Last week I spoke about my very first trip to Florida which resulted in a Gatornationals Modified Eliminator win for the friend I went with – My First Time. This week is a sort of unique story which I didn’t find out about the whole story until last year.
Maybe not quite as exciting a trip to the Sunshine State as in 1978, but it was the 1985 Gatornationals and I had been running the Super Gas Puerto Rican Dream Vega for three or four years at that point. If memory serves me well (well, that never happens but this is my story and I’m sticking with it) we had ordered a new trailer that we had yet to receive. I borrowed a trailer from a very good friend to this day and at the time, trailer builder Mark Dennebaum of Kustom Kar Karriers.
First up is a lesson in contingency programs. John Mazzarella had been working for Strange Engineering and stopped by to say hello and mention the company was paying contingency on a brake fluid they were marketing. The caveat was you had to buy a bottle of the product at $20. I explained to my wife Dot to give Mazz a $20, to which she asked, “For what?”
“For a bottle of brake fluid.”
“For brake fluid? Are you crazy?”
“Actually I am, but it’s to sign up for their contingency program.”
I know she reluctantly did so and our week was on. I proceed to begin going rounds and at some point I had a bye run. Not expecting to make a full run, I merely snapped my seat belts, never tightening them nor strapping my helmet on tight. At the time, not so today, you had to make a full pass down the track. Today, you can merely take the ‘Tree and back out, but as I’m going down the track, beginning to pick up speed, I thought about loose seat belts and began to pull them down tighter in case there was an incident. Funny how things go through your mind when you have time to think.
I find myself in the final against Richard Godley. Godley had won the Gators the year before in ’84 and was looking to repeat. Me, I was looking for my second national event win after winning the SPORTSNationals in ’84 which was held at Indy that year. Yea! I won Indy. Not THE Indy, but a win is a win.
I can’t say I remember too much about the final round as to how it went down, but once again, a win is a win and the win light was on in my lane. Part of the winnings at an NHRA national event is a winter jacket (don’t ask me why a “winter” jacket, but it’s been that way as long as I can remember and still today). I happened to be wearing that jacket once and Godley asked me if that was “his jacket?” No, sorry Richard. It’s mine. Godley went on to two more final rounds after that, but no jacket. Sorry Richard.
Oh yea... That bottle of brake fluid brought us a $300 check! My wife was happy about that!
In addition to me winning, very good family friend “Pizza John” Mafaro also won the Pro Stock Motorcycle class. Another long-time friend, the late Jim Harrington won Stock Eliminator, so it was a pretty cool winner’s circle celebration. Other winners that event were Dick LaHaie, Kenny Bernstein, Warren Johnson, Don Irvin, Ken Veney, Danny Townsend, and Dave Boertman.
Final round pictures and I have to get out of there to catch a plane because I had work to be done on Monday morning. Plan was for my wife and 18-month old son to drive the rig back to New Jersey where we lived at the time, something she’s done before so it was really not an issue. After the photos and a small celebration, she dropped me off at the Jacksonville airport and away she went. Thankfully, another friend, Nick Nikolis, had been there running Pro Stock and his brother and a friend followed my wife home for a little bit of safety.
Here’s where the unique part comes in. ClassRacer.com’s Ken Miele and I have worked together for probably as long as his website has been around. It’s a great forum which brings together racers from all classes giving them a place to discuss any number of issues.
Nonetheless, Kenny and I are talking early last year and he asks me about that 1985 win with the question, “Who was in the final round pictures?”
I think I may have mentioned last week I suffer from the disease, CRS (Can’t Remember Shit), so the answer to that question left my mind a long time ago. I had to go home and scope out the picture which hangs in my office. From right to left, there was Lou Cuviello, the race queen, myself holding my son Franklin, wife Dottie, then D1 Director Greg Xakellis, a friend of Nikolis’ brother, Jimmy Nikolis, and ta-da, in all his seriousness with his arms crossed, Ken Miele. I never even had remembered that, nor I don’t think I even knew Ken back then but he had been hanging out with Jimmy Nikolis and, sure, why not, hop in the photo.
I’ve taken a lot of winner’s circle pictures since then, mostly of other winners but certainly with not of myself in the center seat. What I find is sometimes dozens of people gathered in the shot which in itself makes that grouping very special. Sometimes you know who the people are and other times it doesn’t matter. It’s called a celebration for a reason. But what’s unique about it is the fact that more times than none, never in the history of the world will that exact group of people be together again. Some may be gone and other new ones arrive, but never that exact group. And I think that’s pretty neat. -JOHN DiBARTOLOMEO