2019 In the Rear View ~ 2020 Just Ahead
I know how Clint Bowyer feels.
You remember the story, don’t you? Clint was working in a body fabrication shop in Emporia, KS when Richard Childress called to offer him a job to drive one of his Cup cars. He almost didn’t take the call because he didn’t believe it, thinking it was some of his buddies pranking him.
But he did. Now 15 seasons and 10 wins later and as they say, the rest is history.
Fast forward to the summer of 2016. Clint’s episode was all I could think of after receiving what looked to be an email from PattyKay Lilley of the NASCAR website Race Fans Forever.
I had received emails from her before, but it was always in response to an email from me. I’d often email a comment about an article of hers and she always took time to respond. Made me feel like a real fan and not just a click for the numbers that I often felt like on other sites.
But this email was different. I had not sent her one, which is why I thought this can’t be real. Someone has to be pranking me or scamming me. I hesitated to open it, but curiosity got the best of me. After seeing the content, I was convinced it was a prank as it was an invitation to write for the site. To quote Slim Pickens from the movie, Blazing Saddles, “What in the Wide, Wide World of Sports is a’going on here?”
Me write? Write for a NASCAR site, no less. This has to be a joke. Rich.
You see there were two problems with that-First, I’m not a writer. Second and more importantly, I was hardly a NASCAR Fan anymore. Oh, I guess I was but only by the Sanctioning Body’s definition. You see in order to keep their numbers up they borrowed a term from the Professional Wrestling world (let that sink in for a minute) to label us long-time fans who they had driven off and discarded because we didn’t fit their target demographic as “Lapsed Fans.” Once “real” fans but for reasons “no one could explain” no longer were. But by having the term “Fan” in our label the Daytona Beach bean counters could include us in their all-important “Fan Numbers” to keep the numbers flying high.
Understand, it wasn’t so much I no longer liked stock car racing as much as I despised what was being done to it and the direction it was heading. Race Fans Forever was a place where I could read writers who wrote what they believed and not to what it took to get clicks, what it took to stay in good graces with the “Folks in Charge.” They called it the way they saw it, not what they were told to write. I wasn’t the only “Lapsed Fan” who frequented the site.
Overall though, this hardly made for a good combination. I kept asking myself, “What in the world did PattyKay see that made her even want to extend an invitation like this?”
It had to be a joke.
But I thought long and hard about it. Was it real or not? Should I discard it and move on? I wanted to ask but wouldn’t for fear her response would be “Sorry, but you’ve been pranked.” I wallered (probably wallowed where you are from) with the decision for a long time. Finally drafted my response but didn’t hit Send. I had one more thing to do. I had a Funeral to attend first.
It was a Celebration of Life for Ray Quire, a man I had only met once in my life but I knew him through his daughter and my friend Melony Benassi. In my one brief meeting with him and his wife Martha, my first impression was two words-Rock. Solid. As I learned more that impression never wavered.
Ray deeply loved his wife, family, his community, his country, his church and his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Hard working. Caring. Giving. Worked with his hands. Used them to fix things broken, to make things better. Used his heart to fix people broken, to let them know things could be better. Don’t make ‘em like that anymore... wished they did.
He touched a lot of lives in his almost ninety years here. Many came out that day to show their love and respect for the farmer, truck driver, Navy Vet, church deacon and fixer of things. The Bagdad Baptist Church filled up fast for what was a true Celebration of Life...
If you were there you would have received a buckeye that Ray had collected, cleaned and polished. He was always giving them away to folks he met. Good luck and who couldn’t use some of that. In the packed meeting house you would have felt and seen the love of a family, church and community. From there heard memories, reflections and stories shared by Rev. Kyle Wiley, current Bagdad Baptist Church, Dr. Mark Potts, former Bagdad pastor and then mayor of Jefferson City, TN and Ray’s best friend Jim Wiley. Each in their own way sharing the impact this man made on them and those around them. The Celebration was not just a reflection of the life of a man well-lived but the knowledge that this was not “good-bye” but “see you later”. I was comforted knowing that one day I’ll shake his hand again and our second meeting will last much, much longer than the first.
If you listened close, through it all was a common theme-Ray had a talent and he used it to make a difference. Find yours, use yours, through it make a difference. After the graveside service, I went back to my truck and sat in the Bagdad Cemetery until I changed my reply to the email and hit Send.
If it was a prank... I fell for it. If it was real..., well, here we go.
Soon I received a “Welcome Aboard” reply with some encouragement and a few instructions. Need a picture. Need a bio. Need a story. A few weeks later “And That Was Fr’istol” was sent in and posted.
Now three and a half seasons later and now fifty-four stories later and as they say, the rest is history.
And like Clint going into a new season with hopes of adding to his wins total, I too hope to add to mine as well.
As far as the two issues... My fanness-I think it’s fair to say that I’m now out of the “Lapsed Fan” category and thanks to Forbes writer Dave Caldwell I have a new label -“Tenured Fan”. I think after 60 years as a race fan I qualify. Plus, I like the sound of that much better than the one Daytona Beach had hung on me.
Writing - I’m still not a writer. I’m just a tenured race fan who was given an opportunity to share stories, experiences and some thoughts and ideas with other race fans. It is an opportunity I didn’t deserve but I thank Jim Fitzgerald and PattyKay Lilley for taking a chance on me in 2016. It’s been one heck of a ride and hopefully, they have enjoyed their decision as much as I have. I’ve had a blast!
