What better way could there be to spend Father's Day than to run a racecar in front of your own daughter and your own Dad?
There is an easy answer to that question - that is to also win the race.
And that is the short and sweet story to my outing on Sunday at Thunder Road Speedbowl (VT), where the somewhat-annual Media Madness race took place. For the third time, I was invited to the race and for the third time, I was fortunate enough to win it. This time though was extra special for some very personal reasons. It used to be that my world revolved around everything racing. For the most part, it still does in fact. But there is one thing that over the past few years, I have learned that I would gladly put racing in the backseat for - and that is my role as a part-time single Dad to my little girl, Courtney Twist, who turns three later this summer. There is nothing in life that I have found to be any more challenging, rewarding or amazing as being a Dad.
A lot of times, being a Dad and being involved in racing can intertwine with each other. During the off-season, Courtney loves going to racing shows to take it the bright colors of the cars on display while I interview drivers and catch up on the off-season news. She's gotten to enjoy sitting in the grandstands of our most local track, Beech Ridge Motor Speedway (ME) with her Daddy on the rare night when we are together and I'm not traveling to some further away event. She's got autographed photos of Mike Rowe and Dave Dion on her wall. I'm not sure if she loves the sport, or if she'll even grow up to enjoy it, but for now she loves the time we spent together and the numerous smiling faces that she gets to meet while doing anything racing-related.
So to race in front of Courtney for the first time on Father's Day was a real treat that I looked forward to. I had no idea just how much she would enjoy it.
After a nice Sunday drive through the White Mountain…and then the Green Mountains…from Maine to Vermont, my little group arrived at Thunder Road. While I was racing, my parents would watch it all with Courtney. Upon getting to the track, I headed for the pits to sing in and prep for the race. My parents and Courtney heads for the spectator area. But as I found out later on, it wasn't just any spectator area that they were headed to.
As they walked to the frontstretch of the track, Courtney stopped them and pointed over to the area overlooking turn three.
“I want to sit on THAT hill,” she said while pointing.
The official name of where she pointed is Forsythe Hill, but the locals around Thunder Road affectionately call it “Bud Hill” thanks to one of the most common brands of beverages that are consumed there. It's not really a rowdy place (the officials at Thunder Road run a tight ship where anything too stupid will get you thrown out by the local law enforcement officers), but it's not specified as a family grandstand area either.
So she's not even three and she's already begging to hang out on Bud Hill. I might have a long job ahead of me in about a dozen years or more.
While the Twist clan was setting up on the hill, I met up with the #25 team of driver Jennifer Getty. She pointed to her immaculate #25 Ford Mustang Street Stock and asked me if I'd like to drive that in the race. I told her that I would be honored to. She then told me that I might want to look at the color of the window net before saying yes.
It was pink. That is Courtney's favorite color. If I wasn't attracted to this car already, the pink window net sealed the deal. I'm secure in my manhood and I knew that my little girl would love seeing Daddy in a car with a pink “window”.
Fortunately, I fit perfectly in the car. Getty and her crew were kind enough to show me around the car. Then she went out for her regularly scheduled heat race, where she got trapped in the high groove early on, fell back towards the rear and then worked her way back towards the front again. She ended up taking a transfer spot into the feature and avoiding a reserve feature that saw two different red flag periods for cars flipping.
“I did that last year,” Getty said very matter-of-factly, while pointing to the fronstretch wall where her wreck occurred. She wasn't the least bit wound up about it either, although she did ask me to not wreck her racecar before her own feature.
When my race rolled around, I started on the pole. Those of you who haven't raced before might think that things are so intense that you can block out the entire world while being strapped into a racecar and for the most part that is true. But it wasn't on my pace laps. I could look up onto Bud Hill and pick out Courtney's pink shirt. I wanted to win and I knew exactly why.
After a pretty good early race battle, that is exactly what I did. The race was actually uneventful. The #25 Vermont State Employees Assocation/Yankee Medical car was so good that I really didn't have to work very hard to keep it out front. I won the race and got the take a victory lap with the checkered flag out my window. On that victory lap, I paused on the backstretch near turn three and pointed that flag over the roof towards where Courtney and my family were sitting. I'm told that track announcer Ken Squier said over the PA to the crowd, “What is he doing over there?” and I didn't know if she would see it or not.
I found out later that she did. From the time that she heard my name being announced and our hometown called out, through the race, during the victory lap and especially when she heard my winner's interview, she was extremely excited. Or so I'm told, but the time I made it back to Bud Hill, she was napping (even with Late Models out of the track). Apparently, she waited until my victory lane celebration was over and then she put her little head down and took her daily nap.
So this wasn't the Oxford 250 or the Snowball Derby. To be honest, there were only five cars in the race this year. But it was my big race and to be able to share that with my little girl was priceless.
I'm not quite sure where the trophy will look better though. Courtney wants it in her room. I like it above my desk. We might just have to go outside and have a little foot race to decide that. Oddly enough, despite winning three races at Thunder Road, I always seem to lose to her during those little competitions.