Because of the fact that there was mortgage money involved, it took us a while to get the actual paperwork signed, but for practical purposes the deal was done as soon as I put down a hundred bucks in earnest money. Fortunately, it was still February so there wasnít much we could do out at the track but make plans, but that didnít mean that Arlene and I had nothing to do. In fact, the next three months was one of the busiest periods I ever spent in my life.
Even with Frankís money to work with this was still going to have to be an affair where we had to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, but the key to everything was going to be having as much as possible done before racing actually got under way. I will admit, in some ways our concept was simple, but as they say, the devil lay in the details and there were tons of them. At least with the paperwork under way I didnít have to keep quiet about what we were planning, but now I needed to enlist as many people as I could, and the only way I was going to be able to do that was to talk to them.
One big load came off my mind early: Craig had done quite a bit of talking around with the karters we both ran with Ė I just hadnít had the opportunity what with everything else. Once the track purchase was nailed down the little kart group we had was interested. They had been running into troubles finding a place to run because you can only get away with borrowing someoneís parking lot on a Saturday morning for so long, so they were glad to know theyíd have a place to run, even if it had to be on dirt. A quarter mile oval was a little bit too big for that group, so early on I worked out a plan to grade a short oval in the infield that included the start-finish line along the front stretch, and that seemed to satisfy everyone for now.
Nailing down the kart group was a huge relief. Even though I wouldnít be able to charge the back gate fee for them that I would for full-sized cars, the concession stand would still charge the same thing, and I figured on selling lots of hot dogs to kids. That was something I hadnít really flashed on until Frank had told me up in Livonia that when you got done figuring up the profit on concessions it would add up to a significant part of the gate, and it was one thing that he hadnít had a lot of experience with. I could see that it was going to take someone who knew what they were doing, and it was clear that someone wasnít going to be Arlene or me. Neither of us knew much about concessions except that somehow track hot dogs taste better than almost any other kind, no matter the brand. Besides, there was going to be an awful lot else for us to do. It looked like it was going to be a tough nut to crack.
Surprisingly, it cracked itself. About a week after Arlene and I got back from Livonia we were sitting around the house in the evening talking about the problem when the phone rang. It proved to be Diane Zeigler Ė actually, now it was Diane Gorsline; sheíd gotten married. "Hey," she said. "The word around town is that you two are going to be reopening the track. Do you have anyone for a concession manager?"
"Weíre looking," I said. "Are you interested?"
"Sure," she said. "I always liked hanging around that place, even after those dodos closed the concession stand and went to just those old pop machines."
Now that I thought about it, I remembered Diane hanging around the track, doing odd jobs, like running the back gate, working in the concession stand, and all sorts of other little jobs. It didnít take any thinking. "Youíre hired," I told her. "Now if youíre not doing anything serious, can you hop in your car and come over here so we can work out a few details of what weíre going to do with concessions in the first place. Itís going to be a little different than it was before."
"Give me ten minutes," she said.
Eight minutes later by the kitchen clock Diane was knocking on our back door. She was much like I remembered her, except that she was hugely pregnant. "Are you going to have that kid by the time racing season opens?" I asked by way of introduction.
"I better have," she said, "Or Iím going to get a knife and cut him or her out myself. Iím two weeks overdue as it is."
It turned out that Diane had managed concessions at the track for three years, along with doing other odd jobs here and there. She was a track junkie, nothing more, nothing less. It turned out that for a while sheíd worked for the price of admission just because she enjoyed hanging around the track.
I think it safe to say that in the next hour or two Arlene and I learned more about track concessions than weíd dreamed existed. Diane really liked the idea of the rearrangement of the parking area and the single concession stand Ė it would save a lot of money and allow for easier and better service. But, like everything else around the track the old concession area was a dump and wouldnít pass Health Department regulations on the best day it had. It was going to need a major overhaul at the minimum, but that was something we could do. Given the current state of the building, and the fact that it wasnít well located for what we wanted to do with it, it seemed necessary to put up a whole new building. It wouldnít be large, and would have to be designed so it could be moved if we had to break back down into two parking areas again. But, drawing on Dianeís experience, we were able to come up with a rough sketch of a floor plan that would be more efficient than the old building. If we started having busy days Diane was going to need some help, but while things were slow it didnít figure to be much of a problem for her to run it herself and take care of her baby at the same time.
