Race Weekend Central

Crossing the Finish Line

Last Tuesday evening, we had to have our nearly-15 year old dog put to sleep. She suffered from arthritis and had difficulty walking and lying down. Her ambulatory woes came on quickly; she limped severely during our walk Sunday morning, hurting to the point where she dragged one foot and struggled to maintain her balance. By Monday afternoon, she was taking major pain medication to ease the discomfort. By Tuesday evening, she was lying on the floor in her veterinarian’s examination room. Her long life came to a peaceful end under an open window where birdsong lulled her into permanent sleep. My wife and I sat with Genevieve until she passed, stroking her fur and bidding her goodbye.

It was the start of a tough week.

The loss of Genevieve was followed two days later by news of Prince’s death at his home in suburban Minneapolis. Another entertainment icon gone, just a few months after the death of David Bowie. As the world mourned the passing of this musical legend, my much-smaller sphere grieved the loss of our beloved Gen, as well.

Both Genevieve and Prince had ties to automobile racing as it pertained to me, personally.

For Prince, it was his music that provided the soundtrack for my days with the Sports Car Club of America. I was a freshman at Penn State University and a huge fan of the multi-talented musician from Minnesota. Back in the early-to-mid 1980s, I competed in amateur road rally and autocross events throughout Pennsylvania. This was after I had already given up my dream of racing stock cars and trying to climb the NASCAR ladder. My racing budget was painfully limited, so I was content with whatever I could do through the SCCA.

And whatever I did in SCCA competition, there was always an up-tempo groove from Prince somewhere in the background. I never listened to his music while in the midst of an event, but his albums were a regular part of my pre-and-post competition routine. In those days of Purple Rain, you often heard songs by Prince coming from cars in and around the staging area.

It was a “Sign O’ The Times”, I guess….

Another sign of the times, albeit several years later, was the act of getting a dog. My daughter was about five years old and a fan of Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline books. In one of the stories, Madeline tumbles off a bridge in Paris into the Seine. Before she is swept downriver, a plucky stray dog hears the little girl’s cries for help. The dog, a medium-sized pooch with brown fur, jumps into the current and saves Madeline by dragging her to shore. The story ends with the stray dog finding a home with Madeline in the girls’ school where she lived. Madeline names the brave female dog “Genevieve”.

My daughter loved these books, and this story in particular. So when my then-sister-in-law called from North Carolina to say her dog was going to have puppies, the request came from my daughter that we get “a brown girl dog so we can name her Genevieve”. All we had to do was wait and see.

My daughter’s wish came true. As luck (or fate?) would have it, the litter of pups born that May of 2001 consisted of six boys and one girl. The girl was brown with black highlights on her ears, back, and tail, and her name would become Genevieve.

Gen, as we called her, was born outside Statesville, North Carolina, not too far from the garage where NASCAR veteran Johnny Chapman and his family serviced cars and trucks (including my then-brother-in-law’s). When we got Gen home to Michigan, she adapted quickly to her new surroundings. By the age of twenty months, this cocker spaniel/golden retriever mix was actually outrunning snowmobiles across frozen lakes near my house.

Genevieve was a great “shop dog” around our place. When I worked in the garage, she was calm, quiet, and good at staying out of the way. When I worked races at Pocono, I’d take Gen and stay at my dad’s house near the track. While I was at the raceway, my dad would take Gen for long walks through the field behind our house and along the brush row near the woods. Genevieve loved these trips because she would share my meals from a variety of fast food eateries. She’d ride in the back seat of my Ford, eat scraps of cheeseburgers, and keep me company for hours on end. The same went for trips to North Carolina.

Genevieve was a queen of the road.

So putting Gen to sleep last week left a huge hole in my family’s world. My wife and I were with her until the end, and our children wept once they knew the deed had been done. Genevieve would no longer suffer pain, but our hurt was just beginning.

Not seeing nor hearing Gen around the house is an unusual feeling, but there is peace in knowing she was part of our lives. Gen was cremated, so scattering some of her ashes in Pennsylvania and North Carolina will be in order come summer.

Genevieve will always remind me of my racing days, as will the memories that come whenever I hear a song by Prince. I turned 51 yesterday and people wished me many happy returns, but those who left me last week will never, ever pass this way again. Time supposedly heals all wounds, but hopefully good memories last forever.

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