Not long after a co-worker and I started dating, I regularly mentioned my passion for racing. She agreed to give it a try, and we went to Talladega in May 1989 for the Winston 500.
I'd been to Talladega once before. For the 1987 Winston 500, I sat on the frontstretch just a couple of sections to the right of Harold Kinder - not far from where Bobby Allison horrifically ripped the fence. The tickets were comp'd, and I really didn't explore the track much or have a strategy for parking.
Because our plan to go in '89 was last minute, I didn't buy reserved seats. Instead, we opted for general admission backstretch tickets. My girlfriend's first impression of the scene was not a favorable one.
- The morning air was pretty chilly.
- The wooden bleachers were full of splinters.
- The smell of cigarette smoke hung heavy in the air.
- And the hootin' and hollerin' from the rowdies was already at volume level 8.
When the green flag dropped and the restricted engines of the bunched pack muscled up to speed, I focused more on the race than I did her. Hey, we were at a race. Right? It wasn't as if we were on a date date.
The bleacher bums amp'd their lusty cheers to 11 as their heroes screamed down the backstretch - the Earnhardt's Goodwrench Chevy, Rusty's Kodiak Pontiac, Neil Bonnett in the Wood Brothers' Ford, and Alabama's newest favorite son Davey Allison in the Havoline Ford. WHOOOOOO! But my girlfriend just sat there stoically and wasn't buying it.
About halfway through the race, one of the fellas behind us needed a break. Rather than cross over his brethren, he decided he'd step down a few rows of empty pine. After navigating a couple of them successfully, he misstepped one and pitched forward. Fortunately for him - but not so much for us - my girlfriend was his brake. He caught her in the upper back and bent her over as he stopped. To his credit, he pulled up and slobbered out a meek sorry ma'am.
To my credit, I was chivalrous, defended my lady friend, dog cussed the guy, and tossed him to the aisle. Actually, that's a bald-faced lie. I laughed heartily at the whole scene and earned a death glare from her when it wasn't directed at Gomer.
The bad situation (for her - still funny to me) got worse as the race hit the 3/4 mark and the dicing intensified. The intensity was too much for another one of our new-found buddies behind us to stomach. Or maybe it was the prodigious amount of booze he'd consumed that weekend. Either way, we heard the unmistakable sound of wretching as the Puke Monster unloaded on the empty bleacher row in front of him. That's it, enough. She was ready to bolt for the car, but fortunately I talked her into moving a couple of sections away so I could be there for the finish.
Amazingly, we made it to the end. Even more surprising is she later agreed to marry me, and we got hitched about 18 months later. I'm glad we stayed. As it turned out, I was there to see Davey take the win as I was his other two times in 1987 and 1992.
Two years after Talladega, she agreed to give racing a second chance. Being a bit wiser myself, I opted for going to Atlanta instead of coaxing her into a return trip to Talladega. Our target: the 1991 Motorcraft 500. To help things a bit, a friend of mine and his wife went with us.
We were prepared for a great day of racing fun. Alan Kulwicki qualified fastest in his debut race with Hooters as his sponsor, and Ken Schrader had a fast car which made my friend happy.
The window never opened, and the remainder of the race was postponed until Monday. On our way back to Chattanooga, my buddy and I made the decision to take a vacation day and return for the conclusion. But not my wife. She'd had enough.
When Richard Petty announced his plans to retire after the end of the 1992 season, Schaefer co-founder Philly and I made plans to hit as many races as we could that year. Of critical importance to us was attending his final event - the Hooters 500 at Atlanta. I asked my wife if she wanted me to buy her a ticket as well. The King's last race - on a fall, southern afternoon? C'mon.
Her answer was along the lines of "Fine, but I'll take a book to read." What? A book? I replied it would be wasted money if I bought her a ticket only to have her read the whole time. Who could even do that? "Then don't buy me a ticket. I really don't wanna go anyway." So I didn't.
My 43rd year as a racing fan is now underway. And I've been the sole representative from my home at all races I've attended since March 1991. I generally have a great time meeting other couples at races, but odds are slim to none any of them will ever meet my better half.