“Auto racing is boring except when a car is going at least 172 miles per hour upside down.”
– Dave Berry
Daddy traveled several hundred miles to watch races.
In fact, every year, Daddy took Ma to see the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race. Once, they even saw a driver get killed during one of the races. Sometimes riding mechanics or track people, could be killed in practice. A few spectators even lost their lives. Racing sounded dangerous to me.
But it never killed Daddy’s love for the sport. He shared a love for the races with some of his drinking buddies. “Hey, Lyle,” one of his friends had asked, “I’m taking the wife and kids to the races tonight. How about you bring your family and come along with us?”
So that’s how Daddy, Ma, my two brothers, sister and I, ended up sitting in the top of the bleachers, waiting for the races to begin. We were so high up, it made me dizzy just to look over the edge. And if anyone dropped something through the cracks, it was gone. The price of admission was cheaper for kids under thirteen, so even after my thirteenth birthday, when Daddy took us to the races, I was still twelve. That night, although I couldn’t admit it, I was fifteen.
I didn’t like watching the cars crash, like my brothers did.
I enjoyed hot dogs with all the fixings, washed down with ice-cold Coke. I also liked to watch the people with their cameras and gigantic lenses. At the end of the race they took pictures of the happy winners signing autographs. Watching people get so excited over winning was the best part. Penny thought being around a crowd of people was the most fun. Daddy and his friend busied themselves by passing around and guzzling cold beers. For different reasons, we all enjoyed our nights at Auto City, or sometimes at Dixie Motor Speedway.
They handed each of us a ticket when we came in the gate, with a chance at winning the prize.
I gripped a ticket in my sweaty palm, hoping against hope, that I held a winner. Then I could run through the crowd, as I’d watched many do before, and accept the prize.
Daddy didn’t care about the drawing. He just liked the cars, motorcycles, noise, racing, demolishing; it didn’t matter. He loved everything about speed. Ma said it was just his way to escape life, along with the drinking. Sometimes, I wish I had a way to escape.
People all around were boozing it up, some of them loudly cussing. Time trials were over. Everyone stood when they played the National Anthem. The flag went down and cars took off. The noise was deafening. Fans yelled and screamed.
“Punch it! To the floor!” Daddy yelled, “The inside track.”
“Slam him out-of-place,” his friend said. “Plenty of guts.”
“Lots of hotheads out there,” came from somewhere in the crowd.
Ma stood up once and spilled beer all over the guy in front of her. He jumped up, shocked at first, then he laughed and brushed beer off his clothes. I just endured it all, and clung to the ticket in my hand, waiting…
Finally, it was time for the drawing.
Cars had stopped, we were right in the middle of half-time. They were about to draw the winning ticket. Everyone got silent as numbers blared from the loud-speaker, 2 3 4 1 6 7.
My sister won, even thought I didn’t, I was happy for her. She was so excited. That was the first time she’d ever won anything. She hurried down to claim the prize. Her red pony tails flopped from side to side as she bounced down the bleachers. Her freckled face showed signs from being too long in the sun. She accepted her gift amidst cheers from the crowd. She climbed back up that enormous set of stairs holding a little Brownie Kodak Camera.
I was more excited that she was. I longed for a camera. Anyone listening to us would have thought we were on a debate team. I reminded her that I was five years older, and the only one who could afford to buy film. She knew how bad I wanted to take pictures.
And then Penny, with her soft heart, turned the camera over to me. I tore open the box, loaded the camera, and stood in front of them to take my very first picture. I tried to center Penny, Rodney, and Ronnie in the middle, with the race track showing in the background. They looked at me and smiled, then click.
A new love was born for me.
My personal way to escape.
I had thoughts of being able to capture tons of memories. I had visions of getting older and graduating to bigger and better cameras. I would take so many pictures that when we all grew up and had homes of our own, I’d go to visit and see my pictures on their walls. Whenever I’d hear the words, “wedding,” “new house,” “baby,” or even someone’s “black eye,” I could be right there with my camera in hand. My heart filled with joy just thinking about all the possibilities. And maybe, someday, I’d even have grand kids to take pictures of. They’d probably get tired of hearing me say the word, “smile,” so often. But what would life be without pictures to capture all the best times?
My sister, Penny, started it all.
I imagined searching garage sales, flea markets, even auctions, trying to find another little camera like the one she gave me. When I found it, I planned to wrap that little Brownie Kodak with a big red bow, and give it back to Penny.
“Thanks, sis,” I’d say, “for giving me a way to escape. I love ya.” On that one special night at the races I had a lot of big dreams. I felt like such a grown-up. Maybe, I remember thinking, I would even be able to start dating soon, because after all,
I had my very own camera and I wasn’t a kid anymore.
Excerpt: From the book
“Daddy Never Called Me Princess”