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 Columns & Editorials

August 6, 2001

For the Love of Racing

Racing has not always been a part of my life. When I was a senior in high school here on Merritt Island, I dated a boy who dragged race with Bob Dance. This was a time when drag racing at Orlando SpeedWorld was a 1967 El Camino with stacks coming up from the bed of the truck and glass packs. This was a time when there was not as much safety as there is now so cars went off the strip very easily and people were hurt. I even got lucky and was allowed to take the El Camino down the drag strip once and felt the power of that 350 under the hood.

But times changed and I got married and moved to Ohio for awhile and then California which had the best sprint cars around and we had a local dirt track but my husband then was not the least bit interested in racing so we never went. I even got to see Riverside Speedway when it was in it's big time era but only from the outside. However, once, I did see the Baja tracks where the trucks ran but only from a distance once again.

Time passed, I got divorced, and came back home to Florida. Eventually I met someone who did like racing so we began our every weekend trip to the drag strip. I loved the speed of the cars and the sounds and I would go alone when no one else would go just to fill my soul with the sounds and smells of the strip. Then one Friday night, something made us go to the asphalt track behind the drag strip. What, I don't know but once we went, we never stopped.

We found out that Orlando SpeedWorld had a sister track, New Smyrna Speedway so on Friday we went to Orlando and Saturday to New Smyrna. Sometimes we only had enough money to get in so we took bread and sandwitch meat and drinks and had a ball. We would go all year round and carry blankets and gloves in the winter and lots of soda and water in the summer.

My kids were raised on race fumes. Alex went to the races before he was born so when we took him when he was about 3 months old, the noise never once scared him. He would just sleep thru everything and still today, he is the only kid I know that will just go to sleep at a racetrack and not be bothered. I think he was about 2 years old when he got his first kid ride with Rose Dickerson at Orlando SpeedWorld in her 4 cylinder bomber. Rose was known for going around the track on her roof back then and she did just that that night after the kids rides. Alex always remembered that because he had riden with her earlier.

The family then went from grandstand fans to pit crew people. We got our own runabout, that was the novice class, a 1971 Buick Regal that we traded a 1960 Parkwood Chevy station wagon for. We gutted her, except for her bench seat, put a roll cage in, safety harness, window net, bought a firesuit and used helmet, put a white stripe down her, and went racing.

This is when I learned how much work goes into racing weekly. I melted all my fingernails off when I degreased her parts, got grease in my hand and needed surgery, got my share of being yelled at for all the wrong reasons, but still loved racing. In the almost three years that we raced, we blew 5 engines and made the oak tree out front be our engine puller. When the Olds Rocket 350 motor blew, the car was on fire for a few seconds but quickly went out. The car got beat to heck and back but we always fixed her and eventually painted her like Jeff Gordon's rainbow car since that was Alex's favorite driver. Every week I would repaint the stripes so she would be pretty for the fans and every week, all the kids would come up to us because they loved the car.

During this time, I began writing for Florida Stock Car Racing as the track reporter for Orlando and New Smyrna. I was there every weekend and at that time Jack Smith was looking for all the help he could get for race results. Then one day, I wrote a very short article on racing and so began my love with writing about the sport I love most. This was the year of the fires in Florida and I wrote about how we take for granted the things we see all the time, like the trees and the plants as we go to our tracks. Those fires changed alot and to this day, they are still not the same.

As the years have gone by, I am still at a track every weekend weather permitting. I have learned alot, listened, seen and made some friends that I will love for life. I still have the same love for this sport that I started with way back in 1991 except that I understand it alot more now. I have seen joy, sadness, and some pretty silly reactions from racing. I have fought for better safety after the racer was burned so badly at Ocala and always said what I think whether it is liked or not. I have cried when Barry Willought won his first modified race, I cried when Justin Henderson hit the wall at New Smyrna and we thought he was dead, I was there when Mike Cope died in the pits, and I was overjoyed when Barry won the Championship for the SARA Mods. Thankfully, there has been more joy than sadness.

Racing will always be a part of my life. I can't walk away from it, it won't let me. It is part of my heart now and to give it up, would just give me half a heart. I have extended my family over and over from racing. From the Christmas in l999 when I had no money and Tammy and Wanda gave Alex a Christmas, from B.J. McLeod so generously giving Alex a racing bike on his l7th birthday, and Donna and Tim McPhail loving Alex the way they do, I have been blessed over and over again. None of this would have happened if I had not gone to that round track one stary night and fallen in love instantly.

Racing is something I do because I love it. Just like the drivers, I get no money reward except for the fact that I know inside of me, I have shared something with my family that only they understand because it is in them too.

-Jane Smith

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