Midwestern Scene | October '07

BY: MIKE ELLINGTON

I n my opinion there are two kinds of families; those that race and those that don’t.  That’s probably pretty shallow, but that’s how I see it.  Fortunately, I’ve always been in the “families that race” category.   I’ve grown up in this sport and I attribute a lot of my current life to the way I grew up.

After one of our big races we decided to take a few weekends off just to catch up around the house.  My wife had an important business trip upcoming in Chicago where she needed to buy a few new business suits.  So one Saturday afternoon, off we went to the local mall.  It’s a rarity for us to be home on a Saturday, let alone spending it a mall.  We’re not really the mall going type of family.  Now don’t get me wrong.  We don’t look like Clampetts arriving in Beverly Hills when we go into town.   We actually play the part of the suburban family quite well.  It’s just not our thing to be inside a mall when there is a perfectly good race to be at.

In this adventure in commerce, my job was to entertain my 2 year old daughter while my wife was shopping.  I figured a couple laps around the mall and maybe a stop for ice cream in the food court would kill enough time for Kathy to spend three or four weeks worth of entry fees on some business suits.  Everything was going according to plan.  The toughest part of the trip was going up and down the stairs fifty times, while dodging mall walkers, teen-agers, and serious shoppers.  Then Riley saw it; the children’s play area right there in the center of the mall.  There were no less than 150 kids flying around the fiberglass climbing structures like bees in a flower garden.  I thought this was probably a good place to kill time and Riley would have a lot of fun.  So down the steps we went.  I noticed right away we were not well equipped to be in the play area.  The other families were outfitted with the latest in suburban mall gear.  They had double seated strollers full of diaper bags, toys, snacks, juices, leashes, wipes and whatever else they needed to survive a two hour trip to the mall.  We had a Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal and a teddy bear.

I took off Riley’s shoes and off we went for some climbing, running and jumping.  I have to admit that it was pretty fun and she had a good time.  But what I noticed as I helped her climb on top of the fiberglass planets were the other families.  I know I was away from my favorite hobby for the weekend, but that couldn’t have been everybody’s story.  I started to wonder if these families were at this mall every weekend. Was this what a non-racing family does for fun?  The fathers looked bored.  Most of them were fumbling with their cell phones.  No doubt they were trying to figure out the score of the Ohio State game.  The mothers were preoccupied with what their kids were doing, who they were playing with, all the while trying to hold a conversation with some other mom.  I was obviously the odd man out in this situation.  I was just there to boost Riley up on top of Saturn or the giant space shuttle.  About the third time I was asked to move so a mom could get to the hand sanitizing station, I realized this was not the place for me.

A bunch of funny thoughts started running through my heads.  I wondered how many of these kids had their own set of head phones to wear when dad starts his car.  I wondered how many of these kids yelled “Jeep” from the backseat every time they saw one on the highway.  I wondered how many of the kids knew the word “helmet”.   I wondered how many of these kids had watched dad plumb a fuel system out in the garage and had dad explain to them what each of the poppet valves were used for.  My guess was Riley was the only one.  It was obvious that she was going to grow up differently than these other kids.  Not that it’s a bad thing, just different.  In fact I think it will be a benefit to grow up around such a family strong sport like sand drag racing.  There’s a lot she can learn, some good and some bad.  She’ll learn the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, the importance of team work, and sportsmanship without the need for a stick or a ball.

Then I thought back to my childhood.  We didn’t have as many races in the ‘80s when I was growing up but I had my fair share of time at the track.  I learned mechanics, math, and a lot of local geography by traveling in a motor home around the Midwest from track to track.  In third grade I was able to use every spelling word in the weekly list in a sentence about racing.  My teacher had to have her husband verify that what I had written about was legitimate.  I even stumped him on a few.  My job in high school physics was to get the teacher talking about drag racing so we didn’t have to learn a lesson that day.  He was a photographer at the local asphalt track.  On more than one occasion we talked through the whole period about bracket racing strategies while the other kids talked about whatever normal teenagers talk about.  So I think that growing up in a racing family is the reason I decided to become an engineer and pursue a career in the automotive industry.  It’s been a fairly rewarding life so far.  And while I want my daughter to fit in with all the other kids as she grow up and do all the normal childhood activities (even stick and ball sports), I think there is also a benefit to spending time at the track and learn that lifestyle as well.

The next time we go to the mall, we’ll probably head back to the play area. We just won’t be putting that soccer ball sticker on the back of our Pilot anytime soon.  So enjoy your time with your family at the track.  Don’t take a loss so hard.  Remember, even if you lose, it’s still more fun than spending a beautiful summer day inside a mall.

Mike Ellington (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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