The Christopher Columbus 200
For all the drivers who drive and have driven at the Seekonk Speedway
Strange, sitting here
with my eight-year-old son Saroyan,
in our usual seats in the second row,
just out of the fourth turn
at Seekonk Speedway, knowing
this is the last day of racing
until next Spring
Five thousand folks here on this
cold, overcast afternoon, each of us
subject to the same emotions. Yet.
it is a matter of degree that each
of us lets our emotions affect us.
Saroyan is bubbling with happiness.
He loves stock cars, and plans
to build his own and race it
when he is older. My heart is alive
with excitement and joy,
singing with the roar of each
finely precisioned stock car.
When I was ten and living in Iowa,
I overheard a veteran driver—his
first name was Oscar—I don’t remember
his last name, tell a young driver,
who was thinking about quitting:
“Once the roar of the engines
gets in your blood, it will stay there
until you die. And it won’t make no
difference what you do to get rid of it.
It won't go away. It'll always be there
wanting to come out. Be expressed. And
if you've got enough boy in you,
you'll find a way to keep going.”
Casey Stengel said it too:
“It takes a man to play professional
baseball, but that man has to have a lot
of boy in him to play it well.”
It's a particular quality of innocence
that develops and grows in the spirit
of the individual. And it is not traded in,
or lost, when becoming an adult.
It has nothing to do with ‘not growing up,’
or ‘not maturing,’ In fact it's a part of
a high form of maturity. Stock car drivers
have it. They are professional artists.
Watching them drive is poetry in motion.
Some poets have it. Like poetry, it is a
mystery where the innocence comes from.
Saroyan hopes George Savary will qualify
in the Consi. George is his favorite driver,
and he's built an exact model of George's
number 2 Vega, which is presently being
showcased at a local bank with twenty-
two different stock car models he's built.
My hopes are with Bill Clarke. George Savary
doesn't qualify. It seems his engine won't
respond as quickly as it usually does.
Saroyan is disappointed. I tell him George
will be back in the Spring, running better
than ever. Saroyan tells me “Today is not
next Spring.” So right he is. I give him
a big hug and say I'll keep my mouth shut.
He smiles and says he would like to,
after the races, find George and tell him
about the model, and where it is. “Maybe
that will cheer him up.”
After a hot dog and hot chocolate, Saroyan
decides he'll cheer Ollie Silva on to
the winner's circle. he tells me that
he'll bet me a dollar that Ollie finishes
ahead of Bill Clarke. I agree to the wager.
What an exciting and intense race it was!
Thirty-two cars taking the green flag
from starter Ron Manfrado. Bill Clarke,
in his number 61 Vega, started in twentieth
position. Ollie Silva, in his 0X Pinto,
started in the twenty-fifth position.
George Murray, who was the ARC point champ,
won the fast an grueling race. He
and Silva pitted twice and had to work
their way back up through the pack.
Clarke didn't pit, and led a good deal
after the seventy-fourth lap.
With thirty laps to go Vinnie Annarummo’s
engine exploded in flames as he approached
the third turn, bringing out the red flag.
He immediately shut the engine off, which
halted the fire, stopped the car and jumped
out, shaken but unharmed. Silva, who was
leading, pitted. Something was wrong with
When the checkered flag came out, Silva
had worked his way up from the rear
of the pack to third place!
The last quarter of a lap was as thrilling
as any race could be! Clarke, who was running
second, and finished in that position, made .
gallant attempt to overtake Murray on the
back stretch, and nearly did! He pulled his
nose up along side Murray's outside door,
but had to let up for the third and fourth
turns. I was on my feet cheering for Clarke,
and Saroyan was cheering for Silva!
But there just wasn't enough distance left
to Ron Manfrado's waving checkered flag
for Clarke to get his Vega flat out.
We looked for George Savary, but couldn't
find him. So we walked to the infield
and watched the cars being loaded onto.
the trucks and trailers. Then we walked
around the track itself. Saroyan pretending
to be Ollie Silva’s OX, and I pretending
to be Bill Clarke’s 61.
Then it was time to leave.
As we near the main entrance, I turn
for a long, last look at the quiet,
empty track. My heart is heavy.
“In the Spring,” I say to myself,
“See you in the Spring.”
Saroyan says, “Let's come here one day
this winter when the snow is falling,
and see how the track looks then.”
I says it's a good idea—that we'll do it.
On 195 South, just before the turn onto
95 North, we pass George Savary
and his number 2 Vega. Saroyan and I
get excited, smile and wave.
I jubilantly honk the car horn,
and George and his companions smile
and wave to us.
Appeared in Stock Car Racing Magazine, April 1976, Pages 80-81. Copyright © James Humphrey Trust