DEEP STAGING - WHERE WERE YOU?

Friday, November 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated.

Tuesday, January 26, 1986, the day the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded.

And naturally in our present day, Tuesday, September 11, 2001, no explanation needed.

Add to this, Thursday, March 12, 2020.

It’s sometimes funny how there are certain days in our lives when we all can remember where we were. I should probably add my wedding day and of course the dates of my children’s birth, but I digress.

Thursday, March 12, 2020 is going to be one of those dates.

Me? I was in Gainesville preparing for the Gatornationals to begin. We had been hearing about this “virus,” whatever it was, but it had yet to hit home for us as racers. Who knew that in the coming days and months it would mean so much.

I had been there from the previous week and the Baby Gators, the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series divisional event held in Gainesville. However, in addition to that divisional event the week prior, Gainesville week also brings several other events which are a welcome addition for us east coast guys and gals.

The Gatornationals has always been a “destination race.” An event which has always played to packed stands and pits in part to the great weather in the Sunshine State. It’s a place which holds the honor of so many records being set there. The weather at the Gators can be nice, or even downright abysmal. Been there for at least one of each. When the weather is great, it’s awesome, and when it isn’t, hold on for a couple of minutes, it will change. It’s Florida.

With a week between both races, there are still lots of things to accomplish; things like a little straightening up, washing or servicing the rig; things that are much better done in 80-degree weather than 20. And there’s also golf. On Wednesday prior to the Gators is the annual Tracy Winters DRAW Golf Tournament.

Now right away I’m going to admit that virus thing was my fault. Not China. Not the President. Not because someone added a bad lime to their Corona beer. No. It was my fault. Give me a minute to explain.

I played golf three days in a row that week, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I have NEVER played three days in a row. Two days, yes. Two rounds in one day, yes. Never three days in a row. Blame the virus on me! Sorry.

Thursday night is the Don Garlits International Hall of Fame awards banquet, of which I was invited this year to attend by Super Stock racer Joe and Alice Tysinger. On Wednesday though, at 9:00 at night, President Trump took to the airways to announce, “Today, the World Health Organization officially announced that this is a global pandemic.”

Still, I can tell you that the word inside the pit confines of Gainesville Raceway that night was maybe more concerned with time runs and qualifying for the Lucas Oil Series sportsman racers than anything else. However, by the time the Sun rose on Thursday morning, the “word” began to change. A rumor circulated that the event would be cancelled, at which time in the morning, no one knew what that meant. And of course, rumors are always just that, “rumors.”

While the sportsman teams were on track adjusting their set-ups for eliminations to begin on Friday, it wasn’t much before noontime when the “official” word changed from a rumor to a fact.

Maybe required by forces beyond their control, but the NHRA did the right thing to pull the plug on the pro show. Seeing as the sportsman competitors were already there, the announcement was for them to complete eliminations on Friday with no spectators. Little did we know at the time though that a lot more was at stake than just the Gatornationals.

As racers, we sometimes live in a bubble, oftentimes oblivious to the things happening outside our little world. Admit it. I think that as we celebrated the Gatornationals sportsman champions later that Friday, we were all a little unsure what the coming days and months would bring. While drag racing is really just a very small part of our world, it does offer some relief from everyday life, much the same as any other sport. Sports that in the following months were absent.

Certainly nothing is more important that human life, but hopefully by the time you’re reading this we will have returned to sports and whatever the new normal is. I think we can all remember what the pre-9/11 days were like, much the same as we’ll remember what the world was like prior to that day in March. Never forget, but by all means, stay safe. We’ll be right here bringing you the very same features and tech stories happening in our changed world. -JOHN DiBARTOLOMEO