The Tallapoosa Submarine Races
This was a trip to Talladega in August of 1973 and covers range of emotions on and away from the track
|These are 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. I am not writing for prose or poetry, but just to tell a story. Neither do I try to be politically correct. I consider that an act of cowardice, trying to placate the uninformed, ignorant of history folks that are filled with ego and braggadocios, demanding that their perspective be the prevalent one.|
We were in Riverside , Alabama for the stock car race event at the Talladega speedway, the track that carried the highest sustained speed of all the venues on the circuit. That, coupled with the blossoming concern regarding this tracks construction on an Indian burial ground, excessive tire wear and speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour garnered enough respect that any visit here was fraught with anticipation, and concern that each crewmember did their job in a manner that both generated speed and maintained driver safety.
We had already heard that the entire Talladega county and some surrounding areas once were inhabited by Creek Indians and when Andrew Jackson defeated them in the early 1800's, a shaman cursed the area. That, along with the Indian burial ground suspicions; it was beginning to form a pattern.
We had been working on a new aero package that included some additional body work particularly around the nose, hood roofline and rear trunk area had all undergone minor ‘tweaks' requiring body and paint work. We had gone so far as to gently grind the head of some rivets to minimize drag. We also tried to turn the boundary layer on to the roof sooner by spreading glass beads from the shops bead blaster across the leading 3 inches the roof just above the windshield. The idea was that the roughness of the beads in the fresh paint would act like an array of small spoilers and turn the air down along the top of the roof. The engine builder had been developing a group of new carburetors to test, and I had been hard at it for two weeks working on fine tuning the bump steer and caster gain features and developing a caster ‘spread' pattern that would feel good to the driver.
In an unusual occurrence, we had been able to leave the shop on time, and we had arrived late in the day, and I walked down from my motel room alone, looking forward to a quite dinner away from the hustle, bustle and exhaustion that always seems to accompany you when arrive at the track on the first day. I was not interested in any more camaraderie or team discussions at that point and just wanted to unwind, and as I rounded the corner I caught my first glimpse.
She was a stunning vision! I had no more than entered the restaurant when our eyes met. She was a gorgeous brunette, short in statue with flowing shoulder length hair. As she looked up to glance at me, the setting sun shown thru the window and silhouetted her figure in a manner that assured me she was a blossoming young lady.
I began to hesitate around the entrance, while actually scanning the room in an effort to make sure that I would choose a table that would insure that this young lady would be the one asking for my order. I quickly took a seat with my back to her, and in moments was pleasantly surrounded by a clearly feminine aroma. I would have bet the house it was her, even before she spoke, as her presence was preceded by a captivating perfume, perfectly chosen and mindful of the wafting scent of lilac from my early days in the country.
She was quick to address me, and her approach was proper and all business as she inquired as to my drink preference. As I finally looked up in an effort to answer her request for my order, I could not help but notice her eyes, shaded with a lavender hue that so blended with that perfume. She was clearly a young, developing lady, and was quickly mastering the art of attracting members of the opposite sex.
Any attempt to be smooth and sophisticated was futile, as this young lady was clearly a temptress and intent on making my current situation a confusing attempt to gain her attention and impress her. The conversations became easier as the meal went along as she began to linger more at each visit, and I was hoping that I could somehow get her to spend some time with me.
As I walked toward my room, I knew that if I did not make an attempt right now, I would regret forever not taking the initiative. I decide to turn around and go back to the restaurant and take my chances with this young lady. I am not much of a drinker, but having eaten already, my only option was to go to the bar adjacent to the restaurant and position myself as near her path as possible.
I took a seat as Jim Croce‘s Bad, Bad Leroy Brown began to play on the jukebox, and I asked the waiter for a coke as I tried to plan my next move. As the he sat down my drink, he looked over my shoulder and I was simultaneously reacquainted with that lilac fragrance, and I immediately knew who he was looking at. He had a smile on his face as he turned away and I felt her touch me for the first time.
“I'm glad you came back” she said. “Are you in town for the races?” I replied that I was, and said there doesn't seem to be many things to do here near the motel. She concurred and asked if I would like her to show me more of the town. Are you shittin' me? I thought. Was she actually volunteering to spend some time with me? So much for my smooth approach.
She had taken a ride to work that day, and would have to go home with her carpool folks, but offered to drive her car tomorrow and we could ride around town for awhile when she got off work. I had not been to Talladega many times at this point and was eager to check out the ‘topography', and eagerly awaited this opportunity.
The next morning came sooner that desired and as the entire crew drove to the racetrack, the routine generally was to discuss the practice schedule and potential changes to be made based on feedback from the lap times, but I could not help but wander back to last night and what might lay in store for me this evening. I was startled to hear the engine builder ask me ‘are you ready to deal with that rear end?” Because I was actually thinking about this evening and her little butt, it took me just a moment to realize he was asking whether I had all the parts and gaskets to change the rear end gear ratio after the second break in the practice.
The day was productive and fulfilling for me as the previous nights conversation had me energized and I was able to focus on the tasks at hand. It seemed all the changes we made on the car made a positive difference in either the handling or the speed. The crew was happiest with the increase in speed and the driver was happiest with the cars handling. Making the car handle is more about aerodynamics than actual suspension changes as the track at Talladega is parabolic in nature at about 188 miles per hour, and takes little in the way of steering wheel movement to maintain stability.
The car got up to speed fairly soon, and feeling pleased with our ‘piece', we looked for drafting help and set about testing under race conditions. That seemed to go as we hoped for and it was decided we were ready for qualifying, so we aired the tires once more, checked the toe-in and putting the car on jack stands, covered it and headed for the car.
