Goodness, Snakes Alive

This was a trip to The race track in College Station, Texas for a NASCAR event in 1972

 

 

INDEX

These articles, stories and accounts of my life, as I recall them, and are copywrited. Unauthorized use will be pursued at my determination, to the degree that I am inclined. Any hard feeling caused by memories that don't match yours are unfortunate and you'll just have to get over it! Feel free to contact me if you have a request for their use.


Damn, it was hot here in south Texas! At 6 ft. 1, 180 pounds, it was a little easier to take that freakin’ heat than it is now, but even so, I recall the dense humidity like it was an hour ago.


It was one hot summer in 1972 and we were on our way to a race in Ontario, California and had stopped for the 16 race of the season for the NASCAR teams here in College Station, Texas. I was working for Benny Parsons driven car owned by L.G. DeWitt, and Travis, Benny and I had driven straight thru the previous day last night from Ellerbe, North Carolina to get here in time to get to the track as soon possible. It was a 1200 mile trip, and as was usually the case, we never got all our work done on the car in time to leave for the track when we wanted to, but the parking position outside the track entrance was a big deal, as that determined how you went thru inspection, which in turn, determined how soon you could get started to practice out on the track. Driving thru the night was part and parcel in those days of the small, independent teams, and we just had to deal with the crowded truck accommodations, the often rancid smell of guys that were forced to be in close quarters, arguing about who was going to listen to what channel on the radio and when to stop and take a piss as opposed to using our home-made ‘urinal’


It was just the way life was in those days, on the way out of town you stopped at some little gas station on the outskirts of town, picked up your own supply of gum, ‘pop’, moon pies, gummy bears or whatever, then figuring out where to hide your stash so that one of your cohorts didn’t devour it, and try telling you that it must have ‘accidently’ slipped out the door at the last food stop. When in season, we also made sure that there was always a big supply of the golden, juicy peaches that we would take for those folks that knew our shop was located in the heart of the peach groves that permeated that part of the Carolinas. That was always the last thing that we loaded as it was the most and maybe only fragile thing that we loaded on the truck, and more often than not they got put just inside the passenger side window of the race car, being held in place with bungee cords between the gear shift lever and the right side door bars. Then we would argue to the point of fighting sometimes, to decide would take the first shift driving, and who got the first turn in the sleeper. I’d rather drive first then sleep first during the day because the truck was not air conditioned and there was little ventilation that made its way into the sleeper and you could only lay there, feeling the sweat find the shortest path to the crack of your ass or down your sideburns and onto your neck. Who ever drew first steering duty would drive off into downtown Ellerbe, then choosing a direction, ease that noisy, cumbersome truck out into the country until they found the nearest interstate and then hammer down in an effort to get to the track to as soon as possible in order to garner an up front spot in the line outside the infield entrance gate, knowing that a handful of other teams from scattered areas of the country were doing the same thing.


We had anticipated the arguing about when to stop for food or taking a leak from some of the earlier trips, and had taken time to drill a hole in the right side floorboard and install a funnel that a male passenger could use to ‘drain the lizard’ while still at highway speeds if necessary. None of us wanted to have our feet get entangled with this contraption, so we made it possible to store under the passenger side of the seat. Nobody wanted to take a piss in front of others, and no on wanted to pee in front of others, but it came quite useful in a dire straight condition. There was an unspoken rule that said if you were not driving, you had no input in how fast to drive, which direction to travel, when to stop to either eat or take a leak, or even what you listened to on the radio. Many a time I took an early turn driving, just so I did not have to listen to that ‘country’ music, so prevalent here in the South.
I eventually came around to liking country music, but learning the nuances of eating grits was a much more difficult ordeal, as my new found acquaintances found it quite humorous to watch me try to eat grits plain, having goaded me into eating this primarily Southern cuisine, on the pretense that I needed ‘to fit in’, neglecting to advise me that they were better passing past the palate when mixed with or added to a nearby component on my plate. Pair of pricks, if you ask me!


Having made our way thru Charlotte, Birmingham, Jackson and Shreveport, we arrived late in the afternoon, prior to the first day of practice, and were more than a little surprised to see that we were the first in line. As we opened the door to let what little breeze there was, flow thru the cab of the truck, we noticed there seemed to be quite a bit of activity in the infield, centering on the concession stand area, but with activity throughout the infield area. At first glance it looked like there was a large group, mostly men that seemed to be gathering trash from the grassy areas, putting it into burlap bags, then bringing it to the concession stand. Looking as it were intended for disposal.


We mostly began shootin’ the shit with the gate guard and didn’t think too much of it, but began noticing that they seemed to be having a lot of fun, hollering and jumping around for just gathering trash. We would often hear an occasional larger hoop and a holler, but as it continued to get louder and more often, it seemed strange that you could have so much enthusiasm for cleaning the infield of a race track in Texas, but eventually the ranting subsided and we tried to take a little nap before we faced with how we were going to something to eat for supper. We had travelled for a long time, had the best possible position for getting thru inspection and did not want to risk losing the spot by driving the truck out for something to eat.


