The Graying of

My Guardian

Angel

 

By Robert D. Lawrence

(Continued)

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Copyright © 1991 by Lawrence Publishing, Wichita, Kansas U. S. A.

Originally published as a paperback book of short stories and republished here by

permission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Build a New Car and Try Again

         Knowing a little more about what we were doing this time, we were able to convert another 1955 Ford into my next racecar in just less than a month.  On Saturday evening, July 2, 1966, I pulled the new racecar to Wichita’s Eighty-One Speedway on a tow bar behind my Oldsmobile.  That was a 60-mile trip so I had taken along several extra tires.  Two of the extra tires had inner tubes in them and could be used to race on if needed.  The rest were tubeless and were only to be used for towing the car home on.  It was dangerous to race tubeless tires on dirt, as it was too easy to hit a rut with one and break the bead, which would roll the tire right off of the rim.

     On that evening, I had a flat tire during the “warm up” period and another during the first heat race so that when a third tire went flat during the semi-final race, I did not have any tires left to put on the car except for the tubeless ones.  When I went to notify the racing officials that I would not be racing in the main event, I noticed that I was scheduled to start that race from the pole position.  I did not say anything to the officials and returned to my car to see what my pit crew thought we should do.  After a long discussion, we decided to put one of the tubeless tires on the left front of the car and start the race.  We reasoned that, since we only made left turns on an oval track, which would shift the weight of the car away from the left side of the car.  In fact, the left front wheels were often completely off the ground as the cars went around the corners.  That wheel was really only needed to hold the car up while going down the straightaway.

     I did not get a particularly good start in that race and was running in third place as the cars came out of the fourth turn onto the front straightaway to complete the first lap.  Just before we reached the start-finish line, another racecar tapped my car on the left rear corner sending me spinning clockwise down the front stretch.  In doing so, the weight of the car shifted to the left front wheel, the tubeless peeled off of its rim, the rim dug into the track, and the last thing I remember of the incident was the car slamming down hard on its roof as it started to barrel roll down the straightaway.

     The next thing that I knew, everything was quiet.  I was sitting in my racecar near the first turn and all of the other cars were stopped.  There was a pit steward leaning in my window telling me to sit still, the ambulance was on its way.  I said, “Why?  I’m OK.”  I unbuckled my seatbelts and crawled out through the windshield opening.  I remember the crowd applauding the fact that, thought I walked a little wobbly, I was not seriously hurt.  The best way I can explain how I felt is remembering being a little child and having an adult grab me by my shoulders and shake me as hard as they could.  It made me ache all over and it seemed as though my head did not want to sit on my shoulders anymore.  I noticed that the belt to my jeans was unbuckled.  It seems that the buckle had been broken in the crash but that was the only damage that I could find to my person.

The car was another story.  The engine had come loose from its mounts and had severely rearranged the engine compartment and hood as it had flopped around during the crash.  Had the car not landed upright on its wheels, the engine would surely have fallen out onto the racetrack on its last bounce.  The rest of the car’s body was twisted and bent, as one would expect.

     I did not feel like driving myself home that night so a friend drove my car and towed the racecar home for me while I laid in the back seat.  The front end of the racecar was badly out of alignment and we had to stop twice on the way home to change front tires on it that had blown out after overheating from being dragged partially sideways for so many miles.

     It was nearly a year before I was to race on a dirt track again.

 

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Head-on

     I did continue to race stock cars and remember starting inside of the second row of a “B” feature race at Eighty-One Speedway in the fall of 1968.  As the cars were coming out of the fourth corner onto the front straightaway to complete the first lap, the first two cars, which had started on the front row, bumped into each other and spun out in front of the entire on coming field of race cars.  Mine was the nest car on the scene and, finding the racetrack completely blocked by those two cars, I slammed head-on into one of the now stopped cars so hard that the rear end of my car rose several feet off of the track.  Before it could come back down, another race car ran up under mine and hit it in the bottom causing my back wheels to come down onto his hood where they spun for a few seconds, burning two black stripes in his paint.

     When I got out of my car, I noticed that we were but the first four cars in a 15-car pileup.  The cars had all been running so close together on the dusty racetrack that not a single car in the race had been able to escape the carnage.  No one had been injured but my car was demolished and that incident ended the racing season for me for that year.

 

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An Icy Mountain Road

     I scheduled my vacation for the last two weeks of February in 1969 and left home on Sunday, February 16th to drive to Florida to attend the “Daytona 500” stock car race.  It had snowed several inches the day before we left so we drove through snow all that first day and stayed that night in a motel in Marshall, Arkansas.  The next morning, we ate breakfast early in a crowded restaurant and set out to continue our trip.  Just south of Marshall, the road wound up a mountain.  The road surface was icy and we made it about halfway up the mountain before losing momentum and then loosing traction.  Unable to go farther, I backed down the mountain and we returned to the restaurant where we stayed until about ten o’clock.  This time, we were able to make it to within a couple hundred feet of the summit before again becoming stuck on the ice.  As we pondered our options of sitting there or backing all the way down again, two men in a Jeep drove up from behind then stopped in front of us and asked if we would like for them to pull us to the summit.  We agreed so they hooked on a chain and pulled us to the top.

