Puca: Racing is in my blood, in my mind's eye

Friday, May 27, 2011
Anthony S. Puca, Marshall County Tribune sports writer.

Growing up in Trenton, N.J., much to the surprise of many people in this area, gave me an excellent opportunity to become a fan of motor sports of all varieties and I took advantage and became enthralled and at times consumed.

In my hometown, at the Trenton Speedway, the United States Auto Club Championship Car series circuit ran from 1957 to 1979.

I can remember taking the bus to the Fairgrounds in 1975 at the age of 16 when I saw my first Indy Car event, won by the legendary A.J. Foyt, who would dominate racing in Trenton, winning 12 times at the speedway.

In 1977, my uncle Frankie "Bananas" had some connections and I got the opportunity to meet Mike Mosley and actually sat in his car.

Tragically, Mosley was killed in an off-road vehicle accident in California in 1984.

I remember rooting for Mosley that weekend in 1977 and I was thrilled as he had a chance to win, but ended up finishing in third place.

I am reminded of my love for racing every Memorial Day weekend when the greatest race in the world is run on bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Although, I have never been to the Brickyard, I have never missed a race on TV since I was about 25 years old.

The Indianapolis 500 will celebrate its 100th anniversary this year when the checkered flag drops on Sunday at 11 a.m. on ABC.

Alex Tagliani will be the first Canadian driver to sit on the pole for the 500 Mile Race and Scott Dixon and Oriol Servia will join him on the front row.

Pocono kept my Indy Car racing juices churning as I attended several events and I became a big Tom Sneva fan.

I feel fortunate that I was a big follower during a time I felt was the glory years with A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Johnny Rutherford, and the Unsers; Al, Little Al, and Bobby, along with a host of other colorful characters such as Danny 'The Flying Hawaiian" Ongais, Gordon Johncock, and Danny Sullivan.

In 1978, legendary car owner Roger Penske signed a young off road racer named Rick Mears, who would go on to dominate the circuit for several years, winning four Indy 500s and three CART series titles.

Trenton also hosted the NASCAR Grand National and Winston Cup series 8 times: once each May in 1958 and 1959, and once each July from 1967 to 1972, but in 1974 NASCAR left Trenton for Pocono International Raceway where racing continues to this day.

Much to the dismay of many local racing fans, the Trenton track finally closed its big gate in 1980.

I will get to Pocono in a minute.

Another racing venue nearby was Englishtown Raceway Park, opened in 1965 and the venue has been the home to the NHRA Super Nationals, motocross racing, ATV racing, Quad racing, and motorcycle drag racing.

My favorite at Englishtown was motocross because I had several friends who raced the track and I would go to watch them all the time.

After attending my first Winston Cup race at Pocono International Raceway in 1978, I was hooked on stock car racing for the next 17 years.

The '78' race was won by Darrell Waltrip's Mountain Dew machine and from then on I was a Waltrip fan forever and would see him win many times at Pocono, but my favorite win at the track was in 1991 when I drove up in my 1970 Chevy Impala convertible with my brother Timmy, who was home on leave from the Navy.

It would be Waltrip's last win at Pocono and many years later, the memory remains vivid in my mind of my brother and me standing under the finishing pole to get our picture taken.

My worst memory of Pocono was in June of 1988 on the opening lap of the race when the legendary Bobby Allison suffered career-ending injuries when he spun and was T-boned by Jocko Maggiacomo.

Over the years, I would attend over 20 races at Pocono and would follow Waltrip to Dover, Watkins Glen, Richmond, Bristol, and in 1989, I went to my only Daytona 500.

It was magical, number 17, on February 17, in his 17th try won his first Daytona 500, the celebration lasted for days, and I still get goose bumps when I think about that moment.

My love for the sport continued when I moved to Tennessee in 1993 to work at Saturn and lo and behold, pulling my U-Haul down I-65 what I saw was a Darrell Waltrip car dealership selling Hondas!

I was mad, but still remained a loyal Waltrip fan until his retirement in 2000 and attended three races at Talladega and watched NASCAR on TV.

When Dale Earnhardt was killed at Daytona in 2001, it marked the end for me also.

I have never watched a race since Earnhardt's tragic death and probably never will because for me, stock car racing will never be the same without him.

I survived the deaths of Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, Tim Richmond, Neil Bonnett, Robby Moroso, and J.D. McDuffie, but could not go on after Earnhardt's death.

Maybe the fire will burn again someday, I doubt it, but until then I will be satisfied watching the Indy 500 and in my mind's eye, I can still smell the track, see the smiling faces of Earnhardt, Allison, Waltrip and Kulwicki and hear the roaring of the glorious engines as they zoom by the front stretch.