Hiring Diane proved to be the best thing we got out of the old track. She wasnít only helpful with concessions; she knew the old track like no one else, things I came to suspect that Smoky had never even known. For a while there, I donít think more than a couple days went by that either Arlene or I didnít find ourselves saying, "Hey, Diane! How did they used to do this and so?" or something pretty close to it and get an answer, sometimes both the old way and a better one.
If that werenít enough, her husband Zack Gorsline came along with the deal. I remembered Zack; heíd been a contender in the Junior Stock division the first summer Iíd been involved with the track, but the second summer heíd switched over to running a Sportsman. Diane and Zack had met at the track and heíd hung on there longer than most. He still ran the same Sportsman, more or less, and was usually a contender at some of the other tracks in the area. However, he liked the idea of coming back to Bradford to race since it was less of a hassle and once had been a fun track to race, with people and fans he knew. Whatís more, he knew racers all over the area, and it was through him that the word started to really get out that the place was coming back to life with a couple new owners who knew what the hell racing was all about and were going to try and do it right. It turned out that the two partial summers Iíd spent at the track had given me a reputation among the local short track crowd that still echoed a little as a guy who was fair with the racers and hell on cheating.
About a week or ten days later Ė after Diane had the baby Ė Zack, Arlene, and I got together to bounce some ideas off of him, since he was really more plugged into the local racing scene than we were. "What are you going to do about rules?" was the first thing he asked.
"It would be nice to have a nice, tight rule," I told him. "But it seems logical that at least for the first year weíre going to have to draw on people who race elsewhere and just stop by for the fun of it. Thatís why weíre talking the Sunday afternoon racing. So, I think that means the rules are going to have to pretty much be Ďrun what you brung.í That way we donít get into the hassles of something being legal at one place and not at another."
"Sounds pretty good," he said. "I take it youíre not going to have much of a payout at first, so thereíll be no reason for someone to build a hell of a cheater."
"My thinking exactly," I told him. "If a guy says itís a Sportsman, and it looks like a Sportsman, then itís a Sportsman until he gets the second lap on the field. Then it becomes a Late Model. Actually, Iím not thinking much in terms of classes at this point. Iím thinking we try to group cars of roughly the same potential for the heats, and then run an A- and B-Main, and maybe a C-Main if we have enough cars. If thereís anything Iíve learned about racing itís that you donít get stock cars without cheating. It just doesnít happen. Doing it this way means that thereís no cheating since thereís no rules to break except simple safety rules like roll bars and helmets and seat belts."
"Yeah, and that means someone can run just about what they want to," he said. "In a way, thatíll be refreshing. Thereís too many guys out there that are looking for a loophole in the rules. How about open wheel cars?"
"Iím not going to mix open wheel cars with stock cars. Itís just too dangerous. But if a couple people show up with midgets or sprint cars or something, we can run them against each other."
"How about Junior Stocks?" he asked. "Youíre kind of known for that."
"I donít know," I told him. "It seems to me that theyíve died out around here. At least you donít see many of them anymore at the races Iíve been to. What do you think?"
"Thereís still some around," he said. "But it pretty much turned into the deal that wrecked it at Bradford. You were getting a handle on it until Glenn Mansfield came along. You know what happened here, but at a lot of tracks it turned into a cheaterís race and people lost interest."
"Thatís a shame," I said. "Racing needs some entry-level cars, and those were good ones."
"Thereís still some of them sitting around that havenít been raced in a while," he said. "If you did it right, you might be able to bring some of them back out. The only thing is that Iíd get rid of that rule that you have to be under twenty-one. That was one of those things that caused problems, and some of those guys that still have them and might want to race íem are over twenty-one now."
"Good idea," I said. "Make it open to all. Call it ĎEconomy Stockí or something and limit it to sixes."
"Thatíd work," he smiled. "You know that last race you ran here, those restrictor plate things you had? You ought to use them. That really evened things out."
"Iíve still got most of them out in the shop," I said. "It wouldnít be any trick to make some more. I always felt that had more potential than I got to show with them. People never got the chance to get used to them."
