I rode with Mike Duvall. The living legend of dirt tracks. The man that’s done everything and won everything. Yes, it was a thrill, but there was more…too much more.
I’ve been around racing for quite a long time. Since the early 50’s in fact. And I’ve owned, wrenched, and driven more than a few cars in that time. A barrel roll in an open wheel modified left me with a blind spot in one eye and a sore neck for the rest of my life. I raced a little after that but it wasn’t fun anymore. Not that I’m scared…I don’t even remember the flip or much of that night. Being knocked unconscious is nature’s way of letting you race again. So I told Sue that was it, I’m through. I kind ‘a believed it my self. But I did bring my driving Nomex and helmet to the racetracks for a few years after that, just incase someone offered my a ride. When we moved down to the Carolinas I took the Fastrak Racing course out at Lowe’s speedway. Just to keep up my skills incase Roush or Foyt needed an experienced driver quick. It was fun but I was a little rusty. 150 seemed fast enough. I still told everyone I was done with the driving.. mainly to help convinced myself that it was over.
But I still had a gleam of hope… that someone would call.
So now I hear that Mike Duvall will take people for a ride in one of his dirt late model cars at one of the south’s fastest racetracks…Lancaster Motor Speedway. It is a fundraiser for his church. Mike will do anything for kids, and his church. We show up one Tuesday night at the track. It seemed like everyone this side of the Mississippi wanted a ride. My grandson Mario got a ride and said, “He almost hit that wall!”
I said, “Mario, he missed it by a lot.”
“Papa, I was in that car…and he ALMOST hit that WALL!”
So much for the uninitiated fans. I would be different…I understood speed.
Too many fans and not enough time, so they closed the night with some not getting a ride. I was one. “Come back next week.” they said.
I spent all week trying to find my old Nomex suit. Finally did, and had it all laid out on that next Tuesday. In the excitement of picking up Sue at work…I forgot the Nomex. Oh well, would have looked tacky anyway.
I was practicing my speech all the way down to Lancaster.
“Well, not bad Mike. I think I can do that.” Or, “Yup, I still got it. My foot was goin’ in deeper than yours.”. Only a few people around this night. I’d get my ride and maybe even take Mike for a ride to show him what I had. Two rides out and it was my turn. The first thing I noticed was that the old claustrophobic feeling set in when I strapped on the helmet. It cuts out half of what you can see and most of what you can hear. I remembered that I didn’t like the helmet. As I walked towards the car the window got smaller and smaller. As I lifter, and pulled with one hand, my leg and stepped in another fear shot through me. Well, not fear exactly… more PAIN. I had done this once before getting in a late model. Found that the ground on one side and the seat on the other does not let you stand over the window ledge. It let’s you rock back and forth. One leg on one side one leg on the other side and all of mankind crushed in the middle.
Women drivers really do have it easier.
As I slid into…make that collapsed into the seat I began breathing again. Slow and shallow, but breathing. I tried to look down and fasten the seat belts but that darn helmet got in the way.
Mike’s assistant had to reach in and buckle me in. It was such a helpless feeling. Like needing someone to zip you up as you left the men’s room. Not a nice feeling at all. Mike never looks over at me just stares straight ahead. Then revs the engine and drops the clutch. My ride begins. My eyes start to fill with dirt. I forgot to pull the visor down. Simple mistake that I correct. We pull onto the backstretch. Boy, this thing has no suspension. Forgot how hard these ride. The track looks awfully rough. Well, it’s dirt and they haven’t done anything to it since the Saturday night races. Just relax and enjoy. We accelerate down the front stretch.. “Ah, Mike, that dirt looks slippery” I say to no one in particular. Duvall heads for one tiny little thread of groove. I know he’ll miss it or slip up over it. The tires stick and the G forces are enormous.
All my organs are rolling up against my right side. The car seems to come down a ramp picking up speed as it does. Mike is on the gas again. A quick flick of the steering wheel to gather it up and away we go down the backstretch. Turn 3 and Mike still hasn’t realized that the tires just will not hold at this speed. I try to warn him, but he can’t hear me and my hands will not let go of the seat. The toes on my right foot are curled back in pain. I’m not breathing again. I try to take a deep breath but we’re in the turn and the G forces are getting worse. My lungs are piled up in my right chest. I’ll breath latter. The only sign that he was on dirt was an occasional correction as we came off the banking.
Then it was over. Barely a minute and Mike has done it. He had cured my for good. No more bringing my helmet to the tracks. No more saying things that I really didn’t mean. No more wishing that was me out there.
I know he wasn’t really running hard. I know that we were all alone on the track.
And I know that I hurt I’m sore and …I can’t do it. My dream is over. I wish I hadn’t done it. Mike has shown me that the life I’ve lived the past 20 or 30 years was reality. I never had it…never will. My dreams where just that…only dreams.