How a Rock Star went NASCAR
I wrote about my friend once before, so it feels kind of squishy to do it again, and we weren’t the squishy kind of friends, if you know what I mean. He would likely kick my ass if he knew I was doing it, but for the sake of keepin’ him alive just a little bit longer…
Dave‘s been gone so long now that I hardly know he ever lived. He is only memories now, and some old photos that have been put away somewhere that I don’t remember where. That‘s about it. No cards or letters, as that would have been squishy, and as stated before we were not that. It is likely Dave couldn’t read or write, anyway. I never saw any evidence of it, nor much evidence of a brain whatsoever.
An example: Dave and I were young, poor, and had a place a couple of blocks from the beach. Poor is probably the wrong word. We both made decent money, we just did not spend it very responsibly. I remember one lovely Spring, Saturday morning when we were drinking beers for breakfast, because we had no food. The phone rings (this is back before cell phones, 1986 maybe). Being the fool that he is, Dave picks it up (hoping, I am sure, that it is a girl, which for him was highly likely. Maybe even a girl who might invite him to breakfast. With my luck, had I answered it would have been the landlord, or the water company on the other end of the line). “Hey Man!“ Dave couldn’t hide his excitement as he turned down the Van Halen blasting through the stereo. “This guy says he’ll give me a thousand bucks just for answering a few questions.”
”Hang up,” I replied.
An hour later, and with no thousand bucks for his time, Dave looks out the window and yells, “Hey! Where’s my fuckin’ truck!”
While they had his attention on the phone they had repossessed his truck. “Told you, man,” I countered. But at least now I had an explanation as to how he was affording karate lessons. For Dave the repo meant he couldn’t work, as all of his tools had been in his truck. For me it meant he wouldn’t be paying his share of the bills anytime soon… not that he had been paying them anyways.
Still, for all that, we remained friends for a long time. As far as friends go, Dave was a somewhat decent one. I am not a very trusting person. Dave would have my back in a fight. I never doubted that, but he would also leave me rideless at a party somewhere if he hooked up with some rowdy young lady. Hey, friendships aren’t perfect. I get that. For me, they were also rare. Other than a rather steady procession of girls there had been very few other friends for me, and no close ones, so for me Dave was an anomaly whom I never allowed myself to place too much trust in. That was a good thing for me. I valued independence.
Dave couldn’t sing a lick, or play an instrument, but he should have been a rock star. He had the long, naturally highlighted curls that women love. He had striking, crystalline-gray, wolf-like eyes that he had learned to use like a magic wand over his short, twenty-one years, casting spells on women with them, every woman from teachers, to mothers, to hot neighborhood girls. The eyes came along with a chiseled face, and a dark, chestnut tan from too much time at the beach, and from working in the sun. I have seen grown-ass women absolutely wiggle when Dave so much as smiled at them. But as you have undoubtedly learned for yourself, looks aren’t everything, and they only carried Dave to an early grave, just like all those other rock stars.
Because of his looks Dave owned the beach. All of it. He could stop his cruiser anywhere along the boardwalk, sit there for five minutes, and meet a pretty girl. Without fail. Every time. He needn’t even speak. It was amazing. Not being gifted with his powers I didn’t love the beach as he did, so one Sunday not long after the truck repo story I hopped on my bike around noon and started home. “Hey, what’s with you? Every Sunday you take off!”
”I’m going to watch the race.” It was Spring. NASCAR was ramping up. I was a fan. Unbeknownst to Dave, I made some phone calls when I got home that day and I scored us two tickets to the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Memorial Day weekend. Rock Star Dave was about to get introduced to my hillbilly sport.
I inherited my love of fast cars from my Old Man. During my infancy my father had taken me to Saturday night short tracks, or on weekend road-trips to some speedway or another; Martinsville, Richmond, Charlotte, North Wilkesboro, etc. I guess he took me because he felt guilty about having moved out and not being around, but no matter the reason I can remember standing in my seat the whole race because I was too small to see anything otherwise. I would have to look between shoulders when anything exciting was happening, but I learned to tell what car was passing which by just their flash of paint colors, while Pop shoved cigarette butts in my ears to block the noise of the engines. Charlotte is one of the best speedways, being both fast and spectator friendly, so it would be the perfect place to introduce a racing newbie like Dave.
