Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It should be race week in Mansfield, and it makes me sad that it's not

It's been a beautiful week in Northwestern Ohio. The weather has turned from the cool, damp days of April to the bright, sunny, and warm days of late May. The buds on the trees have turned to leaves and the alarm clock has given way to nature as the birds loudly proclaim the approaching morning. Personally, life has never been better as our five-year-old daughter becomes more of a young lady every day and our twin boys quickly approach their first birthday.

Yet among all of this happiness, there is a huge tinge of sadness.

For four of the past five years, I had been directly involved in the promotion of Ohio's only national-level NASCAR event, the Camping World Truck Series race at Mansfield Motorsports Park.

That event, as you by now know, was canceled earlier this season and moved to Iowa Speedway.

Last year at this time, and the year before that for that matter, I was neck deep in five hundred phone calls a day. My e-mail box was overflowing with credential requests, questions from my friends in the media corps or with the racing teams, and even from the fans wanting to settle up last minute details for their Memorial Day weekend trip to Mansfield.

This year the phone is eerily silent. My e-mail box is full, but only because I haven't gone through and read or deleted a couple of weeks worth of press releases and spam. I should be sifting through credentials and sorting them into envelopes. I should be meeting with city leaders and police to finalize plans Thursday's festival downtown. I should be running on pure adrenaline and very limited sleep. But I'm not.

I've always said that when my time on the merry-go-round that is NASCAR racing ends, I will gladly hop off and tell everyone who will listen "thanks for the ride". This chapter in my racing career is no different. The memories I have from the events in Mansfield will last a lifetime. From erecting the hospitality village at 1 A.M. in 40 degree temperatures in the pouring rain with only the light from a couple of pickup trucks and an ambulance the night before the first practice in 2004, to speaking to SPEED's producers as a tornado struck the grounds and lifted a section of grandstands onto the racetrack the day before the track opened in 2005; from the ringing in my ears that lasted for days after watching the race from the press box, to watching nearly 40 fully-loaded transporters line up four abreast in downtown Mansfield for Race Fest, to cracking jokes with the media in the press box during the endless rain delay in 2007 -- each moment was precious. For a guy that is still happy buying a ticket and watching a short track race at the top of the grandstands, being integrally involved in the production and promotion of an event of that caliber was the chance of a lifetime.

One of my favorite moments during the NCWTS' run at Mansfield: presenting a painting of the late Bobby Hamilton's No. 18 Dodge to Lori Hamilton and the BHR teams prior to the 2007 event.

Unfortunately, it seems nothing lasts forever.

I am sad because I won't be seeing my friends in the Truck Series this weekend. I am sad the racing fans in Ohio, who waited 49 years and fifty weeks between the last national series NASCAR race in Ohio and the 2004 Truck race at Mansfield, won't have a chance to see an event of that stature again this year. And the likelihood of it happening again any time soon is slim to none.

To all of the fans who came to the festival in downtown Mansfield or to the track for the race, thank you. To the city officials in Mansfield who so graciously supported the track and the efforts to promote NASCAR racing, thank you. To the teams and the sponsors and the media who came, and despite not having a lot of extra space or budget managed to put on and cover a wonderful show, thank you. I hope somewhere down the road we can find someplace else and do it all over again.

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