I remember thinking to myself, as I looked at the #5 Roots V8 Racing Chevrolet sitting expectantly on the trailer, that it was a bit rude of the world to carry on like this.
I had escaped, you see. A deal had taken place that saw me flying to the United States to drive an ARCA Stockcar at Little Rock. I lost myself in the North Carolina sunshine, fell in love with the little half mile "paper clip" style oval and the hugely over powered and under braked NASCAR has-been race car. It is all the same as Euro Late Models. As ASCAR. As Speedcar. As the now NASCAR affiliated Race Car Series. That's what we tell everyone, isn't it? That we are a kind of NASCAR in our part of the world? But it isn't the same. Not by a long long way. Not even by ARCA standards which are still a long way from NASCAR Cup. I soaked up the heat, pounded laps and talk about a type of racing that very few people outside of America truly understand. I felt like one of them, even though I didn't quite talk the same. I felt connected. Wired. Home. I knew I would be racing in Holland the following weekend, but that was as far from my mind as you could imagine. The only things I bought from my life on the other side of the Atlantic were my race gear and the image of how proud Tony would be to see me driving this car.
The rain running down the aeroplanes porthole sized window washed away the warm glow of North Carolina and reminded me that this was my real home. England. A place too wet to run stockcars how God had intended them. I didn't unpack. I gave my house mates a hazy run down of what happened, still slightly shell shocked. Then went to Belgium to collect my steed, the aforementioned expectant #5, for the coming Dutch race.
Originally I had been asked to drive the #77, but later it was decided Chris Roots would do this. News I was very pleased to hear. Tony's car should be at Venray, and it should be a Roots driving it. Chris would drive the #77 and I would drive the #5 rental car. It would be a hard weekend for all involved. Especially for Lynne and Chris. I wasn't much help to them. I got the #5 on the podium a few times, running out of rubber while everyone else was bolting on new tyres. I proved that Roots V8 Racing have good rental cars, but that was all I could do. What we needed was something else. Maybe something not found on a race track. Something to change. Something that meant Tony was still there. Sometimes I could feel him there. Sometimes he feels so close you could touch him. But I know he isn't there. I know how much it effects me and I feel guilty. It must be ten times worse for Chris, Lynne and the rest of the family. I am so ashamed of my inability to support these people that I love so much.
Back at Venray, I can't even look Chris in the face when he is seeking comfort from a bottle of beer in his race hauler. I go to bed early. I get out of bed late. I pause only to hug and kiss my house mates who have come to support me. I put my lid on and race. That is pretty much all I can tell you about the best oval track in Europe. Sorry if you wanted a review of Venray. Go back to Google and try again.
The following Late Model races I used the #77. I took an easy start position somewhere near the front to win at Warneton, feeling like I was borrowing a life that wasn't mine to borrow. I raced Tony's car before, but back then I was just keeping it warm for him. Make sure it was race ready for when he comes back. But on the final laps of that heat, I knew he wasn't coming back. That he would not race this car again. That I couldn't phone him after, and tell him how well his car had gone. Or compare set-up notes. Or talk. Or anything. Christof stood by the drivers window until I had composed myself enough to get out of the car. "The crowd are waiting and you still have a job to do." said that little voice that allows me to turn off Kelvin and turn on that guy that smiles and waves and talks to the race fans and gives the kids his trophies, chats, shakes hands, tells the jokes and puts on the show. As I got out of the car, Christof whispered "For Tony." I nodded, took his chequered flag and waved to the Belgian crowd. I took the car to the pits and when I saw Lynne again, it was all over for that smiley flag waving guy. I would have given anything for the whole world to just crumble away. I am ashamed again. Selfish. I break down in Lynnes arms instead of supporting her with her grief. We are not sharing a victory here, we are sharing a loss. This is what we race for now. Winning here will never be the same again. I don't want to do the next heat. Or the final. Or the next meeting. I'm not sure I want to race at all. I go and sit in the camper and stare at the window. I watch my friends, colleagues, fellow drivers. I should be out there with them, showing them a strong front. But my legs wont work. My mouth is too dry when I go to speak. I make sure it is too close to race time for them to engage me when I leave to get back in the race car. I am failing them.
By the time we are going to Ipswich, I have completely lost the plot. There has been an accident which means we can't use the M25 and must drive through London. I am on Tony's computer finding a route as I have done many times before. I need to take charge. To sort this minor problem out and get us under way. But it wont come. The person that won three local road rally titles in his rookie year, now seems incapable of reading a map. I stare and stare at the screen, but it is just squiggly lines, none of it makes sense any more. I now have a blinding headache. I screw my eyes shut. "Concentrate. You have done this a hundred times, just get on with it." But I couldn't. Every time I looked at the printout it looked wrong. I tried cross referencing maps and even looking at pictures of the junctions on Google Earth, but it may have well been another planet because I recognised nothing. On the road it was no better. Lynne had to guide us through the first bit, then we found our old friend/rival Jimmy, who guided us back to the motorway. I wasn't even in proper control of the hauler. Then I started telling myself I shouldn't be driving. Not the hauler and certainly not the racecar. But that would let even more people down. I needed to try to get it together.
A race at Silverstone in August with my dad's team bought back some memories of times before I became a stock car driver. It was relaxed, I drove neat and cautiously, racing is expensive here. It was a lovely weekend, I miss racing with my dad and his team, but not enough to drag me away from the ovals.
I started planning a way to get the #13 back on the grid at Warneton for 2012, and when I could see no way to make it possible, I got a Sprint Car instead. I couldn't finance the Late Model. It was too expensive and too far to travel. I needed a change.
It was all excuses. I ran away.
But it's ok because now Chris will race the #77.
Except Chris got a new car for Superstox.
Tony would have been ever so proud to see Chris and Nick racing together in Superstox. Especially when Chris goes on holiday and young Nick "Borrows" his dad's race car and knocks all the wheels off it...
But I guess that still means less time for the #77 Late Model, a car that Tony also loved.
Here we are, both skirting the issue that someone has to race that car. Someone has to shine that light in Tony's series. We can't run away. We have to go back.
I have to go back.
I have to do more for the series and for Roots V8 Racing.
I will make sure the #77 will win at Venray, on the track that Tony was so looking forward to racing on and never got the chance.
And I will build a new Late Model to race with my name over the door.
This is my 2011 confession.
Does anyone have an old Ascar chassis for sale?
***All the crap you see written here is Kelvin's opinion and not that of his associates, race team or marketing partners.***