May. The rites of spring. Memorial Day Sunday. Monaco, Indy, Charlotte. Monday was always spent at a cemetery honoring the American war dead , those who selflessly fought for American ideals, like my Grandfathers and Great Uncles.
You never realize you take things for granted until they’re gone. That certainly could be said for the wondrously mundane Memorial Day weekend of 2020.
The Memorial Day weekend was always special. In my early career, I would take my first week of vacation just to recover from Sunday. It started early and ended late. Up by 5:30 to fire up the grill, crack that first (of many) beer, and catch the action from Monaco. The tight, narrow Monaco Circuit, in the Cote d’ Azure, produced legends and gave victory to unknowns.
Then onto Indianapolis. In the little town of Speedway, Indiana. The fanfare, Gomer Pyle singing Back Home Again in Indiana. From 1911 this 2.5-mile oval produced what was the greatest spectacle in racing, hosted the world’s greatest drivers and cars – produced both in factories and garages. It was a tearjerker. It was a thrilling concoction of strategy, skill, ingenuity, tires and fuel.
Then onto Bruton Smith’s Charlotte Motor Speedway for the World (Coca-Cola) 600. NASCAR’s longest day, and into the night. Crazy horsepower, close racing for three-plus hours. An amazing display of endurance, mechanical dexterity and human stamina.
Add to the fold, the drivers who did both in “double duty” as the 1100 miles of Indy and Charlotte beckoned first to the late John Andretti and many others who followed in the “personable Andretti’s” footsteps.
The COVID-19 pandemic made me almost forget about Memorial Day. It wasn’t until I received an email from one of our marketing associates, warning me of the holiday weekend and reminded me that Monday was a holiday so there was work to be done in advance to populate the DownShift.
It has been tough staring at the same four walls. It has been tough only talking to my kids on the phone. It has been a whirlwind of work and sleep, not doing much else than pounding away at the keyboard and analyzing the pandemic’s effect on readership.
But a phone conversation, of which I have many per day with mentor and Journal founding editor Larry Edsall, reminded me of what I would be missing this weekend. We chatted about our experiences at the Speedway and Charlotte and how much this particular weekend meant to us.
In the Midwest, where I both grew up and spent many of my adult years, I remember listening to “the greatest spectacle” on the radio in the garage with my dad – on the few occasions when he wasn’t at the Speedway — and then watching the replay in the evening on ABC.
My grade school chums never understood my obsession with motor racing. My summer weekends away at Elkhart Lake, staying at Seibken’s, watching Formula 5000 racing with legends such as Brian Redman, Mario Andretti, James Hunt, Al Unser, David Hobbs, Jody Schekcter, Brett Lunger, Vern Schuppan, Chris Amon, Tony a2z, all running in anger. I did this since I was a small child, and was always inside the barriers. I met legendary drivers, amazing journalists (my dad was a PR man), and the many characters who owned, worked for, drove for and hung on to the teams of the day.
I remember the “Kansas City Flash,” Masten Gregory, twirling his swim trunks over his head while waist deep in Elkhart Lake and shouting to my mother, sitting with me on the beach, “Mary Kay! Do you see anything you like?” Masten added levity to every situation, from my recollections. He used to dine at our home frequently.
My dad encouraged me as hard as he could to stay away from the business. He said, “Son, be a doctor, lawyer or an Indian chief.” I saw it as nothing but glamour. I interned with his sports marketing firm, Pinnacle Marketing, and worked there for a few years after.
Now, here I am, the managing editor at the Journal. I win. I get to run a major automotive publication.
But I digress. Memorial Day weekend is not here. Yes, we have Charlotte with no fans in the stands. But no Monaco. No Indy 500. 2020 just plain sucks! Many of our younger crowd will remember this as the year that human contact extracted itself from the human experience. What is next? GOOD LORD! Deliver me to a more familiar world.