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Before the start of the 1995 season, with big dreams of becoming a writer for Rod & Custom when I grew up, I pitched an idea to the local newspaper. What did they think about carrying a sports column covering the weekly stock-car races? Highschool sports were out of season for the summer, and at the time the whole soccer scene and other children's non-school sports weren't as big of a deal as they are now, so I knew the paper's sports page was running on fumes during those hot summer months. It turns out that they were perfectly happy to host my racing report. Who wouldn't want a reporter who works for free and turns in her copy, typed and proofread, at the crack of the business day each Monday? As the season progressed, and the races started attracting drivers from the Scottsbluff/Gering track, and the track got more radio and television play, I got bolder and pitched my freebie column to the Alliance Times-Herald and the Scottsbluff Star-Herald. I had syndication, if such it could be called, for I was allowed to fax my write-up from the Hemingford Ledger office off to the Alliance and Scottsbluff offices, for their use as well. Big stuff for a smartass kid with a tire-pressure gauge in her handbag.

In other circles it might be considered a conflict of interests, but I continued pitting for my dad while taking notes on each race and jotting down any quotes I could wring from the laconic drivers and any humorous observations I thought I might be making. I had a clipboard. One sheet would be my tire-temperature chart, the other would be my notes on the night's events. Somehow, it worked out, and the local public never got wind of how little contact left-front was actually making with the track.

That last summer of racing was one of the most fun times I'd had in my life up to that point. My mom and sister were bored to tears with everything to do with racing–a few family squabbles had actually erupted at the dinner table when Dad and I were too enthusiastically discussing troubleshooting a dead spot in the carburetor or rehashing the previous week's race. They stopped coming to the races regularly, and Dad and I knew, though we never really spoke of it, that this would be the last season.

On Saturday nights, Dad would load up the car on the trailer, and we'd buckle down the jack, load up the tool kits, fill the fuel cell and the gas-can, and get everything sorted out for the next day. Dad would take the Scoot, car and all to work with him that day. Come about 4:30, I'd head for Alliance in my '59, blasting 1960s rock (I was going through a HUGE Rolling Stones phase at the time) and meet Dad out at the gates around 5:00. We'd unload the car, set up our pit area, Dad would run a few hot-laps so we could check our setup, I'd run a few hot-laps for the hell of it, and then we'd go around and bullshit with other drivers, help out if someone needed an extra hand, check out the Miller Brothers' bar-b-que (they frequently set up a charcoal grill in their pit area, and noshed on hot-dogs, burgers, bratwurst, or other miscellaneous meat, burnt to cinders, in between races and repairing their ramshackle, yet formidable cars) There was a loose sense of camaraderie amongst the racers…even the guys who were generally acknowledged to be total pricks were afforded a sort of laid-back sportsman's civility, even if no-one really wanted to hang out in their pit area. After the evening's races, there would be some grudges; sometimes some shouting matches and temper tantrums, but before the races, there was a narrow-focus excitement keeping everyone concentrated on getting their cars to the best state they could, driving a good race, and having a hell of a good time.

I learned a lot in those years of racing. I learned a lot about cars, obviously. I can still change a tire in an impressive time span, even using the little crappy emergency jack. I know plenty about tuning a Dell'Orto carb, and a bit about balancing dual Webers. I learned more about suspension geometry than most people would believe is sane.

I also learned how to interact with adults as an adult. How to shake hands properly. How to banter and small talk. I learned a little about approaching authority figures. I learned how to crack wise without being rude. I got my first taste of respect when one of the other guys from the mini-stocker class asked me if I could test his tires for him during hot-lap trials one afternoon. He'd seen the kinds of results we'd had with our car, and was willing to take my advice and adopt my methodology, and so there I was, 18 year old girl, showing a man twice my age how to use a pyrometer, and how to interpret the results. I got my first taste of the confidence one gets from a sense of competence, and given my bungling adolescence, finally being able to do something right and do it well was the kick-starter I needed before buzzing off on my own as a young adult.

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