FROM THE GRANDSTANDS: OF WHISKEY, ICE CREAM AND SOURED STOMACHS

The relationships drag racing fans have with their favorite drivers is quite unique.
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We have our favorite classes, our favorite auto manufacturers and even our favorite sponsors. We cheer for our favorite drivers, and when something tragic happens to them, we take it hard, very hard and when we do, we can cause others to question our sanity.

Have you ever had ice cream and a shot of whiskey at the same time?  

Under normal circumstances the combination of these two temptations would create a sour stomach, but the feelings of this particular day were not about how a mid section was about to feel. It was done to remember a few friends and heal a deep wound. 

The relationships drag racing fans have with their favorite drivers is quite unique.
timglasseup.jpg
We have our favorite classes, our favorite auto manufacturers and even our favorite sponsors. We cheer for our favorite drivers, and when something tragic happens to them, we take it hard, very hard and when we do, we can cause others to question our sanity.

Have you ever had ice cream and a shot of whiskey at the same time?  

Under normal circumstances the combination of these two temptations would create a sour stomach, but the feelings of this particular day were not about how a mid section was about to feel. It was done to remember a few friends and heal a deep wound.  

This column was written on the 23rd of March, 2009. It was on that day, two years ago, the drag racing world received the news Eric Medlen, the 33 year old Funny Car driver for John Force Racing, had succumbed to the injuries he suffered in an accident during a test session in Gainesville, Florida.

The 23rd is also three days after the one year anniversary of the passing of “Atomic” Al Hofmann, the legendary fuel coupe pilot who was the proverbial fly in the ointment of John Force for many years.

For the casual observer, these two guys had absolutely nothing in common except for the fact they both drove nitro spiced funny cars.


 

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In the opinion of this columnist, they were a couple of cowboys.

Eric, the white hat cowboy, was always smiling, laughing, always busy and yet one of the most friendly and passionate people on the planet. Medlen reminded me of Gene Autry, the “singing cowboy” wearing his white hat, as he made you feel good every time you saw him.

He also believed that you could never be truly sad, if you are eating ice cream.

His alter ego would have been Al Hofmann. The black hat cowboy, a stern looking, serious funny car driver with a permanent scowl on his face. Hoffman reminded me of Jack Palance’s character- the cold blooded gun fighter Jack Wilson in the movie Shane.  

Hofmann was tough, but also a gentleman. For myself, Hofmann is represented by a full shot of Gentleman Jack Daniels; which explains the need to down a shot with a scoop of ice cream.

Those who don’t quite understand the intricate nature of our sport can struggle to understand the  relationship between drag racers and their fans.

In drag racing, fans not only watch their favorites compete on their “field”, but after the run walk to the sidelines and chat with them. This happens every weekend at drag strips all around the world, as thousands of drag racing fans head to the pits and get the chance to interact with their favorite drivers during a national event. It is one of the hidden gems that professional drag racing offers to their fans.

Many fans believe every ticket is not only a pit pass-it’s a ticket to paradise.


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Several drivers in the NHRA, Ron Capps, Larry Dixon Jr., Del Worsham, Robert Hight and others, began their racing careers in the pits. They started with a can of Mother’s car polish in one hand and a rag in the other. Others like Jack Beckman, Rod Fuller, Jeg Coughlin and Dave Connelly started driving a bracket car, and moved up through the ranks. Most were introduced to our sport at a young age, as fans sitting in the grandstands.

Many of them still head to the ‘stands’, enjoy watching the races, and still compete in bracket races at their local tracks.

These drivers are doing for a living what many fans would love to do. Yet, unlike some other professional athletes, they have not forgotten their roots, the people who helped them get there or the fans who cheer them on.

Professional drag racing may have entered an age of corporate sponsorships and white collar hospitality areas, but these drivers have blue collar values.

These are values appreciated by fans who follow the drivers and why they become attached to them.

Medlen, Hofmann and so many more courageous men and women have entertained us for many years. Some of them died doing what they loved. Others passed away due to health issues, or simply old age.

Whether fans cheered for the “white hat cowboys” like Medlen, Darrell Russell and Blaine Johnson or supported “the black hat cowboys”- guys like Hofmann, Lee Shepherd and Scott Kalitta- they all had one big thing in common, they loved the sport just as much as the fans do, and they all are truly missed. 


 

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Thank you to those who took the time to offer their support and suggestions for this column. If you have any ideas for me, please send them here: [email protected]

We will see you next month.....From the Grandstands.

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Tim Charlet, a.k.a. TIMMAH, writes a monthly column discussing life from the grandstands, the not-so-cheap seats in today's drag racing world. He speaks from a race fan's perspective, a side often displaced in many commentaries not to mention investigative articles. Charlet offers ideas as he sees them, from the average race fan's standpoint.

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