     We unhooked the chain and were on our way, at least, until we came to the next mountain.  The road was steeper, narrower, and more winding on that one, and every bit as icy.  We made it about half way up again, though this time in the middle of a curve, we got stuck.  The Jeep was nowhere in sight and I was afraid to try backing down this one so I decided to try to turn the car around and drive it back down the mountain.  It would require several back and forth maneuvers so my wife got out and directed me, letting me know when I got close to the edge of the mountain.  After several minutes of maneuvering, I got the car turned around.  My wife got back in and we started down the mountain.  Just as we got rolling, a semi-truck came barreling down the mountain behind me.  The road was so slick that I knew he could not slow down, much less stop, and it was all that I could do to outrun him to the bottom of the mountain.  At one point, the truck ran up to within just a few feet from my back bumper.

     At the bottom of the mountain, we drove out into the sunshine.  I was able to slow down and pull off into the driveway of a service station while the truck continued on down the highway.  I just sat there thinking about that might have happened if that truck had come along just seconds before it did.  Our car would have been crosswise on that mountain road with my wife standing beside it and every possibility that I could even imagine would have been tragic.

     We sat on the drive of that service station for several minutes before it dawned on me to let some of the air out of the tires.  Doing that gave us just enough traction to get over the rest of the mountains that morning and I aired them back up when we got to Little Rock and out of the mountains.

  

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A Wrecker on the Racetrack

     By the summer of 1969, I had a new racecar, a 1956 Chevrolet, and had even begun winning some races.  I was leading a race at Eighty-One Speedway one Saturday night when there was a wreck in the second turn that I was not involved in.  The red flag was displayed and the race halted to clean up the wreckage.  When the race resumed, I led the pack of cars through the first and into the second turn only to find a wrecker crossing the racetrack with a disabled racecar on its winch.  There were crewmembers sitting all over both the wrecker and the racecar.  I yanked my steering wheel hard to the left and spun my car down across the infield into the pit area where it came to a stop without hitting anything.  The wrecker driver then sped across the racetrack and most of the other racecars were able to miss it by driving high on the racetrack and behind the car on its hook.  The ones that had not done so had spun out, like I had, and no one crashed into the wrecker, nor the car it was towing.

     The race was restarted again and I was allowed to return to my position at the front of the line but I was thinking more about the tragedy that had been so narrowly averted that I did not concentrate as much as I should have on the restart of the race and I spun the car out again when we approached the second corner.  Again, I did not hit anything and could have rejoined the race at the rear of the field but I was so upset by the way things were going that I just drove back to my parking place in the pit area.

     After the race, I asked the flagman what he was thinking about when he restarted that race when the racetrack was not clear.  I reminded him how much we drivers depended on him in such situations and told him that my faith in him had been badly shaken by the incident.  He apologized to me saying that other race officials had signaled him that the track was clear and he had taken their word for it.  “Obviously,” he told me, “That was a mistake.”

 

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Deep Snow on the Interstate

     My oldest son was just six weeks old in February of 1971 when we took him on a weekend trip to visit some friends who lived near Harrah in central Oklahoma.  It rained very hard on Saturday night and the rain continued on Sunday morning as we left to return home to Wichita.  Listening to the car radio, we heard that it was snowing very hard in Kansas and that travel in that direction was not advised.  When we got to Oklahoma City, I filled the car with gasoline and called my boss in Wichita to ask if we could just stay in Oklahoma for another day or so.  He told me that it was only snow and that, being a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service; I would be expected to be at work on time on Monday morning.  “A little snow should not interfere with that”, he told me.

     As I drove north on Interstate Highway 35 with my wife beside me and our son in a basket on the back seat, the rain changed to a heavy, wet, drifting snow.  The road was slick and the ditches were so full of cars that I joked we would need a reservation before we could find enough space to slide off into one.  Snowplows were out but it was evident that they were loosing ground to the storm.  Some drivers were trying to stay behind the snowplows that were only going about 20 miles per hour and had their blades set pretty high.  I found that I needed to keep my momentum up just to be able to break through the snow left on the road behind the plows, let along the drifts that were rapidly forming behind them.  I decided to pass the plows so that I could drive faster and try making it on my own.  I accelerated to about 60 miles per hour where the snow depth would allow but then would almost slow to a stop before I could break through some of the drifts and be able to get my speed back up again.