As I glanced out the window, I noticed that the people were starting to leave and most all of the vehicles were pickup trucks, which certainly wasn’t unusual for the rural setting we were in, but after watching them leave in small groups, I became curious as to why the gate guards seemed to be so interested in looking at the trash that these folks were leaving with. As I was about to get out of the truck and ask one of the guards what the curiosity was all about, I noticed that the last pickup was headed our way, and as they approached the far side of the gate, I could make out three exuberant guys in the front seat, each holding a large burlap bag, and two young guys sitting on each side of the pick up bed, each with a wooden stick, appearing to poke at what I assumed was a collection of infield trash.


I was having difficulty understanding what all the enthusiasm was about regarding trucks full of trash. My curiosity got the best of me, and I got down from the truck and eased on over to the nearer of the two gate guards and asked why all the enthusiasm over trash.
He laughed like hell, looked over at our race car on the back of the truck, and said: ‘Hey you bunch of redneck Gringos, you never saw a rattlesnake roundup?” Clearly, by my reaction, it was obvious I had not, and he called his buddy over to help explain it to me, knowing they were both going to relish telling the tale of the western diamondback ‘party’ to a trio of rednecks.


It appeared that at some point the folks that owned and or ran the race track had figured out that they might be in for a great deal of trouble, if not lawsuits, brought on by the high number of low crawling venomous inhabitants of the infield, and had decided the best (read that ‘cheapest’) way to rid themselves of these pests was to host a ‘roundup’ similar to the highly attended rattlesnake roundups that were held annually, about 5 hours away in Sweetwater, Texas. (A town that also had an interesting pair of lady barbers working at the Union 76 truck stop there, just west of the city limits…….another story!!!)


The track apparently found they had more than passable interest by this group of touring hunters who seemed enthused by attempting to compete for the winner’s prize (I have no idea what it was), the winners being determined by whoever could collect the most poundage, as well as the largest quantity and the largest single snake. Apparently that last light blue Ford pick up that went thru the gate, held both winners of the event, with their contribution to the weight contest in the burlap bags they were holding, and those young fellas on the side of the bed were keeping the none competitors from the event in the truck with those sticks.
As I watched that pickup get small on the highway, I was curious as to what those guys did with all those snakes when they got home. I did learn that there are several ways to cook these critters, none of which was of any interest to me, but I cannot imagine they cut and cooked all of them. To this day, I won’t go look inside an un-attended burlap bag.


The next day was equally hot, as hot as I can ever remember. We all wore tennis shoes in those days, and when you walked out on pit road, the asphalt was so hot that your shoes would stick when you walked like you were always stepping on a used piece of chewing gun. I remember looking at a thermometer in side the pit garage and reading 115 degrees at 3:00 in the afternoon. On race day, some one cracked an egg open on the top of pit wall. It did not fry, of course, but it did turn the white quite milky, and I’m surprised that I still like fried eggs.


The race itself was a terrible ordeal on the drivers and a few of the crew members as well. In addition to enduring the heat of the day, every traditional, self-respecting rattlesnake roundup had a snake cooking competition as well as a chili cooking contest as part of the festival. These were both held the night before the race, as can be expected, to take advantage of the cooler temperatures the evening provided. The addition of free flowing beer and a wet T-shirt contest persuaded most of the traveling crew members to attend, in spite of the fact that we all knew that we would have to be loaded up and on our way west later the next day after working damn hard in the knowingly excessive heat of the following day. None the less, most of us stayed the course of the evening’s activities. Few of the guys I traveled with were fans of live or cooked rattlesnake, no matter how they prepared it, so at the conclusion of the wet T-shirt event most of us took advantage of the large quantity of chili, that was available in a vast multitude of flavors, seasoning, temperatures and…….lasting affects. It was however being served by several of those contest entrants that had not been declared the winner, and one in particular, a girl from nearby Austin seemed particularly attentive to the needs of me and a friend of mine that was on one of the other independent teams, making sure we had enough chili and drink. We eat and drank until the sleepless hours caught up with both of us and we left the building.


The next day turned out to be the only time I ever remember being at a race track that burning tire rubber and spilled gasoline were not the prevailing odor. It was a day to remember for another reason as well.


The front row gate position had given us an early inspection time and that led to extra practice time, and I seem to recall that we qualified well enough to get a pit position near the opening in the pit wall near the middle of the track, just past the finish line. Getting a pit stall near an opening is always desirable as it gives you more room to pit, as there is either more space in front of, or behind you, and that gives you more room to maneuver around the car with the air hoses and generally keeps you from getting boxed in by another driver that is not pitting on the same sequence as you are. We were pretty happy about this, because working for an independent team that travels with only two crew members, it requires at least two and usually three cars share a pit stall because neither team traveled with enough guys to pit their car on their own. It was bad enough to pit two cars with a shorthanded crew, but we had been maneuvered into agreeing to pit Cecil Gordon and one other car and that made it much tougher, and with the oppressive heat, no one on any of the teams were looking forward to it.


