My professional life has been spent fixing things or helping other people figure out how to fix things. I’m a machinist, tooling designer and occasional interpreter between mechanics and engineers. My job is to lead a small team taking theoretical repair schemes and making them reality. I thought I had a pretty good handle on processing grief after losing my mom in 2003. I was wrong. Suddenly losing my son in 2020 rocked my reality in ways I never could have imagined. Hammering my thoughts into a keyboard has become one of my ways of processing grief, and that led me here to share some of them in the hope that my perspective may benefit others.
When it came to racing, and the weather, T.J. and I seldom had much good luck. For example, in August of 2016, we had planned to attend Bryan Clauson’s celebration of life and race at Kokomo Speedway in Kokomo, Indiana. The planning meant I’d have to drive from Georgia to Western Illinois to Northern Indiana and back the same route, but it would be worth it to get to spend time together T.J., with lots of truck time….and racing to boot. Unfortunately, as we were sitting in the stands at Kokomo, tornado sirens went off in the middle of the celebration of life ceremony before the races. We were all directed to the barn just outside the third and fourth turn, and we stayed close to the Civil Defense volunteers with the radios (to know which way to run) as the tornado passed and the torrential rain followed. There was no racing for us (or anyone) that day, but we did make memories that lasted a lifetime.
Fast-forward to two summers ago, I was in Kentucky to meet my newborn twin grandsons at my younger son’s home. I then made my way to Illinois to celebrate T.J.’s 30th birthday weekend with him. We went to Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Illinois, for a race on Friday, June 26th (under threatening skies, but thankfully it was rain-free). We were supposed to do the Kenny Wallace Dirt Racing Experience and drive a Late Model on the dirt for the first time that Sunday as a birthday present for T.J. Unfortunately, it rained out and was rescheduled for September (coincidentally, on my birthday). We weren’t able to keep that appointment. T.J.’s fatal accident was just over a week before our rain date.
This year, as I was planning my vacation and trip to Kentucky to see the twins, my son told me they planned a camping trip for the middle weekend of my stay, but I was welcome to stay at the house or plan my adventure. I checked for local experiences and then checked various race schedules and settled on the USAC Silver Crown and SRX series race night at one of my (our) “bucket list” tracks, Eldora Speedway. At this point in the planning, I knew it would be T.J.’s birthday week, but I hadn’t consciously put the rest of the dates or milestones, memories, or previous plans altogether. I bought the pit pass online, reserved the hotel room, and (part of me) looked forward to the weekend adventure.
I had many mixed emotions about the trip, the week, the plans, etc. I knew the trip to see the twins would be good and much-needed. I also knew that being with family around T.J.’s birthday was probably a good idea for me.
The closer I got to the weekend, the worse the weather forecast looked. Rain and thunderstorms were forecast for all day Friday and Saturday. The little voice in my head kept telling me to cancel the hotel reservation and use the insurance option on the race ticket and pit pass. Or eat it. It said, “You don’t want to go to the race alone, and why waste the money to sit in a hotel in rural Ohio to watch it rain?” Either way, my head told me I would be miserable.
Somehow, I managed to ignore my inner voice and headed to Ohio Friday afternoon, checked into the hotel, and took another look at the forecast. There was still a 70+% chance of rain Saturday, but it had not rained yet like it was supposed to have.
I showed up to the Will-Call window at Eldora around noon to get my pit pass under partly cloudy skies and headed for the pits. I walked around 9 miles that Saturday by myself, according to my watch. I was alone in a crowd of ten thousand or more. I may have spoken to ten people the whole day. But I was enjoying myself as much as I could. I was able to soak in the sights, the smells, the sounds, and all of the things I/we loved about dirt track racing. It didn’t rain a drop (on me or the track) the whole time I was in Ohio. Every other track in Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania rained out that weekend. It wasn’t until my phone popped up with a notification. It was a picture from the year prior that I realized (consciously) that Saturday was precisely a year, to the day, that T.J. and I had been together at a dirt track for the last time.
For me, it was an important series of steps, undoubtedly more than 9 miles worth, and definitely, more than I even realized at the time. If I hadn’t ignored the weather forecast (and the little voice in my head), I wouldn’t have made those steps.
I now know, or am learning anyway, that I can still enjoy things we enjoyed together. Bryan Clauson’s father, Tim, started Clauson-Marshall Racing in his son’s honor. He has a page on their website entitled “Race On” that has become an inspiration to me as I try to find my own personal version and my own personal way to “Race On.”