I would have to go back twenty odd years or so to figure out the time I got hooked on auto racing. I remember the night, right after Labour Day 1985.
I attended the last Cornwall Motor Speedway event of the season. I recall not being able to wait until the following spring for it all to start up again. I had been in Cornwall four years and had heard the roar on Cornwall Center Road every Sunday night. I never had any notion to check it out and really my first memories of those Sunday nights are being assigned to Radar on Brookdale Avenue after the races, because it seemed everyone leaving Ron Morin’s little gold mine wanted to take their "wanna be a race car driver" dream to heart.
I did return the following spring, even got a job for a few years checking the ins and outs to Pit road and part time track announcer when Brian Mulligan or Fred Pletsch needed a break. I was amazed at the speed those cars could reach and that’s really what hooks the majority of fans.
During the mid to late 80s, I was in attendance for the mid summer Coca Cola Classic. For race fans, it was a showcase event that featured big block and small block engine cars on the track in the same race.
It also meant big time big block drivers from the States would be attending, guys like Barefoot Bob McCready and C.D. Coville would match up against local heroes like Ovide Dorion, Marcel "The Hammer" Lafrance, Danny O’Brien, Laurent Ladouceur and my favorite the number 11 of Doug Carlyle.
This night, CD Coville would be the favorite and he proved early on he had a terrific car. Coville was pinched wide early in the race and wrecked badly in turn one. With his car on the hook, I remember a despondent Coville walked passed the start finish line, almost embarrassed that he could no longer compete.
Also racing that night was a visitor to the track, Leon Gonyo of Chazy New York. What followed Coville’s wreck was what I thought had to be the scariest of racing crashes I would every see. In the restart, Gonyo and track favorite Ovide Dorion collided and went airborne in a tangled mess that reached the flag stand before coming to a halt in a pile of twisted metal and smoke. It would take over thirty minutes to clear.
Both drivers were okay and I thought: how is that possible?
Even more improbable, that extra thirty minutes allowed Coville’s crew to unload his wreck from the trailer, fix his car and Coville returned at the rear of the field, just as the cars were taking the green flag. He would pick his way through the field and finish second that night. Funny how the mind works, I don’t remember who won the race, but Barefoot Bob McCready comes to mind, able to hold off the hard charging Coville.
That crash was the worst I had seen and although some NASCAR wrecks have been pretty awesome over the years, the Indy Car crash in Las Vegas Sunday was sickening. Dan Wheldon, the guy who beat Danika Patrick to win his first Indianapolis 500 and paid dearly for it, has never being recognized for winning the event lost his life Sunday.
Many theories will surface and to many, the combination of speed and an oval venue will be the main contributors.
My two cents blames the shadows on the track caused by the large billboards as playing a part, but in the end, speed kills and an explanation wont matter as Dan Wheldon is dead.
The sport will go on; the need for speed is and always will be a part of a race fans psyche.