Thursday, June 30, 2016

A barrel of laughs

(NOTE: I wrote a version of this story for Winston Cup Scene in the 1990s)

By TOM GILLISPIE

Benny Parsons grins sheepishly and squirms when he tells this story from 1972, so it must be true.

Parsons, who would become the Winston Cup champion the very next year, was pitting at Texas World Speedway in College Station. That's the home of the Texas A&M Aggies, of course, and he could have used their help.

It was 105 degrees or so, and the crew handed Benny a water hose that was attached to a 55-gallon barrel. The water, under pressure so it could cool a radiator, served the same purpose for the over-hot Parsons. He wet down his suit so that, when he got up to speed, the wind would cool him until his uniform dried.

“Suddenly, the car caught fire, or so I thought,” Parsons said, “and they were yelling for me to go, take off!” Benny threw out the water hose and went busting down pit road -- no pit-road speed then -- and a tiny NASCAR official at the end of the pits dubbed Short Arms waved his, well, short arms to put a halt to Parsons' flight. Benny, thinking Short Arms was indicating the fire, charged up on the banking; the speed, he thought, would kill the flames.

Over the roar of the engine, he heard it.

Boom! Thump! Boom! Thump!

Crash! Bump!

In the banking, he looked back and saw no fire. When he threw the water hose out the window, he realized, it caught on the window net. The net was intact, although mashed down, but that royal-blue, 55-gallon water tank was banging around back there.

Boom! Crash! Boom! Thump!

Fortunately for the abashed Benny, Texas World had fewer than 30,000 fans, and NASCAR had no TV contract. He thumped, er, drove around the track and back down pit road, then ditched the tank.

Parsons was serious as he talked about that tank swinging back and forth on the water hose.

“That's why people shouldn't stand in the pits,” he said.

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You find racing humor in the strangest places, even from a somber young man in a black cap.

About a month before his death in 1993, a serious Davey Allison sat in the media center at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. He seriously described an incident at Charlotte Motor Speedway involving a Dale Earnhardt fan up on a fence.

“How could you tell it was an Earnhardt fan?” he was asked. “He was wearing an Earnhardt T-shirt.” “You're racing down the backstretch at nearly 200 mph and you could see a T-shirt?” “Sure,” he replied. “You don't wait until you get to it. It'd be a blur. You look ahead of you.”

Lap after lap, Allison flew around the track; lap after lap, the fan threw Davey the finger.

Allison finally got tired of the indignity, so on about the 20th trip down the backstretch Davey threw HIM the finger.

The fan fell off the fence. And Allison, sitting in the Talladega media center, finally smiled as he finished the story.

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Buddy Baker, a Hall of Fame driver and talker, says the funniest thing he ever saw in a race happened at 11 p.m., when he was running the 24-hour race at Daytona. And his story, like Allison’s, involved someone throwing a bird.

Baker and the guy in front of him were driving powerful Porsches. As the lead Porsche cut through the infield road course, a tiny car got over into him, tearing up the side of the big Porsche.

The Porsche driver, going 70 to 80 miles an hour faster than his assailant, slammed his brakes as Baker's lights lit the scene.

“This guy driving the Porsche rolls the window down, wearing dayglo driving gloves, and he shoots the bird at this guy!” said Baker, nearly rolling off his chair. “He slowed up to give him the bird, to make sure he could see it.

“He gave this guy the bird and then vanished off into the dark. I almost wrecked laughing. It was too funny to put to words. I saw that big driving glove come out, and the bird come up, boop! (Baker roars again) With that dayglo driving glove, that hand looked six-foot tall when he stuck it out there.”

Baker also recalls a post-race incident as the 6-foot-4, 250-plus-pound Tiny Lund was raising dust as he stalked toward Buddy. The men had just bumped fenders on the track, and Dwayne Lund wanted to dent Baker's nose.

This story, though, doesn’t have any fingers or birds.

“I looked up and said, Oh, lord,' ” Baker said with a laugh. “Tiny was racing me, and I was racing to win. I tried to get around him four or five times, so I just moved him. It kinda made him mad.”

Naturally. So how did Baker handle the aroused and not-so-tiny Dwayne Lund?

“I was a good salesman, and I had a boost of adrenaline,” Baker said, laughing. “I said, `You, of all people, are upset at me? You hit me four or five times in one corner!' He turned around laughing and walked off. I thought, `Are you kidding me?' ”

Were you happy he left, Buddy?

“You tell me, if you were in a river and a bear got in, would you be happy when it went away?"

Absolutely. Even a Tiny bear.

CONTACT: Email me at tgilli52@gmail.com or nc3022@yahoo.com. Also, my Twitter handle is EDITORatWORK.

More blog entries from The Auto Racing Journal
(a book of great stories about the Intimidator)
(the book of great NASCAR stories)

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Anecdotes by Tom Gillispie


EDITOR@WORK blog entries

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