cheaha Mountain, the clean smelling air and the wisps of fresh, frying bacon floating through the air. Man! This is good!! I tell the guys, "One more hour and we can eat"! Steve says, "I can't wait an hour!" I say back, "paint faster and it won't be an hour". He looks at me with a "growling type" frown, like a skinny, scroungy old mutt that just had its bone taken away.

Almost done! Pick up a few things while Steve finishes some color fills, we are home free. Am I relieved it went so well. Working on Race Day is not the best thing! I am bending over picking up my matt, a padded thing I had made to kneel on, when I hear this hissing sound, then a loud "SPLAT"! I look around and say out loud, "What the hell was that"? Lar looks over and says, "What"! I say, "Take that stupid pipe out of your mouth so you can hear something"! There it is again! I look over at Larry and he's looking around to see what that was. Steve didn't even hear it. This time something hit the Catch Fence about 12 feet up. I looked up just in time to see the water flying straight through the fence, like spray from a garden hose. We are under a "water balloon" attack! I holler to Steve and Larry, "Those assholes are shooting water balloons! Try to see where they are coming from". Larry and Steve jump up and start looking off into the campers to try and see the balloons coming in. We are up on the Banking in Turn 2. The campers are at least 200 to 300 yards across the track from us, so we know they must be using (illegal) Giant Slingshots! These slingshots work this way: Two guys, standing about two feet apart, each hold the end of a Surgical Tube (these tubes have a huge stretch rate). The third man grabs the center of the tube, which has a pocket made to hold the water balloon, loads a water balloon in the pocket and grabs the tube with both hands and walks backwards, back, and back, and back, maybe 10 to 15 feet, until the tube is at it's maximum "stretch", aims, and lets go! Some of the things can shoot 1,000 feet! If you get hit, it will hurt! We are under a merciless, unrelenting attack. Time to call for "backup"!

I had my binoculars with me, but before I try to find these idiots, I get on my Track Radio and call Security. "Security, this is 90 (my radio #), we are painting on the track in Turn 2 on the banking and we are under a water balloon attack. Can you get someone out here? They are getting close!” I say into the radio. A woman quickly comes on the radio, "Security. 90, can you see where they are coming from?" SPLAT!, another one hits the track, just off to our left. "Christ, here comes another one! Those %***ers", Steve hollers. Searching with my binoculars, I find the "launch site". I call back and say, "I found them; they are in the campground inside Turn 2, between two motor homes". The woman at the Security Headquarters comes back on the radio and says something to me that struck me as, "this can't be happening!" She says, "We have a helicopter in the air watching traffic, I will direct him to your area and when he is over the shooters, tell me and I will tell him to hover over the site. Our Troopers will have a reference and we will get them. Keep them in site if the move". I am laughing out loud and I say, Holly s**t, you guys won't believe what's happening". I tell them with the dispatcher said, and just then, we hear the chopper. "Hope he's got some "Hellfire missiles", I think out loud. We look up and see the helicopter waiting for me to tell the dispatcher instructions. I look at the shooters and here comes another balloon. SPLAT, on the track about 20 feet away! The shooters are too busy shooting to pay any attention to the chopper; which is hovering over them about 100 feet up. Chopper noise at a track on race day is common. There are Police, TV and Medical choppers in the air all the time, and besides, these guys are still drunk! I watch them as they stagger around, bumping into each other, trying to load a new balloon. I tell Security to tell the chopper he is over them. As he is hovering, another balloon comes in. Sooner or later, they will get a "lucky" shot and hit one of us. I look through the binoculars and there are three Troopers running through the crowd, not 50 feet from the shooters. I tell the dispatcher to tell them to go two rows to their right and they are between a blue motor home with an awning and a yellow one. The Troopers are running now. Some of their buddies, who are gathered around the guys shooting, cheering with every shot, holler at them to run but it is too late. I watch as they are cuffed and taken away. One of the Troopers looks my way and waves. I call Security and thank everyone.

I stand up by the Catch Fence and say, "Holly s**t, I can't believe what just happened! It was like a war movie and we were under a Mortar attack and we brought in Air Cover, and the "ground troops" attacked and got'em! Sign Painters, water balloons, Troopers and choppers! Only at Talladega"! I look up at the chopper and with both arms stretched out, wave my hands around. He hovers a second and then banks over to the left and flies away. We were just in a "war"! I look back at the chopper flying away and think, "He must have been a "NAM" pilot"!

We finish up and "high five" each other as we walk down the banking. It is only 9am and now let's eat and get ready to watch the race. As we walk down the banking we are stunned! We are actually hearing cheers from the infield campers! I give a wave, we get in the Gator, loaded with wet brushes, empty paint cans and thinner rags and away we go, down the back straight to the crossing gate by Turn 3. As we are driving down the back straight, I say to Steve, "just think, in a couple of hours Dale Earnhardt will be driving right in our tracks"! Steve eyes are glazed over and with a look of pure awe he says, "holy %***!" We are now in the "war room" at the maintenance office talking with Mike (general manager) and the rest of the crew about the latest adventure. They are all laughing as they all had Radios and were listening to the whole thing! Mike says, "if you'd worked harder last night, you wouldn’t have got in that mess!" I look at him and say, "You nut, where's the coffee.”

We ended up watching the race from the top of the new Allison Grandstands, way up on top, where the "spotters" are standing......what a view!! The race was great and we were ready to head home on Monday.

On the way home, all we could do was talk. I think that Steve, Larry and I had one of the best trips to Talladega I have ever had. Yea, we worked our asses off, but it only added to the "adventure". Larry has said the same thing. I try to describe things that happen on these "adventures", but there is no description as to actually being there with some good old buddies! Man, that trip was fun!

Lap 27: Flying High


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