     At one point, I had my speed up and was driving in the center lane about 100 yards behind two cars traveling in each lane side by side ahead.  Suddenly, the car in my lane started spinning around and around in front of me.  I knew that if I swerved to miss it, I would wind up in a ditch for certain.  I remembered that when professional racecar drivers encounter a spinning car on the racetrack, they say they steer toward it.  Their reasoning is that the only place that they know that car will not be when they get there is where it is right then.  I maintained my speed and kept going straight ahead.  Just before I got to the spinning car, it got a little traction, darted into the outside lane, struck the car broadside that had been traveling in that lane, and they both slid off of the road into the ditch.  I figured that, with all of the other stranded cars around, there would be someone along to assist them before too long so I just kept going on down the road, not even slowing down to look.

     The traffic was thinning and the drifts were getting deeper by the time we reached Perry, Oklahoma and I knew that I was going to need tire chains before much longer so I got off of the interstate and stopped at a crowded service station.  They quoted $35 for a set of tire chains.  I told them I could not pay that much and started to leave.  The attendant called me back and said the interstate was closed at the next exit anyway.  All travelers had to stay in Perry.  He gave us directions to the fire station where he said we could get help with accommodations.  We got to within a block of the fire station when we got stuck in a snowdrift.  Leaving my family in the car, I got out and walked the rest of the way.

     I told the firemen that I had been directed there but had gotten stuck a short distance away.  They said they were putting travelers up in the local armory and some of them went with me to help retrieve my car.  When we got to the car, one asked if that was a baby in the back seat and I told them it was.  They told me the armory would be too drafty for a baby but they did have a few families in town that would take in travelers with special needs such as ours.  We freed the car and they took us to a large house just a few blocks away.  A man, his wife, and two teenage daughters lived there and they welcomed us into their home.

     The snow continued and the firemen brought more people to join us until there were 17 of us there in all.  Our hosts set up tables with cards and board games in several rooms and designated other rooms for sleeping.  Their daughters took turns caring for our son.  The host family fixed and served all of the meals.  They would not allow their guests to provide a, or pay for, anything during our stay.

     I called the post office in Wichita on Monday morning but a clerk told me he was one of only three employees to make it in to work that morning and they were getting ready to go back home.  I called again on Tuesday morning but on one answered the telephone.

     Word came that the roads would be open again by Tuesday afternoon so our host and I walked to a local car dealership to see if we could get some tire chains.  They sold me some used ones for two dollars.  We walked back to the car, put them on, and left for home just after noon on Tuesday.

     Perry had gotten about 18 inches of snow but the farther north we went, the deeper the snow got.  Twenty-three inches of snow had fallen in Wichita.

     I started to go to work on Wednesday morning but had car trouble.  Thursday was my day off so I did not actually get back to work until Friday.  When I did get back, I told my boss that I did not appreciate his telling me I had to go out in that storm with a baby just so I could be at work on Monday morning, especially when he had not made it in on Monday himself.  He told me that he knew it had been snowing when I called him on Sunday but that he had no idea how bad the storm was and he certainly would have given me permission to stay where I was in Oklahoma if he had only known how bad it was going to turn out to be.

  

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A Stuck Throttle

     Saturday, May 1, 1971 was hot and muggy as evening fell over Eighty-One Speedway north of Wichita.  There were thunderstorms in the area and lightning was flashing in the distant sky.  I had sold my own stock car by then and was driving for another car owner.  I started the semi-final race near the back of the pack.  The car was running exceptionally well and I was moving past the other cars in a hurry.  Because of the high humidity, the racetrack had remained moist throughout the evening and my car seemed to be getting good traction near the outer edge of the racetrack; a line that few of the other drivers had chosen to use.  About halfway through the race, I passed another car on the front straightaway and had moved into fifth place entering the first turn.  I drove hard into that corner and did not let off of the throttle until the very moment when I was sure that if I stayed on it any longer, I would go flying off of the racetrack.  I let up on the pedal and found myself sailing through the air off the end of the racetrack.  The gas pedal was stuck to the floor!  Instantly, I flipped off the “kill switch” though I realized, as I did so, that I was too late, as it would not slow the car down any to shut the engine off in midair.  The car traveled about 100 feet, at about ten feet off of the ground, before coming down in the bottom of a drainage ditch.  Had the car flown a little farther, it would have made it over the ditch and gone out through a fence into a parking lot.  If it had come down a little sooner, it probably would have bounced over the ditch and through that same fence.  Either way, the incident would probably have ended harmlessly.  As it was, the front bumper of the car dug into the opposite bank of the ditch and came to a complete stop, from about 80 miles an hour, in no more than two feet.  Each corner of the hood had been secured by four-inch wing nuts but I remember watching the car’s number “76”, which had been painted on the hood, as it sailed away from me after the impact.  The hood came to rest against the fence a few feet in front of the car.

