Monday, March 25

Where did it all disappear to?


It was late in the race as Frankie Thompson rounded turn four…his left front wheel flexing up and down, almost a foot off the ground as the six hundred and fifty horsepower engine within his sprint car roared to full throttle. He was closely pursued by Dick Tobias, Junior Ritchey and Pete Swarmer as they were heading for the white flag that signaled only one lap to go. They roared past where my Mom, Dad, brother and I sat in the grandstand, spewing dirt into our mouths, our eyes and down around our necks, into our shirts. Such was the benefits of watching a race on the half mile dirt track in Port Royal, Pennsylvania. Noted as the fastest banked dirt track in the east, we would occasionally get to visit the racetrack while camping at the Juniata River near Granville. As a fourteen year old boy…this was the greatest of all things to witness. These cars with their outrageously high horsepower engines drove the light weight pipe and tin sheet framed cars around this track at speeds of one hundred and fifty mph on the straight stretch…slowing to a meager ninety mph in the turns. Each race was chocked full of thrills and excitement as spectators watched the little cars racing for a measly two hundred…to sometimes five hundred dollars for risking their lives in a fifty lap race. There were many close calls, along with horrendous crashes in almost every race. Some races had thirty to forty cars on the track at the same time, so it was difficult not to run into one another. Many drivers have died there…in fact one of my friends from the Lewistown area was killed there in the late sixties. We weren’t at that race, but helped unload the crushed car from the trailer the next day. What a sad task to perform…but Denny’s brother Dutch and his family weren’t up to doing that. Little did we know back then, that a friend would die there just four years later….
Anyway…back to 1965 and being a boy of fourteen. Our friends in the Barrens never saw a sprint car race, so that made me and my little brother of seven, quite popular as far as telling them the exciting stories that implanted the visions in their heads.
We made it so interesting to the neighborhood boys, that all of them gathered together to build and race homemade race carts, made from anything we could lay our fingers on. These carts were usually constructed of a board frame with axles and wheels and a rope for steering; you could take quite a brisk ride down a steep hill, gaining speed the further you went. We spent many hours building, racing and repairing these carts during the summer. There were approximately eight guys in our little village, ranging in age from six to fourteen…and all were involved in either building or racing, so it kept all the male kids in our town busy and playing together.
I often wonder where we lost this concept of community togetherness. In fact…our togetherness wasn’t limited to cart racing only…nor was it limited to male participation only. There were many things we did which included the girls of our village too. Did we lose this togetherness with the invention of the video games of today? It seems that is what everyone blames it on.
I believe that video games had a great bearing on this, but I also believe parents…or the lack of…had a bigger affect on the togetherness of today’s kids.
Parents don’t want bothered with their kids most of the time…mostly because they are so busy with work and their own interests to be interested in their kids, which are expected to be raised by the schools and teachers, or the baby sitter and daycare where their kids reside all day.
Teachers aren’t interested in raising everyone’s kids…My God, it’s hard enough just trying to gain their respect and attention to teach them a pre-determined curriculum of school work, let alone the morals, family values and individual growth that should come from the parents in their family. Kids in a village may not even know the other neighborhood kids beyond their everyday encounters at school or on the bus, or walk home. If they do not have any friendly exposure in or at school, there is probably little chance they will at home either, because most are glued to the TV set watching television or playing video games.
Perhaps to make our communities come close to the way they were in the fifties when we grew up, we should start by smashing the TV set and talking to our kids. Talking at dinner…at the same table…all at once would be a start. Getting to know your children and doing things with them would also help, because you could instill values of friendship that could spill out into the community. If you live in an area where there is little after school or community sporting events, it would be even more valuable toward teaching your children to seek friendship among their peers in the community. Kids with many friends around home usually grow to become good friends of their neighbors in the community they live in and their kids will then learn the same quality.
Right now, I’d suppose a kid that met a great race driver, or baseball player, or other famous person, could tell all his friends and be met with an excited reply such as. “So....?”

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