I was so excited and inspired to write this week that I thought I’d have to set everything else aside, but then all of a sudden…I got nothin’. I was trying to figure out how this could possibly be. How could I have had such a great weekend and have nothing more to say about it? Then all of a sudden it hit me, it was a Fest crash (not to be confused with a crash fest). Just like a sugar crash, I absorbed all I could possibly take in and then…..it was gone, just like that.
Spending four days at one of the greatest events of the year tends to do that to you. Even so, and call me crazy, I’m just about ready to do it all over again. However I think that might be the source of my problem. I don’t have another event to go to for quite awhile. So I must revel in what was a great weekend full of great times and lots of racing.
I think there are three reasons that people go to Oktoberfest Race Weekend. For the racing, for everything except the racing, and/or both. I fall under category number three.
As the sun goes down and the coolness of the night starts to move in, it’s time to throw the wood in the ring and get the campfire started. I love the feeling of the breeze on my face and the heat of the fire at my feet all at the same time. It is such a serene and relaxing feel. I sit there usually just staring at the fire, sometimes engaging in a little conversation, but honestly I’m typically so entranced in my own world at that point I don’t hear anything around me.
That is until I hear the roar of the engines as they fire up and cars head out onto the track. Then it’s kind of like someone dumped a bucket of cold water on me because I’m up and trying to get everyone else going. They are still sitting in their chairs talking and typically say, “well what’s racing right now?” What I want to say is, “Does it really matter!?!” But what I really say is, “Well I know the late models are up soon so we should probably get over there now.” I’m not gonna lie, most of the time I just start walking. I figure if they are coming they’ll catch up.
Now I could sit here and tell you all about the excitement of the racing that went on, like the off your seat, on your feet finishes that happened in pretty much every single race, the groups of fans that would stand and cheer their drivers on while sporting their winter team gear (you know you’re in Wisconsin when the race teams have winter team gear), all of the meaningful championships that were captured, who won, who wrecked, and there was some pretty serious wreckage, and of course all of the crazy things that happened, etc., but I’m not going to. You’ll have to go next year to see all that for yourself.
But I will tell you that my butt was frozen to the seat, even with a blanket under it. My fingers were clenched tightly in my pockets, I had a hat on with the hood of my sweatshirt up and another jacket over the top. However, you were not going to get me to leave my seat. Nope, wasn’t going to happen. Well except to get some mini-donuts. Those things are way too good…just sayin’.
Anyway, as I sat there watching lap after lap, race after race, I couldn’t help but have a few flashbacks. Memories of sitting in the stands on Friday night with my dad are as clear today as they have ever been. I never remember leaving early, unless of course it was raining, snowing, or sleeting, and yes I’ve been there during all three. It wasn’t doing any of the three last Friday night so I wasn’t going to leave early. I was the sole survivor in my group and after they left I sat quietly by myself watching lap after lap, race after race just like my dad and I used to do. When the guys to my right asked me a question, I slid down a little bit and enjoyed the conversations we had while watching the rest of the races. Thanks guys.
After my tough weekend at Rockford Speedway the week before, I decided it was time to bring out my Joe Shear Racing jacket again. I hadn’t worn it since his victory at Rockford that day in 1997. I have to admit, I felt pretty self-conscious wearing it, but I had no other options. It was the only jacket I brought, purposefully. Several people said things to me, a few knowing who I was, and a few not, those were the best ones. I’m not really sure why I decided to wear it. I just did.
I have so many memories of Oktoberfest over the years. One of the freshest of those is my dad’s last and final race before he lost his life six months later (his last victory was at Rockford Speedway but his last race was Oktoberfest). By this time it had to be quite evident to most that my dad was not doing well. Although at this point we had not been given a timeline. My dad was not going to give up on himself or anyone else, so coming to Oktoberfest was a no-brainer.
He had blown his engine on Saturday night and we didn’t have a spare. The racing community was just as awesome back then as it is today. A driver, who had already qualified into the event, gave up his car so that my dad could drive in what would be his final race on Sunday afternoon. He started dead last and drove up to a fourth place finish. While he didn’t get his sixth Oktoberfest win, it was a victory in its own right.
Sometimes I think that not being the center of attention in his last and final race was just how he wanted it. It was an impressive run, no doubt, but he wasn’t in victory lane with all of the celebration and cameras flashing. He was able to quietly fade into the background and enjoy those final laps of his last race, just as he did those final months of his life.
Travis Sauter captured his fourth Oktoberfest win this past weekend. I hadn’t really thought about it until the other day, but with the streak he’s on, there’s a good chance he just might tie and possibly one day break my dad’s record of five Oktoberfest victories. When I first thought about that, I thought, “No, no, no, no! That can’t happen!” But after my initial selfishness dissipated, I thought about it from a love of the sport perspective.
I think it would be pretty darn awesome for someone like Travis Sauter to achieve that feat. My dad always had an eye for young talent and spent a lot of time mentoring a few. And you know what, it’s not about my dad anymore. This sport has carried on without him, and as much as that turns on the waterworks right now, I am so glad that it has. I mean, could you imagine life without Oktoberfest Race Weekend!?! No way!
LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway is one of those race tracks that never changes…ever. Whether I’m walking through the pits or sitting in the stands, nothing has changed. If I try hard enough, I can imagine myself being a little girl again and going to Fest today. It would be no different than when I really was a little girl going to Fest. That’s the great thing about short tracks, they don’t change and I believe that’s why so many memories are made. I personally don’t need a bunch of fancy accommodations. I like it exactly the way it is and has always been because then I can focus on what makes the real memories.
So I’ll continue to freeze my butt to the seat while enjoying my mini-donuts as long as Oktoberfest Race Weekend will have me.