     My back was aching and I was afraid that it might be broken so I tried wiggling my toes.  They all moved!  I could hear that the other cars were still racing and I wondered if no one had seen me go off of the racetrack but then my thoughts turned to “how were they ever going to get me out of this car?”    The doors were welded shut and the single bucket-type seat was situated in the middle of the car surrounded by the massive roll cage.  My left foot was by the brake pedal on the left side of the car while my right foot was on the right side of the car near to where the gas pedal had been moved.  That arrangement had left plenty of room between my legs for the long gearshift lever but that was now just one more obstacle that would have to be overcome to extract me from the wreckage.  I could just imagine well meaning but frantic rescue workers unfastening my safety harness and dragging me out through one of the windows.  With that though in my mind, I was content to just sit there and hope that no one would try to move me.

     The race was still going when I saw a teenage boy climb over the fence from the parking lot, come to my car, and lean in the right front window.  He asked me if I was all right and I told him that I did not think so.  He started doing Jumping Jacks to get the attention of race officials and it seemed like just seconds until the race was stopped and a large crowd had gathered around my car.  One man, wearing a Sedgwick County Rescue Sq uad uniform, climbed in a window and knelt on his knees next to me in the car.  He asked if I could move at all and I said I could but my back hurt so that I was afraid to do so.  He then asked if I thought I could maneuver my legs around the gearshift lever so that they would both be together.  I said that I could if we had all night and he assured me that we did.  He said that it would be better if I moved them instead of him doing so as I would know which moves would hurt me and when I needed to stop.  I unbuckled my safety harness and was able to move my right leg to the left side of the gearshift lever so that both of my feet were on the left front floorboard of the car.  At that point, the man was able to pick me up in his arms and hand my body, feet first, out the left front window of the car to a line of men that had formed there to pass me along bucket-brigade-style to an ambulance which was waiting near the edge of the racetrack.  I knew most of the men in the line and several of them made encouraging comments as I passed by but I do not remember any of those in particular now.

     I was placed flat on my back on a stretcher in the ambulance but then I started having difficulty breathing.  As I struggled for air, I found that I could breathe somewhat comfortably when my knees were raised so the attendants allowed me to lie in that position for the trip to the hospital.

     Eighty-One Speedway had just taken delivery on a brand new ambulance that week and I was the first patient to be transported in it.  It did not have all the equipment that was needed, such as a siren and a backboard, and one of the attendants later told me that they would have radioed ahead to have another rescue squad, equipped with a resuscitator, meet us when I started having difficulty breathing, but the radio did not work either.  On the way to the hospital, the flashing red light on the roof even quit working.

     Once at the hospital, I was X-rayed, given a shot for the pain, my clothes were cut off of me, and I was admitted with a compression fracture to the spine and some internal injuries.  They catheterized me and instructed me not to even try to move myself around at all.  If I needed to roll over, I was to call for a nurse to help me do so.  I remember lying in the hospital bed with the lights out, later that night, and wondering what I had gotten myself into this time.

     I felt pretty good the next morning and remember thinking that, if this was as bad as it got, everything was going to be all right.  It was not.  By evening, my whole digestive track had shut down so they put me on a stomach pump.  I do not remember much about the next four days except that I was very uncomfortable.

     The man, who owned the racecar I had been driving, visited me in the hospital and told me that, thought the car was repairable, he was just going to sell what was left of it.  He said that he had never even dreamed that anyone would ever get hurt in a car that he had built.  I told him that I wished he would reconsider, as I wanted to race again, when I was able, and I was not afraid to drive his car.  I finally talked him into repairing the car and he had it ready to race again before I was well enough to drive it.  The only problem he encountered was that he was unable to determine why the throttle had stuck open as all of the linkage had been so badly damaged in the wreck.  He replaced the linkage and said he hoped that had fixed it.

     I was hospitalized for ten days and laid around home unable to work, let alone race, for the next three and a half months.  I did get to visit with the man who had lifted me out of the car and he told me that he could tell from experience that my back was broken by the way I was sitting in the seat when he first arrived on the scene.  I asked him if he had found me difficult to lift and he said that, though I was heavy, the position that he had to work from inside the car had caused him the most difficulty.

     A friend took the racecar out for a test drive later that summer and the throttle stuck open again on the very first lap.  He was expecting that might happen though and had let off in plenty of time to get the car stopped before it hit anything.  He and the owner started taking pieces off one at a time until they determined that the butterflies inside the carburetor had been defective and were hanging up on the sides of the carburetor.  A new carburetor solved the problem.

     After analyzing data from my accident, the racetrack’s insurance company mandated some changes in rules regarding safety equipment in the racecars.  From that time on, each racecar was required to have a crotch strap that ran from the floorboard of the car up and hooked into the safety harness buckle.  They had determined that the tightening of my shoulder harness had raised my seat belts up from across my waist to where they crossed my stomach just below my rib cage instead.  This had not allowed my body to bend any at the waist on impact and had actually caused my fracture and internal injuries when my body had pressed against the belts so hard.  All racecars would also be required to have a toe strap across the top of the gas pedal to aid the driver in pulling the pedal back up in the event of it becoming stuck.  The car I was driving had been so equipped and it had not helped but it was determined that the device could be usefully and that most of the other stock cars racing in the area at the time, did not have them.