Finally! We were on the way back to the motel where I could get cleaned up and get downstairs to the restaurant to see if she actually showed up for work. I could not shake two of the other crew members as they were determined to see what I had so much enthusiasm for downstairs. Upon entering the restaurant we took a seat at, of course, a table that ensured her attention once more.
She was clearly an attractive little cutie, and they, of course, began to hit on her without let up. Showing no mercy, little class and a lot of ignorance, they pestered her for awhile, before they noticed that even though I rarely spoke, she seemed to provide me with more attention than they were garnering. While not speaking much, I was keenly aware that she seemed to have shortened the length of her skirt, and was wearing that lilac fragrance that I sure I mentioned that I liked so much the night before.
The dinner progressed without any more embarrassing action from my friends, and the dynamics of our little group changed 180 degrees, when as we were checking out, she walked by and casually said “ I drove my car to work today, and I get off at 8:00. Meet me at the rear of the restaurant.” Wow, did she make me proud! I was personally delighted, and publicly chided by my friends over my good fortune.
The time to meet finally arrived and when I got downstairs to meet her, she was already in her car and tooted the horn at me. I tried to appear casual, but my mind was in full gear, thinking about where we might be going and what was she thinking? Could we be thinking the same thing?
After riding around for about a half an hour, I asked if she would consider driving to a more quiet area where we could stop and chat for awhile, and she immediately said yes, and she knew just the spot. About 10 minutes later we were in a clearing in a slightly wooded area where the Tallapoosa River fed into Lake Martin Without asking, she turned the motor off, and as the sunset subsided, we spent the next two hours watching the submarines race in the Tallapoosa River.
Morning practice went as well as can be expected. No one ever goes as fast as they want, but a day without an incident is always welcome and we made it through both the morning practice and the afternoons qualifying without a problem. More than 60 cars made qualifying attempts and we drew a late spot and managed to put together one lap that was 2-tenths of a second faster than our best practice lap. Our usual array of qualifying ‘tricks' worked this week and we found ourselves in the 15 th starting spot. It was another long, hot day in the Alabama heat, but we were proud of what we accomplished today.
As we covered the car, and anticipated a good race tomorrow, my mind began to wander once more towards another evening with the young temptress that had been feeding my ego and sharing my libido. We went back into the country where she new about a great little restaurant that served home cooked meals, which is a luxury for those of us who work long hours at the shop and suffer through the never ending parade of fast food establishments.
Man, this was close to heaven for me. We had just had a great day at the track, responded to the intense pressure of competition by massaging the beast to a high performance level, enduring intense heat, high decibel intrusions and the pungent odor of hot rear end grease while maneuvering thru a jungle of mental gymnastics just to survive the day, then merely 2 hours later to be in the presence of an attentive and attractive lady with lilac perfume, bright lipstick and in a light summers dress, enjoying a home cooked meal in a quite atmosphere joined both ends of my enjoyment spectrum.
After finished with our dining experience we began the slow ride back thru the country, listening to Maureen McGovern singing the Morning After and we were both silently contemplating what the balance of the evening had in store for us. It sure exceeded my expectations.
Arriving early as required to get the car ready to go thru race day inspection, and get all the pit road equipment set up in our pit stall, we generally had all that completed around lunchtime. Race day was the only day at the race track that permitted enough time to actually stop and eat. We would go back to the car hauler and change into our race day uniforms, get a hot dog or a hamburger, accompanied by some fries and a Coke, and would sit on pit wall, consuming our meal and begin to mentally prepare ourselves for what lay ahead. You never knew what was going to happen, but you did know that it was not going to be physically pleasant until the last engine was shut down, and then you had to load up the car and hauler and begin the long drive home. For us, it would be deep into the night before we reached home, only to rise early the next morning to start all over again.
Your senses began to sharpen and your focus became clearer as crewmembers from the other cars began to air up the tires and start mulling around the pit stalls until it was time to go to your car and oversee the start up procedure. It's just another job until you hear ‘Gentlemen Start Your Engines'.
There is no way in 40 hells that can you explain the transformation that comes over you as 50 race car motors come roaring to life, jolting you to another level of intensity as the ground literally shakes beneath your feet and you realize that an entity that your team conceived, fabricated, assembled, painted and tuned is now going to compete with other folks with similar aspirations to see ‘who's is the biggest', ‘ who's your daddy', ‘get some of this', ‘take that', ‘show me somethin', ‘bring it on', ‘what you got?' Right here, right now, you lay yourself bare to the world, with no turning back and no guarantees as to how it is going to turn out.
It goes better for some than others! Dick Brookes won his first Winston Cup race. We finished poorly as we lost our motor on the 51 st lap, others fared worse, much worse. On lap 13 driver Larry Smith, a very popular driver from Lenoir , North Carolina , slid up the track in turn one in what looked like a minor incident and the car was returned to the pits and the crew began repairs, only to learn that their driver had succumbed to the accident. On lap 90 another driver, Bobby Isaacs radioed in for a relief driver. It was a result of a ‘voice' that had told him to stop racing. He retired on the spot.
It was a sad occasion, but we all realized that it was an unspoken part of our occupation, and we all moved forward. Others, like ‘Brooksy' had a great deal to be thankful for.
On our way out of town, I learned that my newly acquired lady friend was only 17 years old!
I have never been able to understand how life can be such a mixture of love, grief, hardship and pleasure all intermingling at the same time in the same place, and being divided among so many people.