Story by Paul Blaufuss
Racing has always been my one true love (right after my lovely Queen B and Princess B of course!)
Racing is here again. The winter cold is waning, ice is melting, and birds are returning. The crepe myrtles are blooming pink white and lavender. Dogwood pollen covers the cars. It is a time of rebirth and renewal in the South. And of course for race fans that means Daytona. Sun, palm trees and the crackle of racing motors are a harbinger of glorious days to come.
I have so many fond memories of Daytona. Living up north, the yearly race gang cookout/ barbeque party every February was always an eagerly anticipated event even if the wind chill was below zero. Those special times with friends I hold most dear, even if I can’t recall the winners of the actual races.
To recount my adventures at Daytona in person would take volumes. The years have come and gone so fast. One special Daytona memory comes to mind however.
A few years ago the family and I made the trip to Daytona so my Princess Bs could see their first race at the big track. Being history buffs we stopped at St. Augustine; 500 years of American history to see and touch is amazing and so important for kids to experience. The kids thought driving on the beach was really cool. We saw dolphins and sharks wading distance off the beach.
I looked for familiar landmarks from long ago spring breaks and found none. They call it progress, I guess. In the end it’s a good thing, I suppose. Princess B the elder is the same age I was the first time I went to Daytona. I would be embarrassed if she only knew, and terrified if she was going there then.
The lovely Princess Bs and I went to the big track to see their hero race, one William Clyde Elliott. Chase drove a great race, right up until a restart with a few laps to go. A missed shift right smack in front of us at the start finish, and most of the field was wrecked in the usual big one.
A teachable moment and teenager life lessons learned. Sometimes things in life don’t go your way. What matters most is your confidence, what you learn from a setback, and how you respond going forward.
And being a history buff, I always meant to make a pilgrimage to the exact location of the old Daytona Beach course. It’s just one of those things I always meant to do, but never got around to actually doing. That year we decided to do it.
We headed out from Daytona on A1A; it’s a short drive, as the beach course was not actually in Daytona, but a bit south. We finally came to a little town called Ponce Inlet; a quaint place of cozy homes and shops that reminds of Key West. We stopped by the Marine Science Center, which was cool. We also took a tour of the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse; the tallest lighthouse in Florida. I am proud to say your humble writer was the only one of our group to make it all the way up 200 steps; a proud victory for us old guys.
And there in Ponce Inlet we found a nondescript little restaurant named ‘Racing’s North Turn’. This had to be the place. Sure enough it was; the beautiful ocean view and good food was only bettered by one of the best collections of racing memorabilia I have ever seen in my life. I thought I knew a lot about the history of racing. There were hundreds of photos on the walls with names of people I never even heard of, as well as the more famous. Looking at the photos was a trip back in time, at the spot where it all happened. The restaurant building existed at the time of the beach races, and is visible in many of the photos. My daughters got a kick out of the pictures of Jocko Flocko.
I could have spent hours there.
It was getting near time for us to move on. As we were heading out a nice lady at the door said “don’t leave yet, Mr. Truelove will be here soon” Mr. Truelove…I believe I saw his picture on the wall. Sure enough, Mr. Truelove raced on the beach.
A few moments later, a kind elderly man and his caretaker came in the restaurant. He seemed to know everyone. Russ Truelove. We introduced ourselves. Although he walked laboriously, it was clear time had not dulled his sharp mind and memory. He remembered every lap of every race.
Mr. Truelove recounted all about beach racing- two miles north on the sand, a sharp turn and two miles south on the asphalt. He took my girls and showed them the exact spot where the north turn was situated, and then the thin strip of original southbound racing asphalt remaining in the condo community next door. He told stories of his races, and his flip. I could have asked questions and talked racing for hours. That was of course not possible. We got a few autographs, took a few photos, said our goodbyes and parted ways.
Six people, formerly strangers, were now friends. Four generations brought together by chance and bound by a common lifelong love of racing.
It was an honor and privilege speaking with Mr. Truelove. Our meeting went by so quickly. Some moments in life go by so fast you don’t realize they were special until they are gone, and then you wish you could have them again, if only for one minute longer. But the laps can’t ever be run back.
As we left the restaurant, the nice lady at the door told us to make sure we check out the marker at the south turn. We made the trip back south. Sure enough, after exactly 2 miles we came upon a memorial with a checkered flag. This had to be the location. I parked and walked over to read the memorial. The inscription contained a long ago picture of a handsome young man, leaning out the window of an orange Mercury. The driver….