     The doctors released me to return to work in September of 1971 and I even raced again later that same month.

     Click your mouse HERE to see some photographs of this crash.

 

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Driving Fast Keeps Me Awake

     I have long been able to fall asleep at the drop of a hat.  I once thought it was a handy talent and often employed it to catch brief naps in school.  That seemed to make the days pass more quickly as well as help me feel I could stay out later at night.  As I got older though, I learned there was a downside to it as well as I too easily fell asleep in church, in the presence of company, while watching television programs that I really wanted to see, as well as while driving.  It is the later that has caused me the most problems.

     One Sunday afternoon in the early 1970s, my wife and I were traveling west on a two-lane highway in northern Oklahoma on our way to attend a stock car race at Woodward, Oklahoma.  It was a warm fall day and even small towns were far apart in that sparsely populated part of the country.  As I drove along, my wife fell asleep so I turned on the radio and picked up my speed a little.  I had often stated that the faster I drove, the easier it was for me to stay awake.  Whether I actually believed that or not, or if I just used it for an excuse to drive fast, I really do not know, but it was not long before the needle on the speedometer was bouncing between 90 and 95 miles per hour.  I do not know how long I drove that fast.  I do not remember much that happened immediately before, but I plainly remember waking up to find the car veering off of the pavement and, before I could do much about it, bouncing along down the shallow drainage ditch along the right side of the highway still traveling at nearly 90 miles per hour.  As it turned out, I had plenty of room to get the car slowed down on the grassy surface and did so before pulling back onto the highway.  I did not think that the car was damaged and did not even stop to look.  My wife was wide-awake by that time and screaming something about what I thought I was doing in the ditch in the first place.  Should I tell her that even by driving fast, I had not been able to stay awake?  The point seemed moot, as neither of us was very sleepy at that point.  I did keep my speed down a little closer to the speed limit for the rest of the trip though.

 

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Over a Wheel and Through the Air

     I started near the rear of a race at Eighty-One Speedway one night in the mid 1970s and all of the cars were running very close together as we entered the first turn.  I noticed one racer, a black Ford, spinning near the front of the pack but thought that he should be out of my way before I got that far or, at least, that I should be able to get by him without any trouble.  At many racetracks, a car spinning out in the first turn would call for a restart but, to speed the program along, Eighty-One Speedway had a rule that for one car to cause a race to be restarted, it must turnover.  If there were two or more cars involved in an accident in the first turn on the first lap, the flagman would also display the restart flag.  Because of this rule, I continued to race into that first turn though I could see other cars were scrambling in front of me.  I did not think that too unusual, as I knew they had to miss the errant Ford as well.  Suddenly, the two cars directly in front of mine parted and I caught a glimpse of a loose tire and wheel rolling down the racetrack in front of me.  A glimpse was all that I got before my car ran over it and we were launched skyward, flying through the air several feet above the surface of the racetrack.  My car came back down, dive-bombing nose first, right into the hood of the by then stopped black Ford, bounced into the Ford’s windshield area, then slid off of the side, and came to rest upright on the racetrack.  I remember thinking, “Well, there are two cars involved now!”

     Not only did the race have to be restarted, they had to stop it first to tend to the other driver and clean up the wreckage.  I do not remember the specific injuries he suffered but do remember that his car was bent down somewhat around him trapping him for a short time until rescuers could free him.  He was taken to the hospital where I believe he stayed overnight and released the next day.  I was not injured at all.  Both racecars, though repairable, were too badly damaged to race anymore that night.

 

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Sparks but No Lights

     The stock car I was racing in the summer of 1973 was a 1958 Ford.  I banged my left front wheel with the right front wheel of another racecar as we both exited the fourth turn onto the front straightaway at Eighty-One Speedway one night.  It was the type of incident that happens often in that kind of racing and you do not think much about it once you realized that you were still going in the right direction.  At the end of the straightaway, I turned the car left and it seemed to set up nicely to enter the first turn.  The back end of the car slid out to the right as it was supposed to do, except that it just kept going on out and around me.  I steered to the right but it had no effect on the car.  The steering wheel was completely disconnected from the front wheels and it just spun around limply in my hands.  It was clear that the car was spinning out but it was equally clear that I was helpless to do anything about it and, at that point, I was just along for the ride.

     At the edge of the racetrack were some posts with old tires stacked on them to protect a nearby light pole.  The front of my car sheared off two of the posts sending tires flying in all directions and proceeded on into the light pole that came crashing down in a shower of sparks.  My car was stopped but all of the lights were out on that corner of the racetrack and there were electrical wires lying all around.  I just sat there while a crowd from the pits gathered and determined that none of the wires were still live.

     I was not hurt but it took the track crew some time to repair the lights so the races could continue.  We later learned I had broken a steering arm when I banged wheels with the other car and I had not had any steering at all from that point to where the car finally stopped, about a quarter of a mile away.  That left us wondering how I was able to turn the car left when I drove it into the first turn.