* * *
Up until the middle of February weíd had a fairly dry winter, without a lot of snow, but cold. However, the week after our meeting with Frank we started getting snow, and a lot of it Ė not all at once, but several storms a few days apart, and this cycle went on well into March. We lost several days of school, but I was able to make good use of my time.
Then, along about the middle of March when I was beginning to wonder if the snow was ever going to go away, it did. We had a warm spell of several days in the 50s and 60s, even hitting 70 degrees a couple days and all that snow went away like the proverbial snowball in hell. The only problem was that the ground underneath was still frozen, and everything on top was a sea of mud. While I was anxious as hell to get to work on things at the track, I knew there wasnít much I could do but work on getting ready. As the days dragged on and April started getting near, I was beginning to get antsy to get to work out there. Arlene and I had been tentatively eyeing May 19, the third Sunday in May as our opening date since we wanted to get some of the bugs worked out before the kart racing season got into full swing.
By early April things were getting dried out enough that there was the possibility of getting something done out there. Weather forecasts have gotten a bit more reliable since then, but by the middle of the week preceding it looked like the first Saturday in April seemed to have potential, although Sunday seemed a little more iffy. By then I had a huge list of things I wanted to do, and it just seemed like there was no way everything was going to get done. Along about Wednesday or Thursday Craig and I were having lunch in the teacherís lounge and I mentioned that it was drying out enough that I thought I might be able to get something done at the track. That evening I happened to mention it to Diane, too, when I called her to tell her I hoped to get started on the new concession building that weekend since Iíd had a load of lumber delivered earlier in the week. I didnít ask them to come out and help or anything Ė it was just an update on progress. I also called Frank that evening, just to let him know what was going on with the track, and mentioned that it was drying out enough that I might be able to get something done.
Early on Saturday morning, Arlene made up a big thermos of coffee, and we headed down to the track. We pulled up close to the pile of lumber where the new concession stand was going to go and looked around. "God," I told Arlene. "Thereís just so damn much to be done I donít see how weíll ever be ready to go by the middle of next month."
"Nothing to do but get started," she said as she opened the door on her side of the pickup. We had no more than gotten out of the pickup when Zack and Diane drove in. "Howís it going, Zack?" I said. "I didnít expect to see you here."
"Aw, nothing better to do today," he shrugged. "I figured you could use an extra pair of hands or two."
"Yeah, I wouldnít mind," I told him. "Iím a pretty fair mechanic but Iím nothing much as a carpenter."
"Well, I know a thing or two about it," he smiled. "I suppose weíd better start by separating out the boards weíre going to want for the floor joists."
"Sounds reasonable," I said, then looked up when I heard the crunch of tires on gravel. It was another pickup truck. Someone I didnít know hopped out and said, "Morning, Zack. I didnít know if theyíd have the power on so I threw in a generator."
"Zack," I said, "What the hell?"
"Oh, I figured weíd need a little help," he said smugly. "So I called a couple people that used to race here to come lend a hand."
"Zack, you didnít have to do that," I protested.
"I know I didnít have to," he smiled. "But Iím looking forward to racing here again, and Iím not the only one."
By ten in the morning I swear over fifty people had showed up! I honestly was never so surprised in my life! That was way more people than we needed to work on the concession stand, so I had to find other stuff for people to do. The next item on the list was that wood fence, so I gathered up a few people and explained what I planned on doing. Along about that time Craig came by with a question about the bleachers, and that turned into a discussion. By the time I got back to the question of the fence a big chunk of it in turn one was gone. There were several guys loading the busted sections onto a farm wagon that had shown up from somewhere, and someone had brought in a Fordson tractor with a front end loader, which made short work of pulling the fence posts out of the ground.
The heck of it was that, while I knew a lot of people out there working on various projects, many of them were such total strangers that I didnít even recognize their faces. I recognized some racers, some of the karting crowd, even some kids from my auto shop classes. This was just flat unbelievable!
Not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I hunted up Diane, who was over near the new concession stand, which was starting to look like a building. The walls were up by now with sheeting on them, and there were rafters going up. "Diane," I said when I found her. "I donít know how weíre going to do it, but why donít you run down to the supermarket and load up with hot dogs and pop or something? We at least owe this crowd a meal for their efforts. Iíll give you fifty bucks, do what you can with it."
