LEMASTERS: Totes Full Of Memories

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Ron Lemasters Jr.

CONCORD, N.C. — I recently spent time looking back through some of the stuff — which runs to several totes full — I’ve accumulated during my time in motorsports, and I got to thinking that it’s been quite a long time since I started.

In the tote, chosen at random from among the stack, there were a lot of notebooks. As a side note, these things are useful around the house and in the car … and I calculated that I’ll run out of them sometime in the spring of 2044. That said, the treasure trove did not stop there.

A couple of placemat-sized photos were along the side of the box. They were of the legendary A.J. Foyt during that glorious sun-washed Hoosier day when he won his fourth Indianapolis 500. That was in 1977. Tucked in among them were smaller but similar placards featuring “The King,” Richard Petty, in his heyday with STP.

Each piece that came out of the box — credentials from the Brickyard 400 in 1995 won by Dale Earnhardt, a program from the 2003 Brickyard and a pen set from Pontiac — evoked some stray memory. That 1995 race was a cluster because of the rain that struck the speedway near the finish. Editor Mike and myself, having driven to Indy from the old home base in New Jersey, had to make a quick decision: leave the track and get on the road or stay and miss the opening of business at the office on Monday. Discretion being the better part of valor, we chose the former.

Mike, my wife Chris and myself piled into the van and lit out, confident we had made the right decision. That lasted until we were almost out of Indianapolis, east-bound and down.

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The skies cleared, the track dried and the race restarted. We listened to the end of it on the radio. An opportunity to witness history lost to outrageous fortune, that was. We had it covered, as capable contributors handled the writing end, but we could have been there for it.

In 2003, I was working for GM Racing, which included Pontiac, as the at-track media liaison and one of my jobs was to escort Kevin Harvick to a Q&A session for GM execs and their families. That was fine, as it was scripted and for once track security had no objections to anything I was doing. We went in, he talked and I walked them back to the bus lot. Later that day, Harvick won the Brickyard 400. I did get to see that one, and the thought occurred to me that it might well have been Earnhardt’s second instead of Harvick’s first. In a way, a small one, that sort of made up for the 1995 snafu, at least in my mind.

Later that year, it was announced that Pontiac would be leaving the sport at the end of the season, never to return. In a few short years, Oct. 31, 2010, to be exact, the brand ceased to exist. The brand, long billed as the racing division of GM, won its last race in March 2003 when Ricky Craven won that epic beat-and-bang duel with Kurt Busch at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.

The pens, which I had gotten in 2003, are among all that remains of Pontiac’s racing history in those many totes. There are some hats with the iconic arrowhead logo and a towel from victory lane, and a ton of memories. At the time, I drove a Pontiac up and down the road, so it was particularly poignant for yours truly.

Memories can be comforting, and they can be confusing. When you stop and smell the roses for a moment, you recall the damnedest things. When I opened that tote of memories (they are called something else at home!) I can recall hearing the radio call as Earnhardt won at Indy, staring at the radio on I-70 heading east toward home and duty. I can remember feeling a sense of loss that I wasn’t there to see it.

I can recall rushing to victory lane to welcome Harvick’s Chevrolet to the circle of champions at the world’s greatest speedway and walking to my car, parked in the old Flag Lot, through a darkened IMS. The old place was still alive, still breathing the excitement of the race just past, amid the glow of the old scoring tower.

And, I can remember being in the press room at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the fall when the announcement came down from on high that Pontiac would be gone from NASCAR at the end of the season. That pall, that feeling of loss, still hits every now and again at unguarded moments.

I can’t wait until I open another tote and see what the past can foretell for the future.