     Click your mouse HERE to see a photograph of the racecar still sitting where a light pole had been a couple minutes earlier.

 

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Another Brush With Fire

     On another night in the mid 1970s, I was again racing at Eighty-One Speedway.  As the field of cars raced through the third and fourth turns, the back of the car in front of mine slipped wide and the driver slowed in an attempt to regain control.  He may have been able to do so had my car not collided with the left rear corner of his but I do not know.  I do not believe I could have slowed in time to miss him all together but I must admit that I really did not try to do so.  Instead, I stayed on the throttle striking his car, spinning it around and out of my way while I continued around the racetrack.

     When I reached the front straightaway, I noticed the flagman was stopping the race and I remember thinking that I did not believe I had hit that car hard enough to have hurt anything other than just knock it out of my way.  If the red flag was being flown for that car, then someone else must have come along and run into it after I had left the scene.  I really thought it more likely that the race was being stopped for some unrelated incident altogether.

     I stopped for the red flag and waited for the pit stewards to line our cars back up again for the restart.  While I waited, one of my crewmen came running up and asked if the car, and I were all right.  I assured him that we were and asked him what had happened to cause the race to be stopped.  He told me that the car I had run into had burst into a ball of flames as it spun down across the racetrack after our collision.  We later learned that the driver had not been hurt but that the force of our collision had severed a gas line on his car spilling gasoline onto a hot exhaust pipe and igniting it.  His car was not badly damaged and he was able to race it again the following Saturday night.

     I have often wondered how much of that incident I might have been able to prevent and how those thoughts might have haunted me for the rest of my life had the other driver, or myself, been seriously injured in that incident.

 

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Click Went the Bumpers

     I raced in the Enid National Stock Car Races that were held at the Garfield County Fairgrounds in Enid, Oklahoma in October of 1976.  As the name implies, these races drew stock cars from all over the country to compete on that three-eights of a mile dirt racetrack.  I had not qualified well and started near the middle of the lineup in the 30-lap “B” feature.  There were a number of cars in that race that I had never seen before, let alone competed against.  That presented special problems in that one can never predict how a driver he has never raced against might react in the different situations that may occur during any given race.  Due much to the fact that the drivers were unfamiliar with each other’s different driving styles, the race turned out to be one of attrition and it seemed that we had to stop every few laps so that another wreck could be cleared away.  Near the end of the race, I was running somewhere near the front when I saw a car from New Mexico spin down across the racetrack about 200 feet in front of me.  I knew that if the driver would just slow down and get his car back under control, all would be fine.  I kept an eye on him so was not all that surprised to see him over-steer near the infield of the racetrack and shoot back across the track at a right angle to the on-coming traffic which included my car.  I thought that surely he would take his foot out of the throttle but he did not and by then it was too late for me to take much of an evasive measure, given the high speed at which I was traveling at that point on the racetrack.  With my foot on the gas and a lump in my throat, I just hoped I could pass by in front of him before he crossed the racetrack and crashed into me.  I had just reached my top speed of just over 80 miles per hour on the back straightaway and my heart was pounding when our paths crossed and our bumpers clicked as he passed that close behind me and smashed into the outside crash wall.  I had felt the back of my car move over ever so slightly as his car just touched my left rear bumper with the left front of his.  Had I been just a fraction of a second later, or had he been just a fraction of a second further along, the ensuing crash would have undoubtedly sent my car flying.  As it turned out though, I was able to continue, undamaged, around to the front stretch where the red flag was flying once again.  After they extracted that car from its precarious concrete perch, the race was again restarted and this time it concluded without further incident.  I finished fourth and therefore qualified to move up to the “A” feature event that night but the long race, with all of its starts and stops, had taken its toll on my engine and a burned piston kept me from any further competition that night.

     I only drove in two more races after that, both of them being in April of 1977.  My car threw its right rear wheel causing me to drop out of my last race thus ending my last night in a stock car, just as I had ended my first one eleven years earlier, on three wheels.

     There were several factors that contributed to my giving up racing when I did.  The sport was continually getting more expensive and the high costs kept driving more and more car owners away, making cars that were available to be driven that much harder to find.  I also found racing to be a demanding sport, not only financially but also on my time.  To be competitive, one had to constantly be learning new technology and refining techniques.  It had come to the point where I was no longer willing to dedicate my life to racing cars as I had done for so many years.  Other things had become more important.  I started spending more time with my family and friends, attending church, and participating in other more meaningful activities.  I do not mean to indicate that I would never race again.  If an opportunity presented itself for me to do so occasionally without the pressures of having to win, I think that I might consider doing so but now to the point where racing would ever again come before family, friends, and growth in my Christian walk.

