By Tom Hardesty | Assistant Sports Editor
The Record-Courier sports editor who hired me in March of 1994, Tim Houser, wanted me to become as well-rounded a writer as possible. Which meant he had me cover all manner of sporting events -- and the more unfamiliar I was with something, the more I covered it. And the more he perceived that I disliked covering something, the more I covered it still.
This diverse coverage actually made me a better writer -- Tim’s goal all along -- although I didn’t realize it at the time. Back then, I figured Tim just liked to watch me squirm a little when I received the assignment sheet.
One of those assignments had me trekking to Barberton Speedway to interview a young woman who was racing there and had aspirations of moving up the stock-car racing ladder. Having worked at the Barberton Herald for several years prior to joining the R-C, I was very familiar with the speedway and was looking forward to seeing old friend Tom Lowe, the track’s PR guy whom I had dealt with often back in my Herald days.
Upon arrival at Barberton Speedway, I was quickly greeted by Tom, who happily informed me that the young woman was eager to take me for a spin around the track in her race car. It was an off day and there would be no racing, so we could take as long as we wanted, Tom told me.
I shuddered, because I instantly remembered my only other time on the track when, as the Herald’s sports editor, I was invited to participate in a “Media Celebrity Demolition Derby” in 1992 (the first and last time I have been considered any type of media celebrity). This ended in abject disaster for yours truly (more on this in a later Tales From the Beat), so I wasn’t exactly thrilled to get back on the track. First, I had to pour myself into a red, fire-retardant jumpsuit -- which made me look like either a slightly smaller Santa Claus or an overgrown candy apple.
Next, I squeezed my head into the helmet, followed by my clumsy attempt to climb through the passenger window. After virtually falling into the passenger seat helmet-first, I managed to situate myself as the girl strapped me tightly into the seat. I’m something of a claustrophobic, so being held prisoner by the seat constraints while already stuffed into the fire suit was a panic attack-inducing combination.
I couldn’t breathe and had to fight the urge to struggle against the seat restraints. The girl then climbed into the driver’s side, asked if I was ready, I lied and said yes, the engine roared to life, and off we went. We ripped down the straightaway, tore around the corner, flew down the back straightaway, zipped around the other corner and barreled past the grandstand again.
I was petrified. I had never gone so fast in my life. The track, trees and seats were nothing but a blur, and I was sure I was going to die in a fiery crash at Barberton Speedway. We zoomed around the track again, and after turning the corner she put her foot on the pedal at the top of the straightaway and let loose. I was gripped with fear and just wanted this to end.
I wondered what death-defying speed we had reached.
“HOW FAST ARE WE GOING?” I shouted as we blazed past the grandstand again.
“OH, ABOUT 45 MILES AN HOUR,” she shouted back.
Forty-five miles an hour?!
The pure fright I had experienced was instantly replaced by utter humiliation. I could barely look her in the eyes during the interview afterward, and for the second time I found myself leaving Barberton Speedway thoroughly embarrassed -- this time with my male ego lying in tatters on the track.