As I check the rear-view mirror, I can’t help but think of all the folks who came before me at RFF. Folks who helped build it, folks I’ve read and been influenced by. This site has been blessed with a tremendous team of gifted writers-writers like Robyn Vandenberg, David Allen, Kevin Abraham, Jeremiah Thalheimer, James Crook and Jim Fitzgerald. Each left their mark on the sport and on the site. Race Fans Forever provided a platform for guest writers including Dave Fulton, Kelly Meiste and Johnathan Angove. And you couldn’t ask for better teammates who have each influenced me in their own special way-Tim Leeming, Dana Gibson, Mitch Walker, J. L. Steele, Vivian Simons, Frank Buhrman and the person who makes it all possible, PattyKay Lilley. Writing with them is humbling and at times intimidating, but they have graciously welcomed me, encouraged me and gently guided me through this new experience.
While on this journey I’ve also been influenced by a diverse host of different people and their works. My friend, Dave Rosenbaum is a storyteller extraordinaire. Raised in his father’s general store in FairPlay, KY he learned his craft well from the Adair County yarn spinners who gathered there. Read a lot from hometown writers like Dave McBride and Lora Wimsatt. I had a steady diet of writers like Patrick McManus, Pat Conroy, Lewis Grizzard and Rick Bragg. Bloggers Spencer Hall and Matt McLaughlin are still on my must-read list. Songwriters like Steve Earle (anyone who can write a song around blowing out a knee playing football is to be admired) and Chris Knight definitely factor in. I still continue to hang onto the words from racing writer giants like Deb Williams and Monte Dutton. Lots of heavy hitters there to study and learn from.
It’s been quite a journey. I think 1960 Grand National Series Champion and 2015 NASCAR Hall Of Fame Inductee, Rex White best describes it in his book “Gold Thunder: Autobiography of a NASCAR Champion”, which he co-authored with Anne B. Jones. Rex wrote in the Acknowledgements “As Anne Jones explains it, writing is like building a race car. You build a good chassis, add parts, listen to the sound of the engine, fine-tune it, and see how it holds on the track.”
Although the last race car I built was a Cubmobile, I’ll trust that Anne and Rex’s description of the writing process is pretty accurate. I’ve put together now fifty-four “chassis”, added parts, listened to the sound, fine-tuned and hoped they held on the track.
But a race car is little good without a driver. That’s where you, the Race Fan, the reader comes in. Without you to click on the link, crawl inside the latest “car” and take it for some hot laps, the efforts are just words on the Internet. You make it real. You bring it to life. You decide how it “ran”, how each one held to the track. You decide whether it “clicked” with you and together you and the “car” connected. You, the Race Fans make the site. To each of you who have taken one for a spin, I thank you.
To paraphrase Rex White’s Acknowledgements “We hope” these articles “hold your interest and bring you as much joy as we found in writing it.”
As we take the White Flag today, I close with a final “Thank you” to the lady who made it all possible-PattyKay Lilley.
What she saw, I don’t know, but she was the one who took the chance and sent that initial email to start it all. She didn’t have to do it, but she, for whatever reason, did so and gave me the opportunity of a lifetime. Thank you.
She is a wordsmith I hope to one day be. Oh our words and styles are different as we write from different perspectives but her “cars” are always dialed in with just the right words, the right “parts”. Hers will hug the white line at the bottom of the track as she presents her story perfectly. When you get behind the “wheel” of one of her “cars”, you know you are in a top ride and you are in for a ride. And when it’s over you can’t help but say, “Wow!”
In comparison, her stories remind me of when Nashville driver P. B. Crowell showed up at our local track, Ellis Speedway. His entire operation was impeccable. They off-loaded ready to run, did a few hot laps to make sure and then it was up on the jack stands until it was time to race... and win.
My stories are more like our local drivers who were still changing tires from the previous night’s dirt track race to pavement tires and thrashing to try and get things right all the way up to the time for hot laps.
Always thrashing. Always behind. Maybe someday that’ll change.
I owe her a lot for her site, Race Fans Forever. In my “Lapsedness” it was this site that was sort of a “safe haven”, a place where the discarded demographic, the hurt and confused race fans could come to sort things out, lick their wounds and heal up. It was a place to vent frustrations (Lord knows I did so much of that) as well get the latest information so you could try and find some hope in it all. A place where you could be proud of seeing the Curtis Turners, Fireball Roberts and Junior Johnsons race, could share those experiences to encourage others of your vintage while educating and enticing less tenured fans to get in the sport. It is a place that recognized that if you were ever a Race Fan, deep down, you are a Race Fan Forever. It’s like trying to rub the tire grit off your face after sitting in the front row at Darlington for the Southern 500 - It ain’t happening... it’s gonna be there for a while. Were it not for this site, the “Lapsed” Fan label could have easily become “Former” Fan.
I owe her a lot for being a Race Fan. Her love of the sport and outrageous determination has kept Race Fans Forever on-line and available to those who love the sport like she does. Have you noticed when you visit the site, you see no ads? As site owner, PattyKay foots the bills herself so they aren’t necessary. It not only cuts the aggravation for those who visit the site but since the site isn’t dependent on clicks like other sites (don’t get me wrong, each and every one is appreciated) so by doing it the way she does it, the contributors are free to write what they believe not write for the clicks.
PattyKay is site owner, webmaster, senior editor, senior staff writer, gal Friday, janitor, site moderator, crew chief, spotter and front tire changer all rolled into one. She has taken the site through platform changes, ownership changes, writer changes and sport changes. She hung tough through the Jayski’s Silly Season website blackout and faced that and other challenges the only way she knows how-head on and don’t back down. PattyKay doesn’t call things the way she sees them-she calls them the way they are and she’s not a bit bashful about letting you know why she believes what she believes.
Thank you PattyKay for your love for the sport, passion for what you do and give to the sport and your determination to see it through. Thanks for giving this tenured fan this opportunity to be a part. Thanks for being a mentor and a friend.
The 2019 Checkered Flag has dropped, the 2020 green flag is raised just up ahead. Together Fans, let’s go racing!
It should be a heck of a ride.