 

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Ice On A Bridge

     My wife and I had attended church on Sunday evening, November 24, 1985.  At the conclusion of the service, a woman announced that the roads were becoming slippery and everyone should be extra careful on their way home.  Our teenage son had spent the day with a friend and we had arranged to stop by the friend’s house to pick him up on our way home from church.  I noticed that the city streets were wet but they did not seem particularly slick as we drove across town to pick him up.

     I decided the fastest way home would be to use Interstate Highway 135.  It is an elevated highway and one that I knew was a good one to stay off of in inclement weather but I did not think that the road, just being wet, would be that bad.  I got onto the interstate via the U.S. Highway 54 entrance ramp and noticed that the ramp was becoming slick as the water on the elevated portion was beginning to freeze.  I thought right then that it was going to be a slow trip home.  Once on the interstate itself though, I found it to be just wet, though a freezing drizzle was beginning to fall.

     Southbound Interstate Highway 135 crosses over Kansas Highway 15 in the southeast part of Wichita via a long bridge, two lanes wide, that arches in the middle in such a way that one can not see what is at the other end of the bridge until being well onto it.  Being aware of that fact, I had driven onto the bridge quite slowly in the outside lane.  As we neared the opposite end, we noticed a pickup truck stopped in the middle of the two lanes of highway, just passed the end of the bridge.  I touched the brakes and immediately found that the bridge had frozen over and the surface was just like glass.  Even though I was not going very fast, the front of the car slid to the right, grazed the outside bridge railing, and we came to a stop sitting a little crooked on the roadway.  The engine was still running and remember thinking, “Well, that wasn’t too bad and we had gotten stopped in plenty of time to miss the pickup”.  As that thought was crossing my mind, a Ford Escort, unable to slow, let alone stop on the ice, slammed into the rear-end of our Mercury Marquis, spinning us around 180º in the roadway so that we wound up facing back across the bridge.  This collision had killed the engine and I could not get it restarted.  Knowing that other oncoming vehicles would not be able to see us until they were almost upon us, I instructed my wife and son to get away from the car.

     We had all been wearing our seatbelts and the only injury any of us received was to my son and it was quite minor.  Though strapped in his seat, his upper body had struck the backdoor when the car spun around.  That blow had knocked the wind out of him as well as bowing the top of the door out a couple of inches.  I got out of the car and walked back across the bridge leaving my wife searching the car for her glasses and my son moaning in the backseat.  I wanted to try to warn oncoming traffic about our wrecked cars that were blocking all but the innermost shoulder of the roadway by then.  The first couple of cars to come along were going slow enough to get by on the little bit of shoulder but just as I got to the middle of the bridge, I could see a semi-truck coming in the distance.  I could hear its engine and could easily tell that it was going much too fast for the condition of the roadway.  Already standing near the outer bridge railing, I started jumping up and down waving my arms at the truck driver.  Just before he reached the bridge, he applied his brakes but it was too late for him to get stopped and he slid onto the bridge in the inside lane.  With all of his wheels locked in the slide, the back of his trailer drifted over into the outside lane heading in my direction.  I knew that the driver no longer had control of his truck and I momentarily contemplated jumping over the bridge railing but it was a long way down to the highway below.  I got as close to the railing as I could as the back of the trailer passed within about three feet of where I was standing.  The truck continued, “jack-knifing” across the bridge, the tractor crashing hard head-on into our Mercury.

     I thought, “What should I do now?  Should I go back to see if my wife and son got away from the car in time?  If I do, who will warn the rest of the oncoming traffic?  Others will just keep piling in if I don’t get them stopped back here.”  I continued walking up the road waving my arms and cars were soon stopping before they got onto the icy bridge.

     A young man, who had seen me on the bridge and then stopped beside the road after he had passed the wrecked vehicles, walked back to assist me and it was not long before we were directing all of the traffic off of the highway onto an exit ramp just before the bridge.  I asked this man if he had noticed if anyone had been hurt as he walked by the wreckage.  He told me that there was a kid who appeared to be hurt pretty bad.  I thought, “Oh no!  My son had not gotten out of the car in time!”  I started to run back but thought better of it knowing my wife, a registered nurse, would be much more help to him that I could ever be.

     An ambulance soon arrived and then the highway patrol who closed the road to all traffic.  Not being needed to direct traffic any longer, I walked back to the scene of the wreck.  My wife and son were standing, uninjured, in the crowd.  I told them I had heard a kid had been hurt and feared it had been our son.  They told me the only person injured was the driver of one of the cars in the original accident for which we had stopped in the first place, that he had received his injuries before we had even arrived, and that those injuries did not appear to be all that serious.

     Our car had been knocked backward off of the bridge by the impact from the truck, and its rear-end had come to rest upon a guardrail.  The truck driver was running around loaning out his coat and gloves and trying to help with whatever else he could.  I asked him if he had seen me standing on the bridge and he said he had not.  By sitting up so high in his cab, he said he had been able to see our stopped cars over the rise in the bridge just before he had gotten to the bridge and he had applied his brakes at that time but he had felt completely helpless as his truck slid across the bridge on the ice and into our car.  He said he was just happy on one had been hurt any worse than they were.  He was afraid someone might have been killed, as hard as he had piled into our car, and was thrilled to learn there was no one in the car when his truck crashed into it.  To my knowledge, on one got a traffic ticket from the incident and the young man who had helped me direct traffic gave us a ride home after the police reports were completed and the cars had been hauled away.

