All of us have times when we need a little boost. Maybe it’s a bad day at work or a personal problem. Everyone has bad days, myself included. When I have a down day I am fortunate enough to have so many good memories to draw from that I can quickly replace my frown with a big smile. Great friends help as well. I am blessed that I have a large group of friends and a few special ones to help cheer me up when I need it. When I need a good memory I have one in particular that not only cheers me up but reminds me of the power of friendship.

When I was 5 years old my dad and I headed to the local fairgrounds on the 4th of July. Not for the carnival or the food but for the demolition derby. My dad loved them and soon I found myself rooting right along with him. It became our yearly ritual. I found myself getting to know who some of the drivers were and cheered for them as they took to the track. The man who was the M.C. for the derby’s was George Marshman. He was able to keep the crowd entertained between the heats and every year between the 3rd and 4th heats he would pull the same gag. While he was making announcements of upcoming events, someone would come up to him and bring him a plastic shopping bag. They would tell him it was found in the woman’s restroom under the grandstands. He would tell the crowd he was going to look through the bag for some sort of identification. He would pull out a dress and pair of shoes and then, as if right on que, he would pull out a 3-cupped bra. Even though he did it every year he still got a laugh from the crowd and me as well.

The drivers I knew at the derby, Lefty, Mark, Bill, Dennis, Tom, Moe and Barry, dominated their heats and all would usually make the feature race making it very exciting. One year, a kid in a big black car pulled onto the track. During his heat, he seemed to destroy every car he hit. He won his heat and in the feature, he had the same result. Every year, this same driver dominated the competition. I finally found out that his name was Alan and he quickly became one of my favorites. A couple of years later I discovered he lived right around the corner from me. I would ride my bike down and watch him and his buddies work on the derby cars. Shortly after my 12th birthday I started to hang out. The guys would let me help strip out a car or hand them tools.

Alan next to one of his Monacos numbered and ready to go. Around 1985

Alan next to one of his Monacos numbered and ready to go. Around 1985

My mom found out and quickly put the kibosh to me going to the garage. After a few days of hurt feelings and not speaking, my dad secretly went down and checked it out. After talking with Alan and the other guys, he was able to assure my mom that there were no drugs, alcohol or other shenanigans going on. Reluctantly she allowed me to start going back down with the stipulation that my chores and other responsibilities were completed before I did anything else. At first I got in the way more than I helped but by the end of that first summer, I had learned how to strip out a car’s guts and even how to use an acetylene torch. I still wasn’t allowed to travel to the derbies with the guys, but dad and I would go no matter where they went. As the years moved along and I got a little older, I was allowed to go to the derbies with Alan. His nephew Robert was a friend of mine from high school and we became part of the “pit crew.” When I turned 16, I took some money I had, $35 dollars to be exact, and bought my first derby car. It was a 1973 Plymouth Fury. Robert got a car from Alan and we got ready to start construction of our own cars.

My first derby as a driver

My first derby as a driver

My first car ever ran. 1973 Plymouth Fury III

My first car ever ran. 1973 Plymouth Fury III

When July 4th rolled around, I was no longer a spectator, I was part of the show. Mom and dad went to the derby as well. I was in the 1st heat. As we waited for the start time I couldn’t sit still. Finally it was time and we pulled the cars onto the track. They gave us the command to fire the engines and I think my heart was beating faster in my chest than the car was. When they dropped the green flag my foot went to the floor and I hammered across the track, destroying the first car I hit. I also damaged my car pretty significantly, too. By the end of the heat my car had sustained far too much damage to continue, but by virtue of that first devastating hit, I was awarded Crowds Choice and $25.00. I had been bitten by the derby bug and couldn’t wait to run my next one. I eventually found out that the big black car Alan ran all those years ago was a 1964 Chrysler Imperial. It was considered the Holy Grail of derby cars at that time. Alan has had a few since then, too. When I turned 18 I was lucky enough to acquire an Imperial as well. I took it to New Alexandria and was ready to do battle. I got stuck in the first heat and was counted out. In the second heat, the car got gremlins and shut off. I took it back to the pits and we got it running just in time for the 4th heat. As I pulled out onto the track the last thing Alan said to me was “Keep the car running…” I heeded his sage advice and did

My first New Alexandria Win

My first New Alexandria Win

everything in my power not to let the car shut off. I was hitting anything and everything and finally, I had made it down to the final two. My car was trying to stall with every hit I made but I would drop the transmission (you aren’t allowed to say tranny anymore) into neutral and clear the carburetor out. Finally I had done it; I won my first heat at New Alexandria. I was ecstatic. I got the car off the track and pulled into my pit stall and shut it off. I ran to collect my money and trophy. I ran back to the pits to get ready for the feature but the car wouldn’t start. I really didn’t care. I had winner’s money in my pocket and even though it was only $100 dollars, it felt like a million. Alan congratulated me and said I did good job keeping the car running. It was good to get a compliment from my mentor not to mention that I was a success at something I loved.

The heat win also qualified me for the Season Championship in August. That, however, was going to be missed by me as I was in Army Basic Training by then. On Championship night when they announced the drivers who were already qualified, my friend Dennis ran to the announcer’s stand and told them I wouldn’t be there because I had joined the Army. He said that when the announcer told everyone in attendance that, it was met with a standing ovation.

Now fast forward 29 years from that July evening. I hadn’t seen Alan or his wife and family for nearly 15 years but when I walked into his shop after moving back to Indiana, it was like I never left. Our friendship was obviously strong enough to survive time and distance away. Alan told me that his son, my name sake, Bob, was running derbies and doing quite well. It didn’t surprise me. Alan always did great at the derbies so Bob must have gotten that gene as well. Bob asked me if I wanted to help him and his friend Frank and his dad work on the cars. Bob said they needed another Old Guy’s experience. Of course I said yes. It was nice to get back to my roots and see I still had the skills Alan taught me that first summer 35 years ago. Plus it was nice to know my knowledge and experience meant a little more now.

It was also great to see a 35 year friendship still strong. It makes me thankful to know that Alan thinks of me that way too. So thanks, Alan, for 35 years of a great friendship and here’s to 35 more. Jeeze some people don’t take care of what really matters then they wonder why they don’t have such long time friends … And they call ME crazy.

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