Race Weekend Central

Back Home Again….

I’m feeling very homesick this week.

As NASCAR Nation directs its attention toward the Tricky Triangle of Pocono Raceway, I’m stuck watching the excitement from afar. Back when I was working with a Sprint Cup team, I’d eagerly make the 775-mile commute from Northern Michigan. Not only would I get to work at the racetrack all weekend, but I’d also have a chance to visit with my family.

One of the perks of growing up just thirty-five miles from the speedway.

And it was last weekend’s running of the Indianapolis 500 that got me to thinking about Pennsylvania. Watching the unsung Alexander Rossi turn fuel mileage into the Borg-Warner trophy reminded me of an old family friend who could work magic with a high-powered car in his own creative ways. His given name was John Ross.

But his friends just called him “Rossie”.

Rossie was, like me, part of a car-crazy lineage. His father, a local hot-rodder known as “Skeeter”, was infamous for tearing up-and-down local roads at all hours of the day and night. His hard-on-the-gas lifestyle came to a sudden end one afternoon when the hopped-up Ford he was driving got loose in some gravel and smashed through a rail fence. A post punched up through the floorboard, catching Skeeter under the jaw and killing him instantly. The tragedy shook many of our local hell raisers, but it seemed to have little effect on Rossie.

Accelerating from a traffic light with Rossie was an experience that should have been sanctioned by NASA. His unassuming 1968 Chevy Nova, painted in a dull coat of flat black, could jump from a standstill like an NHRA dragster. His passengers would get shoved deep into their seats, waiting for a gear change so they might have a chance to catch their breath. Rossie would be talking a mile-a-minute and driving with one hand, defying time, space, and gravity.

Leaving a red light while riding in Rossie’s ’68 Nova gave me an entirely new perspective on the phrase “going green”….

And Rossie was more than a skilled driver; he was also a talented mechanic capable of diagnosing and fixing any engine within his reach. He was lead wrench for our local township’s police department – a job that enabled him to stay just a few horsepower ahead of any patrol cruiser that might try to pull him over. I once owned a 1976 Ford that I bought cheap because it had a poorly-ported crankshaft. Rossie heard about my plight and offered to replace the faulty crank in exchange for a bottle of cherry wine.

Long story short: Rossie wound up rebuilding the entire 351 Windsor engine because it seemed like a fun thing to do. His charge for the rebuild increased my cost to TWO bottles of cherry wine. His rebuild increased the Ford’s horsepower substantially, too.

My mother was a big fan of Rossie. She knew him through my dad, who served as a township supervisor for more than 50 years and gave Rossie steady employment as part of the road department. Mom used to dream about winning the lottery. One of her plans – if she ever won a big enough prize – was to put Rossie behind the wheel of a stock car and enable him to compete at a national level. In MY vision for Mom’s winnings, Rossie would build and oversee a stock car that I would drive at a national level.

It was MY vision. Rossie would have made Mom a much more successful car owner.

So, as ARCA teams turn laps at Pocono and as Northeastern Pennsylvania prepares to host its first XFINITY race weekend, my thoughts steer toward home. It seemed fitting that a 24-year old from California could win the Indy 500 by saving fuel. Many students I work with who are around that age are all about conservation and reducing fossil fuel consumption, so I wonder if that might make Alexander Rossi a poster child for their environmental interests in some quirky way.

Then I think about the “Rossie” I’ve known for decades, and how he represents a much different attitude from a much different time. Not to say that the two men are all that different since they both live life in the proverbial fast lane, but there’s very little that’s “green” about a ’68 Nova tearing around the back roads thirty miles from Pocono Raceway.

Especially when that red light changes….

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