     Our younger son had stayed home along that evening and he was glad to see us get home.  He said a highway patrolman had called and told him we had been in an accident, that we were not hurt, but we would be a little late getting home.

     An insurance adjustor later told us our Mercury had been so badly damaged in the wreck that the only parts of the body not bent were the front floorboards.  It was nearly a year before the claims were all settled but the insurance companies of the Ford Escort and the semi-truck wound up sharing the cost of replacing our Mercury.

 

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Slick Shingles

     Our family moved into a quad-level home in west Wichita in November of 1988.  We had long wanted more space and this home seemed to be just what we had been looking for.  I went up onto the roof to inspect some repair work that had been done before we moved in.  It had snowed a few days earlier but most of that had melted by then.  The house had wooden shingles and, as I stepped from dry footing in the sunshine onto some shingles in the shade that were wet from still-melting snow, my feet flew out from under me and I started sliding down toward the edge of the roof.  It was a long way to the edge and even farther to the ground after that.  I could not seem to find anything to grab onto and noticed I was even picking up speed in my helpless descent.  All I could think about was a letter carrier I had once worked with who had fallen from his roof while checking for storm damage and was fatally injured.  Just a few feet before I reached the edge of the roof, I slid out into the sunshine again and onto some dry shingles.  I was glad to be feeling the heat of friction through my trousers as I slowed to a stop with just inches of shingles left between me and certain calamity.

 

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Bouncing Along the Median

     My wife and I were driving east of Kansas City, Missouri on Interstate Highway 70 one Sunday afternoon in the early 1990s.  She was asleep in the passenger seat when I apparently feel asleep as well.  We were both soon jolted awake by our van’s bouncing along about 60 miles per hour in the grassy ditch in the median separating the lanes of traffic.  I quickly regained control and tried to slow down before trying to turn back onto the roadway but I was not getting much traction as the terrain was quite rough and the van was spending more time in the air than it was on the ground.

     I soon noticed a crossover road in front of us and we were headed toward the end of a metal culvert under it.  There was not enough room to get stopped before we would strike the culvert so I turned the steering wheel sharply to the right.  The van flew high into the air once more and knocked down a couple of reflective markers along the edge of the road but it came down in the right lane going in the right direction.  It was then that I noticed that all of the traffic going in both directions had pulled off onto the shoulder of the road to give us as much room as possible or, maybe just to get as far away from us as they could.

     I drove on for a short distance before pulling off onto the shoulder and checking the van for damage.  I did not find any.  The reflective markers had been plastic and made to bend over when struck by a vehicle.  After a few minutes of reflection and to compose our thoughts, we continued on our trip quite wide-awake.

 

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Epilogue

     I doubt anyone reading this got very far into it before they realized I am a rather inept person who has often exercised bad judgment, made poor choices and some just plain old mistakes in his life.  It should also have become obvious that it was nothing I have done which has spared my life and limb.  In fact, it can truthfully be stated that I am alive today in spite of many of the things I have done and some of the choices I have made.

     After my father’s death of cancer several years ago, I found myself reflecting upon his life and upon his death.  How could anyone accept such a painful demise so peacefully?  I soon realized it was his belief in God and His promise of salvation through His son, Jesus Christ, which made his suffering tolerable.

     Where was my father now?  What had become of this peaceful man?  Would I ever see him again?  My mother gave me a Living Bible and I started reading The Revelation searching for answers.  When I got to the third chapter, verses 15 and 16, I read, “I know you well – you are neither hot nor cold; I wish you were one or the other!  But since you are merely lukewarm…”

     I stopped reading at that point and reflected on my own life.  I had been brought up in a Christian home, had attended church regularly as a child, and knew all of the old Bible stories.  I had not really ignored God.  It was just that my life had become crowded with so many other things.  “That’s me!” I thought, “I could charitably be called a lukewarm Christian.  Then I read the rest of the verse 16 and my heart went to my throat for there Christ states, “I will spit you out of my mouth!”  Right there, I got on my knees, asked for His forgiveness, and for Him to take dominion of my life.

     My life has truly been blessed.  I enjoy a loving family, all in good health, a comfortable home, and a fulfilling job which adequately provides for our needs.  Yes.  The Lord knows how inept I am and it has been suggested that, had He kicked me in the britches, told me to quit racing cars, and slow down, my guardian angle might not have had to work so hard.  Instead, He allowed me to choose the roads I would travel at the pace I set and, after all of these miles, I have no doubt one of His very best guardian angels is still there watching over me.  I believe that you have one too.  I just hope your have not kept yours as busy as I have mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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