It was a hot June Sunday in Southwest Nebraska, I was almost 8 years old, and he told me to get some shoes and pants on, that we were going for a hike in the hills. In 1955, you didn’t ask questions, you just did what you were told.
We started out walking, up one hill, and down another. We walked what seemed to me like about 10 miles( when I got older, I realized it was only about 5 miles), and at some point, told him I was getting thirsty. He picked up a small hard rock and told me to put it in my mouth, that it would ease my thirst. He said something about an old Indian trick and said we would be there soon.
We got to the side of a hill, and he checked the ground for Rattle Snakes, and told me to sit down. About a mile and a half away, we could see the Cheyenne County fairgrounds, and the race track.
He broke out some binoculars so we could see a little better, and we watched the heat races, the Trophy Dash, and then the feature race. I could hear the thunder of the cars, and with the old pair of binoculars, I could make out the big cow catchers on the front, and see that they all had bars welded inside. I had never seen anything like it.
After the race was over, we walked the 10 miles(5 miles back home). I was still very thirsty and started to tucker out about half way home, and he took pity on me and put on his shoulders to carry me home. I woke up as we walked in the house, and spent the entire evening talking about all the multi-colored cars driving around that old dirt track and of course drinking a lot of water.
Two weeks later as we were getting ready for the Fourth of July weekend and all the festivities that came with it, you know, parades and fireworks and carnival. He called me in the kitchen and told me that I had my choice for the holiday, I would get enough money to go to the carnival or I could go to the stock car races and sit in the stands. You know, the place I had watched from the hillside.
It wasn’t a decision I had any trouble making. I did love to go to the carnivles in those days, with the cotton candy, rides and midway games, but I had to go see those cars again. I wanted to see them up close.
A year later in 1956, he took a part time job as caretaker of the Cheyenne County faigrounds. This included a house to live in, and total access to the entire fairgrounds. Yeah, I had to help cut grass and weeds, paint and help with maintenance. When racing season started, he took me around and introduced me to the drivers. They would let me sit in their cars, and one of them would take me on hot laps around the track sometimes.
What a summer. I learned all about racing, the lingo and was part of the gang. They would send me for tools and parts when they were working on the cars, share their sandwiches with me and even let me watch the races from the pits. I was one of them that summer.
He passed away 40 years ago in 1972, but I still remember that hot dry Sunday and my first look at a stock car race. Thanks Dad for sharing an expierence with me that would last me a lifetime. Happy Fathers Day to you where ever you are, I love you.
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