The race started without much trouble, but as the race progressed, the heat on the track was intensifying to the point it was causing premature tire wear and an occasional blow out. This was playing havoc with pit strategy as well as fuel mileage calculations. It was getting very difficult for three different crew chiefs to figure fuel mileage and tire wear when the other team’s car was pitting pre-maturely for a problem of some sort. To try and preclude this issue, we had earlier decided that whoever’s car was closest to the front of the pack would get the preferential pit stop in the event of a caution.


Due to a tire issue, we were pitting out of sequence with the leaders, and Benny had just pulled in for an out of sequence green flag tire stop and asked that the water hose be given to him thru the window net so that he could spray water on himself to cool off. We had scheduled a four tire stop and had just handed him the water hose when the caution flag came out came out for a two car spin in between turns three and four. Travis hollered at us to call off the tire change in an effort to not be caught in the pits and get a lap down

.
I was the front tire changer, and had made my way back across the front of the car, and had reached the pressurized water tank and was shutting off the valve to the water hose when Benny tried to toss the water nozzle out of the window and took off down pit road, but unfortunately, the squeeze handle got caught in the window net as he left the pit stall, and as the hose stretched taught, it jerked the air tank over the wall and in the ensuing commotion, the wire loop that I had tied around my belt to hold three spare lug nuts, got caught on the fitting that was connected the air pressure tank and here I go, over the wall and down pit road, being dragged like a rag doll. Fortunately, several crew members and the pit road stop sign guy noticed my dilemma and held up the stop sign, so my driver stopped before heading out and around the track, but I had already been torn loose from the entanglement from all the activity up to that point.


By this time, I had torn my uniform pants, scuffed one knee, one elbow and both ass cheeks to the point that it looked like I had been in a motorcycle accident. The scariest part was that I kind of knew what was going on, and did not want to get hit by another car coming down pit road, so I rolled over a few times until I was up against and facing the side of the pit wall at the end of pit road. As I opened my eyes, thinking I was to check out my drawers to make sure I wasn’t advertising the family jewels, I was startled to see one of them fuckin’ rattlesnakes staring back at me from just around the corner of the end of that pit wall.


There I was with my elbows all skinned up, bloody shirt and my pants had torn to the point I didn’t know if the crowd could see my ass or not, and then there was this damned snake looking at me. I figured that I didn’t know any of these folks here in Texas, so they can look at my ass if they wanted to, but I had to deal with this snake now!. I reached out my hand thinking that if I had to get bit, I wanted it to be on an extremity, but as it turned out the joke was on him. He had been cut in half during the roundup and all I could see was his ‘good’ side. By this time I was soaked, and hoping it was sweat, but disappointed to see that I had a lot of red shaded clothing.


As it turned out, it was mostly nasty road rash, but realizing that we were still short handed in the pits, I went back to the pits and using the grey duct tape that we relied so heavily on to patch body panels with, used it to tape the torn parts of my uniform together, completely circling both legs around the knees, both arms above the elbows and several butt area patches. I made as strong an effort as I could to appear cool and not show the effect of my recent excursion, but it was one miserable afternoon I can tell you that! During the balance of the afternoon, the hyperactivity had prevented me from noticing that when the blood had quit seeping, the gray tape was affixing itself to the exposed areas of my skin, but at the end of the day, after the car and pit equipment had been loaded I was singing a completely different tune. All the places that the tape had attached to my skin was bringing forth excruciating pain as each inch of removal made me question my involvement in this choice of employment.


It was the most intense physical discomfort that I ever remember encountering, certainly in recent memory, and I was a little discomforted and unable to decide how to proceed. I was having difficulty actually making myself pull that tape and did not want to ask some one else to do it, when I felt a hand on my less painful right shoulder and saw that it was Natalie, a local girl that I had spent some time with at the chilly fest the night before. It turns out that she was some sort of medical assistant at the infield care center. She had taken a break at the conclusion of the race to come out to find me to say goodbye, and was an extremely welcome sight to behold. She was nice and clean, not a spot of dirt, grease or sweat to be noticed, and was way better looking than any of the guys around me, and smelled much better as well. Right away she assessed the situation and said for me to wait here and she would be right back, and returned shortly with one of the infield car center doctors, who decided to have me go back to the center for treatment, for a more thorough cleansing be attained. They asked Travis to go to the truck and retrieve a change of clothes for me and after giving me an injection of some sort, they had me remove my clothes so that they could further assess the extent of the ‘damage’. I ended up nude at that point and Natalie made some comment to the effect that I could have done that last night and it would not have been near as painful. Snickering as if it were quite funny and all I could think of was that the chilly must have had something in it to dull my libido or maybe only my intellect, and my only reply turned out to be that I did not recognize her in a dry shirt.


Several, long moments later, after having some sort of liquid applied to the tape and some precision use of scissors and scalpels by both the doctor and Natalie, I finally had on a clean set of bandages and clothing, so we headed back out to the truck where I was given the sleeper, as a courtesy, I suppose, for which I was thankful as I was beginning to feel less of the effects of the injection that I had been given and looked forward to being able to spend some time in a fully extended position. That evening, traveling in the relative coolness of the south Texas evening, it was reasonably comfortable, but as the days wore on and the areas of the rashes that were deep began healing, then cracking it provided a trip with mostly forgettable moments until we got done with the race in California and made our way back to the Carolinas.