My best friend in 3rd grade was Michael Gregory. Michael had a lot going for him as I recall. His mom was gorgeous and he inherited her olive skin and good looks but his dad was even more memorable. I never met the man because Michael always said he was working in Europe. It was some time before he confessed that his father was Masten Gregory, the race car driver. I didn’t know a whole lot about racing then but that didn’t stop me from being in awe, especially when his dad won Le Mans one year. From then on I was hooked. Every Saturday afternoon I would stay home to watch ABC’s Wide World of Sports and they almost always showed Grand Prix races. I was taken to places like Monaco, Monte Carlo, Watkins Glen and of course Le Mans. I actually got out my globe and searched for these remote locales just so I could act like I knew something special.
Racing was the most exotic and dangerous thing I had ever seen and I desperately wanted to be one of these drivers. Just their names made me think of far away places. Men like Lorenzo Bandini, Jackie Stewart, Ayrton Senna. AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jacques Villaneuve and Nigell Mansell just seemed like gods to me. I will never forget the 1967 Grand Prix of Monaco when Bandini, lost control at the harbor chicane and crashed in a ball of fire. He died 3 days later and I was crushed for weeks afterwards. It got to be such an obsession that I seriously considered having my friends call me by the French version of my first name, Guy, (rhymes with Tee). Gee Horst, doesn’t that sound like a race driver?
The closest I ever got to racing was driving deliveries for my Dad’s printing company. As soon as I was 16, he gave me the keys to a 1970 Plymouth Duster and sent me out on the mean streets. By senior year I was out of school by 1:00 pm each day and off to work. Usually about 4:00 he would load me up with a dozen or more jobs to deliver before 6:00. Most of our clients were in and around downtown Kansas City so distance wasn’t the problem, it was traffic. Somehow, other drivers didn’t seem to understand or care that I was in a real hurry. I learned to take “shortcuts” that were barely legal and this shaved off precious seconds as I hauled ass all over town. I also sprinted into every building and up stairs just so I wouldn’t have to wait for elevators. Luckily, very few people ever crossed my path in the stairwell.
The clients were always glad to see me and seemed genuinely impressed by my sense of urgency. That just spurred me on to try even harder and do it all faster. I really wanted my Dad to get me something sportier to drive and a convertible would have been nice so I could practice my Le Mans start, where drivers run across the track and jump in their cars. I think he knew what I was up to but since the clients were happy with my current times he wasn’t going to take any bigger risks. In my defense, it should be noted, I never got a ticket or had an accident but I also prayed a lot then. God must have been listening pretty good in those days.
From there I graduated to designated driver in college, but that was mostly because I drove a full size Ford Econoline Van which could hold 8 people easily. I just really never trusted anybody else’s ability to drive as good as I knew I could. This probably qualifies as actual bragging but I don’t know anybody who can drive as well as I do and frankly I have the track record to prove it. At last count, I am nearing a million miles driven in my 40 years behind the wheel. That’s roughly 40 times around the earth at the equator. I have driven every kind of car you can imagine and defied death on some of this country’s most dangerous roads.
In my current occupation as transporter of foster children I have slowed down completely and now I take no chances whatsoever. It’s one thing when it’s only your life that’s at risk but kids are just too important. The only thing I worry about now are other drivers, bad weather and the occasional deer in the headlights. I can’t do much about the weather or wild animals but I’d really appreciate it if some people would stay off the road. In my experience, some of the worst drivers are the rich folks who buy high-end cars and assume that they don’t need driving skills to match their superior vehicles. Nothing could be further from the truth and yes, speed kills, even in your Beemer.
It occurs to me that most race car drivers are actually much safer on the track than those of us who drive the streets. At least professional drivers don’t take their hands off the wheel to drink coffee or make a phone call. I’m still wondering how we ever got to a place where driving is the least of our worries while we are behind the wheel. I really would like to live long enough to make that million mile mark but every week it seems like some idiot wants to tempt fate with me. So far I have been good enough to avoid disaster but all it takes is one multi-tasker who runs a light and I may be done. My theory is that by writing this down now my odds will actually improve, since it would be pretty unlikely that I would predict my demise in a blog. I’m going with John Webster on this one, ” Tis better to be fortunate than wise.”
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