Personal Musings

Slammed Fingers, South Boston Speedway, and Straw Hats

What are you doing right now?

I am sitting in the dark writing. A space heater is nearby. It’s 4 AM. I fell asleep early which means I woke early — and that is why I now sit in the dark writing. It’s peaceful, but I’m getting hungry. I’m hesitant to move around too much out of fear I’ll wake the dog and my wife. I’m not too worried about the kids. They could sleep through nuclear fallout on the weekends. But I’m fairly certain my wife doesn’t want to wake this early on a Sunday.

Do you remember the first time you slammed your finger in a door?

I do. Pain has a way of etching a memory on your brain. My dad had invited my cousin Robbie to go with us to South Boston Speedway to the races. I was young. Seven or eight years old. So we’re talking 1988 or 1989.

I was so excited my brain failed to run on all cylinders. We hadn’t even left our driveway yet. Our car, a black Pontiac, was parked in the grass to the right of the sidewalk. I unfolded the front seat so Robbie could get in the back. Instead of getting in which was the next obvious step, I stood outside the car and slammed the door shut behind Robbie. My hand was on the outside of the car in the upper left corner. My thumb was stretched inside the door frame. I got my thumb good. Worst pain of my life at the time.

So no race that night?

No, we still went. My thumb was hot and throbbing the ride over like that of a cartoon character who slams a mallet down on his hand. I wrapped it in an ice pack for the length of the ride. When the ice melted inside the Ziploc bag, it spilled into my lap and I looked like I peed myself. Once we were at the race, and in such an adrenaline fueled environment with tires squealing and the smell of rubber burning and exhaust fumes, I mostly forgot about it.

We saw my dad’s friend, Anthony Reeves, there. His daughters Toni and Brittany came along with him. When we went to get bologna burgers at the concession, that’s when I saw them. Toni was in my grade at school. Her and my dad were big buddies. You couldn’t beat a bologna burger at South Boston Speedway in the late 1980s.

I didn’t peg you for a race fan

Not in the sense you may be thinking. I don’t watch it on television. I don’t follow the sport. I did more when I was a kid because of my dad. He was big into racing. I remember watching the Daytona 500 back in 2001 when Dale Earnhardt was killed. That was my dad’s favorite driver. It was a tragic moment for the sport.

Going to the raceway was an integral part of my childhood though. South Boston Speedway had a different vibe. I later went to races in Wilmington and Richmond, but it wasn’t the same. More polished and commercial. South Boston Speedway was like going to a punk rock show whereas other tracks felt like a put together arena rock concert. I like the punk rock vibe. There was a rebellious spirit to South Boston Speedway back then. I’m not sure if it’s like that now. I’m scared to find out. I’ve considered taking my kids there, but I’m worried if it’s changed drastically, it’ll ruin it for me.

My dad actually sponsored a car at South Boston for a few years back when he ran a pool hall on the side: Wayne’s Amusement World. I begged him to name it Wayne’s World but he was scared of potential lawsuits. My neighbor Roger was the driver of the car.

Any particular memories you have of South Boston Speedway that stand out?

Peeing in a trough is number one. Any male who ever went to South Boston Speedway remembers the trough. Aside from that, and I’m not sure what this type of race is called, or if it even exists today, but South Boston Speedway had a section of the night dedicated to less experienced drivers. It was a total wreck fest around every turn and many of the drivers raced VW punch bugs. One wreck after the next. A pile-up everywhere on the track. That was always the highlight of the night for me at the speedway growing up.

Then there’s the night I slammed my thumb in the car door. After the punch bugs raced, my dad forked over a couple of tens and twenties and Robbie and I went down to the trade booths and bought straw hats. They were meant to be replicas of Richard Petty’s signature look. By the time we got home, half the straw had fallen out the hat. I remember getting out of the car and it looked like a hay bale had ridden shotgun beside my dad instead of me. Same for the backseat where Robbie sat. It looked like the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz had been beaten to death.

What time is it now?

4:30 AM. No idea how I’m going to stay quiet another two hours. I might draw. I’ve gotten back into sketching. It’s been fun. I get into a flow state quickly. But it’s sometimes maddening. I’ve been attempting to draw a bowl of white chicken chili soup with sour cream for a story I wrote recently. I’ve learned three things:

  1. I can’t draw a bowl
  2. I can’t draw chili
  3. I can’t draw sour cream

And it not look elementary to save my life. Maybe that’s four things.

Any parting words?

Only to say this was a fun exercise. Didn’t really expect to conjure up a memory of slamming my thumb in a car door so early in the morning. I can even smell burned rubber and bologna burgers being fried up in a pan in the deep recesses of my brain.

Thanks for reading. I write about every day life with a touch of humor and nostalgia. Sometimes I talk to myself like this. Subscribe to get updates of new posts by email:

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