A number of years ago, when I was still getting a paycheck to write, my company featured me in a little series they had in their employee newsletter as part of an effort to get to know just who is sitting in the cubicle next to you. One of the questions they asked everyone was, “What is one thing about you that most people would be surprised to learn?”
Hmmm. That’s kind of a hard one since I didn’t want to mention I eat food that I’ve dropped on the floor even if it’s been more than five seconds or that the back seat of my car is shamefully dirty with everything from crumbs dropped by grandkids eating Fruit Loops to papers that I tossed in the back seat of my car sometime during the Carter administration.
And then it hit me. I will tell them that I like NASCAR. No one would guess that. Particularly since it’s not actually, well, wholly factual. It’s partially factual. I can tolerate Bill (who truly LOVES NASCAR) watching it on television, and even try to engage a bit. I love listening to the announcers, all of whom sound like they just got in from hauling hay or are getting ready to do so. They’re so darn happy about the sport. And I find it interesting to see the drivers crash into a wall, spin around 60 or 70 times, hit two or three other drivers, roll to a stop, and hop out of the car like they were making a quick run into Target.
But here’s why I felt like I could say that I liked NASCAR and not get struck by a bolt of lightening for lying. I grew up watching stock car races with my family.
There was a dirt oval racetrack just east of our town that ran stock cars every Sunday. It was called Skylark Raceway. Dad and Mom took the family to the stock car races many Sunday nights to watch the races and root on our very favorite driver who drove the Number 1 car – a purple car with Mighty Mouse painted on its side. The driver, whose name was Willie Hecke, was either loved or hated, depending on your perspective. Our family universally loved him, both because he usually won, but also because of that doggone Mighty Mouse on the side of his car. Who couldn’t root for Mighty Mouse (“Here I come to save the daaaaaaay!” MM would sing as he saved Pearl Pureheart who was seemingly endlessly being tied to a board that was going through a sawmill.)
Anyhoo, back to Skylark Raceway. We were an odd lot, certainly not your typical race fans. But we all loved those stock car races, and apparently so did our parents. On the Sunday nights that we stayed at home, we could still hear the faint sound of the cars racing as we sat on our front porch wishing we were there.
The seats were benches, the concessions were rudimentary (though I’m sure beer was among the offerings), and oh-my-heavens, was it ever dusty. Remember the dirt track? As darkness approached and the lights went on, you could see the dirt in the air and imagine it going into our lungs. We didn’t care. Our beloved Mighty Mouse was winning the modified jalopy race once again. Go Mighty Mouse! We would just take a bath when we got home.
It’s quite a leap to go from Skylark Raceway to the fancy race tracks on which NASCAR races today. Still, I must admit that, while I couldn’t tell you Jeff Gordon’s standings (Bill could), I still get goosebumps when I hear those engines fire up.
By the way, I recently read that Willie Hecke died suddenly of a massive heart attack in 1985 sitting in a racecar waiting for the green flag to wave. An awesome way for our beloved Mighty Mouse to go to that great race track in the sky.