There’s a saying out there that I love: “Friends help you move; real friends help you move bodies.”
I helped my Capricorn brother and close friend, Matt, move a few times during college, and one time during our college years we found ourselves moving not bodies, but stock car tires.
Through someone who he knew, Matt and I became pit crew fill-ins in an ARCA series race one weekend in Toledo in the summer of 2001 in what turned out to be the loudest, most grimy and most sunburnt experience of my life.
According to its Facebook page, ARCA is “a Midwest-based stock car racing series” that “has grown to represent the most diverse nationally touring stock car series anywhere. ARCA is the second-longest running championship racing series in the country.”
In other words, it’s a smaller-scale NASCAR-like series of races. And with the 2017 NASCAR season wrapping up Nov. 19—highlighted by the retirement of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. winning the NASCAR championship—I couldn’t help but think of our experience in the pit as I saw Truex and Earnhardt being interviewed last Sunday on TV.
Being a little more grass-roots than NASCAR, ARCA apparently depends on volunteers to help make it go, or at least it did then. Matt and I were two of those volunteers as part of the weekend team for a driver from Springfield named Todd Bowsher, who was very reserved and seemed thankful to have us helping out—pretty much the exact opposite of what I was expecting him to be.
The day started early with a drive from Dayton to Toledo. Once we arrived we scraped burnt rubber off used tires inside a service trailer that used to be owned by racing legend A.J. Foyt. The humid heat of an Ohio summer soon set in, and memories of what seemed like brutal two-a-days—two practices a day—for high school football came back to me, as Matt and I had played football together, too. He was way better than I was.
Then it was determined that Matt, a then a college football player who outweighed me by about 50 pounds, would be the guy who would move the fairly heavy tires in and out of the pit as they were put on and taken off the car, and I would be the one to lower the stop sign as the car entered the pit to indicate to Bowsher when to slow down and stop as well as when to exit the pit: It was so loud that he couldn’t exactly hear us talking to him. I think I was also in charge of chasing down tires that rolled away from our pit. Matt said the tires were so hot that they burned the hair off his arms when he carried them; we wore T-shirts and tank tops, not the fireproof suits you see crews wear on TV.
The race itself is the loudest thing I’ve ever experienced—louder than the Katy Perry concert I went to (which may or may not have been because of my own shrieking) and louder than the waves when I swam in the ocean at South Padre Island. There was zero shade, and the track and the cars emitted more heat than a trashy romance novel. By the end of the day I was dehydrated and badly sunburnt—so much so that I don’t remember much about how the race ended. I assume it ended.
Nonetheless it was an experience that few people can ever say they’ve had, sort of like skydiving, I suppose, and it was one of many adventures Matt and I had when we were too young to know better.
Everyone needs a friend like Matt—one who will challenge us, isn’t afraid to call us out and always gives advice that is frighteningly spot-on.