Back when my parents first moved us down from Long Island to PA, they opened a pizza place (Salvatore's Pizza) in the shopping center just in front of the Reading Fairgrounds. On Friday nights, I was dropped off at the shop after school and helped out a bit. I'd hear the roar of the engines whenever a heat race. consi or feature started up. I was nine years old at the time. I had all these fantasies about what actually went on over at the fairgrounds and being stuck at the pizza place, that's all they could be. When the races would let out, I'd sit on the back steps of the pizza place and watch the open trailers pour past the fairgrounds farmer's market on their way out of the track grounds.
When I turned ten I was allowed to go check out the races on Friday nights and then on Sunday afternoons when they started running then. I'd get two slices of pepperoni pizza, a bottle of soda and a metal folding chair and carry them on down the fairgrounds road and sit on the backstretch among all the cars. For those who never went to the fairgrounds, there was an area where cars would park on the backstretch like a drive in movie and watch the races from their cars. In the summer it was cool because everyone would sit on blankets on the hood of their cars. In the fall, it got d@mn cold sitting on that metal folding chair and one night an older couple in the next car over insisted I sit in their back seat watch the races. That was an awesome night. They were long time fans and knew many of the local drivers and they filled me in on the history of the place, the great drivers that had raced there in the past and we talked about who our favorites were and it was just a great night. Of course you would never thinking of sending a kid to the races on their own like that in this day and age, but in those days things were a lot different.
The next year I started getting paid a little for working in the pizza place and was able to "graduate" to the home stretch stands. I alternated between the Kenny Weld fan club section and the Kenny Brightbill section depending on if Weld was there that week or not. I had absolutely no idea that Weld was this big time Sprint Car guy. I always assumed he was just a Modified driver/builder. It wasn't until many years later that I figured that out.
The pizza place closed about a year after the track did. I never went to another race until 1997. I had just bought a new car and felt the need to take it on a long drive and I was in a turkey hill mini market and noticed an AARN for sale and decided to buy a copy and scanned it thoroughly for a suitable track that was running that weekend. It was very early season and being a modified guy back then, I picked a race at Bridgeport. So I went. After all these years who was there ? Kenny Brightbill ! Brightbill also won on that day. The pilot light of racing was reignited and I devoured that AARN looking for the next races I could go to which then led me to Sprint Cars and the rest is history.
Years may pass, but when something gets a hold of you in your youth, it never ever lets go !
I thank that couple for saving my butt from freezing that night at the fairgrounds and filling my head with racing.