As the weekend neared, Dave’s excitement for a road trip (and maybe for a new event) became evident. He started asking questions about racing, and the different tracks. He avidly listened as I told old racing stories. Dale Earnhardt’s name was familiar to everyone in those days, so Dave decided to join Dale’s legion of fans, which did not surprise me, as I am about the only person in the world who doesn’t love a proven winner. When we rolled into Charlotte Dave had never even watched a race on TV. He had no idea what to expect. As we approached the track he came to the realization that this new-found fun was going to be part rock concert, part Super Bowl, part beach party, and part strip club… with the ever-present possibility of death and destruction. Dave tuned right in! This was right up his alley!
Highway 29 was backed up for miles on Saturday, even though the race was on Sunday. Race fans being race fans, they made the most of the situation. Beers were passing car to car, and flasks, and joints, and jokes; it was the party before the party. Men along the highway’s edge held up signs asking the passing “beauties“ to, “show us your tits,” and were for the most part indulged. Even if the race sucked it was already worth the five hour drive, and we were not even parked yet.
There is much of that race that I can’t remember, but two parts stand out. Dave had bought himself an “Ironhead“ ball cap. Our seats were about twelve rows up at the tail end of the front stretch dog-leg. I explained to Dave before it got too loud that when the cars came by on the 2nd and 3rd laps, when they were up to speed but still bunched together, he would have to hold on to his cap, as the wind from the cars would blow it right off his head. Dave got so excited that he forgot, and when that double line of cars screamed past us at 200 miles per hour his new $25 cap went back about twenty-five rows. Those wolf-gray eyes of his were bigger than silver dollars. I had done good. Big city, Rock Star Dave was instantly and forever hooked on NASCAR!
The other part that stays in my mind was when Eddie Bierschwale crashed. Eddie Bierschwale always crashed. Every weekend. It was guaranteed, so for an experienced fan like me it was not unexpected, but it was not so much who crashed in this particular instance as it was where the crashed occurred. Bierschwale started his slide midway through the dog-leg. He was sideways skating through the grass directly toward our seats when the car lifted up from the ground as if by magic. I can remember clearly seeing the chassis, and the chrome exhaust system on the underside of the car as it hurtled toward us twenty feet off the ground. The underside of a race car, incidentally, is not something a race fan is supposed to see during a race. Bierschwale was literally flying right toward us. I was standing hat in hand, my arm fully extended, shouting my approval for the excitement of it above the engine noise, squealing tires, the frenzied crowd, and the danger. When I looked to see if Dave was enjoying it I found him smooshed down between the concrete seats, afraid the car was going to rip through the catch fence and kill us all. Oh, what fun I had with that!
Needless to say, there were other races after that one, and many Sundays when Dave would get on his cruiser and follow me back to our apartment on race day, leaving the poor girls to suffer through their summer vacations the lonelier without his company.
But it was one more thing that cemented our friendship, one more shared bond.
He is gone now. As I stated in my earlier post (More a Brother), I don’t know what took him. I have not found the courage to investigate it. It doesn’t really matter. I hope his groin rotted from making love to some glorious stripper, but I doubt Dave was that lucky. He never had been before, so it was more likely a sad ending. Most are. The only times I really think about him anymore are when I see one of these friendship prompts on Prose, or sometimes when I am flipping through the channels and come across a NASCAR race. It is almost hard for me to fathom that the races still happen, I haven’t watched one in so long. But it is impossible to miss the half-empty stands, or the unfamiliar drivers in their unidentifiable cars speeding around tracks that all look the same. NASCAR is as dead as Dave is. I find it all sad. I am saddened for the sport, and for the times, and for the friend before flipping the channels on to some other bullshit that doesn’t matter either. And so goes a life.
(Jesus, he’d really kick my ass if he saw me crying like a fool here at the end.)