Pigeon Scratches

Not many people in North Puffin know that my college buddy Jabe Roy snuck me onto a flag station at Bridgehampton Race Circuit when I was a bit shy of my 20th birthday. That wasn’t the weekend I set the land speed record from Hoboken, through New York City, out the L.I.E. to NY27 and on to the track. That came in Jabe Roy’s ’65 Vette a year or two later.

The Bridge“The Bridge” was a 2.85 mile, 13 turn, road course sitting on some prime real estate out near the tip of Long Island, New York. OK, when I was there it was only a decade past being a potato farm but the area was growing by leaps and bounds. Today you can drive a golf cart on the same pavement that Mark Donohue, Dan Gurney, Bruce McLaren, Paul Newman, Jackie Stewart, and Rufus drove. And, of course, me.

My good friend and crew chief Rufus says he never drove my cars at Bridgehampton; he drove only to the flag stations. The earlier named star, racing legend Rufus Parnelli Jones, started on the pole with a 1:44.04 lap time in the 1969 Trans Am race.

Stirling Moss called it the “most challenging course in America.”

I was a year too young to set foot on a race track when I earned my National license in Flagging & Communications. I jumped the fence and earned my National competition license shortly after I did become “legal.” And it all started at the Bridge.

“All who have raced there know that the earth is flat and ends in the sand at turn two,” Bruce MacInnes said once. He was just another amateur racer when I knew him but he grew up to be Chief Instructor at Skip Barber’s Racing School. I have kept the hammer down through that turn; the temptation to feather the gas there is great.

Over in the political department last week, I remarked that (most) people apparently want to live in pigeonholes. Maybe it’s because they don’t have to think there.

That resonated for me in a way that transcended politics.

People reading this know I’m a news and political junky but how many readers know that I’m a mechanical engineer? Or a landscape photographer? How about that I chopped down some of Vermont’s vast fiberglass forest to build the 30′ production catamaran that I also designed? That I have skied the Alps and the Chesapeake, managed a movie theater in Times Square, or taught in Vermont Colleges? Perhaps you do know I anchor a local teevee show but not that I taught lifesaving. Or that I raced cars.

We get pigeonholed.

Pretty much everyone appreciates that Paul Newman won an Academy Award for The Color of Money. I knew him as one the drivers who pushed my Camaro along the pit lane when we were sitting waiting for a red-flagged race to restart. Bob Sharp once said PLN could have been world champion had he started racing before he was forty years old. He was that good. Who knew?

We get pigeonholed.

Neuroscientist Dave Sulzer, a professor at Columbia, studies how the different parts of the brain communicate and pursues treatments for certain diseases. In his other life, he co-founded the Thai Elephant Orchestra, a 16-elephant ensemble that performs in Lampang, Northern Thailand. Their second album includes the music of Beethoven and Hank Williams. Who knew?

We get pigeonholed.

Here in North Puffin my public persona is arts council chair and newspaper columnist. And occasional geek. Discovering that I can drive anything with wheels or build a dovetail joint for a cabinet drawer surprises most everyone.

“The emotional rewards of driving this turn ‘flat out’ are just as intense as the physical consequences of blowing it,” Mr. MacInnes said about Turn Two at the Bridge.

The rewards of living outside of the pigeons’ roost smell pretty good, too.

71 Camaro

Rufus suggested I list the race cars I’ve owned and driven.

  • ’60 TVR. This car was allegedly Mark Donohue’s but we never confirmed that. It spent an interesting afternoon with a tow rope through the windshield opening.
  • Triumph TR4. My “school” car. Came with a Mercury wagon tow car painted to match. I learned that front engine/RWD drive cars handle differently than rear engine/RWD drive cars when Porsche driver Alan Howes gave me the hot line at the New Thompson Speedway. Rufus eventually bought it from me and made it into a much better race car than when I owned it.
  • ’69 Camaro. The blue car which started out life painted yellow and which we raced in red-and-white.
  • ’71 Camaro. The gold car, built at Three Pines Farm. This was my primary ride from the time it was new until I smacked the wall at Charlotte and put an end to it.
  • Lotus Formula C. I drove this at Pocono to get some “logbook time” and learned that being able to see the tires going round and round is very distracting.

The 1969 Trans-Am at the Bridge.

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