Memorial Day Weekend is not at the top of my favorite holiday list. Oh, I look forward to the start of the season and I’ve never missed our annual parade. It’s just all the cars I can’t stand. I’m not talking about the sudden increase of traffic on our roads. What drives me nuts is the non-stop traffic in my living room and a weekend filled with varooom-varooom-varooom.
When you live with a racing enthusiast, the whole weekend is devoted to races, but Sunday is the most holy day of the entire racing season for the true racing fan. It is the day of the Indy 500.
If you aren’t familiar with this particular sporting event, picture three dozen racers driving in circles as fast as they can for 500 miles. That’s it. That’s what they do. They go round and round, real fast.
Once upon a time my husband was a race car driver. He drove a car like the Indy cars, a class called Formula Ford. He was the racer and I was the pit crew chief. This was when our kids were pre-college and, if they weren’t available on a racing weekend, I was the entire pit crew.
If you have ever seen a pit crew in action you know that they have to pour gas, touch hot parts of the engine and scrape bug guts off the windshield. Believe me, it is not as glamorous as it sounds.
He got extremely angry one time when, after he got in the car and shouted, “Now give me a push, please,” I responded, “You’re kidding, right?”
There may be plenty of racing fans in America, but I’m not one of them, though I have to admit that once upon a time I may have sort of kind of pretended I was. That was when we were dating. I can remember sitting on a blanket on a grassy hill eating a bucket of the Colonel’s chicken and reading the Sunday paper, ignoring the race cars varoooming past so close I could taste the exhaust in the crispy chicken’s breading.
“Oh yes, this is fun!” I said, because that’s what you say right before you get engaged. I’m pretty sure I uttered those same words while meandering through the auto show, at hockey games and while doing who knows what else.
Served me right, I guess, that I was sort of tricked into getting involved in racing. I assumed, when we discussed spending weekends in the Poconos, that we were going to stay in nice lodge-type hotels. Of course, this is back when I also thought that Granatelli and Fitipaldi were fancy pastas. Turns out that in racer lingo, “the Poconos” means “the race track.”
Before I knew what hit me, I was spending my weekends at the track. And I mean the whole weekend, as in 24/7; racing during the day and at night sleeping in a tent in the mosquito infested track infield and sharing a porta-potty not near as fancy as that one down on Bridge Street with three dozen other racers and their grumbling pit-crew wives.
As a member of my husband’s race team, my primary responsibility was to time practice laps with my official NASCAR stopwatch.
It had four buttons and I could never figure out which was which so I only pretended to use the stopwatch and I kept time by counting off chimpanzees. You know, one chimpanzee, two chimpanzee, three chimpanzee, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
It’s been almost 30 years since our racing family spent weekends at Lyme Rock, the Poconos, and the racer’s favorite, the “Bridge” at Bridgehampton, but I can still remember every one of those races, and especially the time my racer and his car got airborne, sailed over a tire wall and disappeared into the woods. It felt like I counted off a thousand chimpanzees before I saw him stand on the guardrail and wave in the universal crashed-racer’s signal that means “tell my wife I’m alive.” Though the driver was fine, the only part of the car not badly mangled was the side mirror, which was loaned to another driver. Our car did not race that day but our mirror finished second!
This Memorial Day weekend, we did manage to get to Greenport to see the Tall Ships and my former racer marched in the parade on Monday morning but those two events bracketed a weekend dedicated to car races.
I watched part of the Indy 500 on Sunday, mostly out of habit, and saw actress Ashley Judd as she cheered on her husband, who would eventually win the race. At one point, the camera zoomed in on her as she had her hands folded under her chin and her lips were moving. To anyone else it may have looked like she was praying but, as a former-racer’s wife, I was easily able to read her lips: “One chimpanzee, two chimpanzee…”