"No problem," she smiled. "Itís already taken care of." She pointed over toward her pickup truck, where there were a couple of tables set up with Coleman camping stoves going, warming coffee and pots full of whatever. "Some of us sort of pitched in. Itís kind of a cool day and I figured people would want something warm."
"OK, good," I said, shaking my head in wonder. This was way, way more than I had ever expected would happen! "It looks like youíve got that angle covered. I figured youíd be way ahead of me."
I wanted to say something more, but got interrupted by Art Angunar, the guy who leased my farm for crops Ė someone else I hadnít known was there. "There you are!" Art said. "Iíve been looking all over for you!"
"Hell, I donít know how Iíd find myself with all this going on," I told him. "Whatís on your mind this morning?"
"I wanted to talk to you about the track surface," he said. "It sure looks like hell with all those ruts and gullies. What would you say if I were to bring a harrow over here and just bust things up a little bit before I get started on grading it back where it needs to be?"
"Sounds like it would work," I told him. "Iíd say to not set the tines too deep, though. Just break up the surface a little, and we can fill the gullies by grading them. I donít know if the water truck runs or what, but weíll want to keep everything pretty damp so itíll pack back together reasonably."
"All right, Iíll run home and get a tractor and harrow," he said. "See what you can do about that truck."
I glanced around, and saw Barry Rothenberger handing up sheeting to go on the roof of the concession building. Barry was one of my Auto Shop II kids, and one of the better students Ė he already knew a lot about being a mechanic before he took the class. I called him over and said, "Out in the shed on the back side of the fence thereís an old water truck. I donít know if it runs or not, but grab another kid or two from the class and see what you can do about getting it running."
"Sure, no problem, Mr. Austin," he smiled. "You got any idea where the keys are?"
"No idea," I told him. "If thereís none in it, you may have to hot wire the thing."
"I can do that," he said with a smile, and the next thing I knew he was gone.
I glanced around to see what else was going on this incredible morning, to notice that Craig had the bleachers down Ė all of them. I figured Iíd better see what was going on with that, so trotted over there to discover that he had already sorted out the good pieces and the bad pieces, and was putting the bleachers back together with the good ones. "Weíre going to have more good uprights and cross members than weíre going to have seats and foot boards," he said. "We could use some two by twelves if weíre going to do the job right."
"The lumber yard is still open," I told him. "Iíll give you a check. Just donít get too carried away, we only want about half the bleachers we had before. If it turns out that we want more we can do them later."
"Itís still going to take some lumber," he said, "But probably not much. Iíll see what I can do."
Iíd explained earlier to some people what I wanted to do with the fence, which was remove most of it, including that around the stands and the timing tower, but the back fence was going to stay, if for no more reason than to hide the ugliness of the back lot Ė and, of course, Frank had purchased the advertising rights on it. I could see some people working on it, using some of the boards and sections taken down earlier to repair the bad spots. This was just another case of someone seeing something that needed to be done and doing it.
I headed over to check it out, and was as surprised as I had been all morning to see who that crew was. It turned out to be a bunch of veterans of the MMSA Ė Frank, Vivian, Jerry, Dewey, and Pepper! They had a couple people I didnít know with them. "Good grief," I exclaimed. "I didnít expect to see you guys here!"
"It looked like it was going to be too nice a day to stay inside," Frank said. "You were busy so we didnít hunt you up when we got here. This place is sure a mess, it looked like you had plenty for someone to do."
"Yeah, and this is one of those things," I agreed. "Somehow I figured youíd wind up working on the fence where your ad is going to go."
"Well, youíre already making a difference," Frank agreed. "Itís looking better now than it did three hours ago. You get some paint spread around here and it wonít look half bad."
"Yeah, that was one of the things that irritated me about the old management," I agreed. "The guy who used to own it didnít seem to know what a paint brush was. Letís face it, this is a dirt track, itís going to be dirty, but that doesnít mean it has to be filthy and run-down."
"Thatís sure true," he agreed. "I can recall a lot of little dirt tracks that were mostly dumps, but I can recall a few that were pretty nice. I think this one is going to be pretty reasonable."