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Remembering two pals at the finish line
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I lost more than a couple of racing buddies last week. With the deaths of Bernard Smith and Frank Rice, I lost two friends. This seems like an appropriate spot to convey a few memories.
It was Bernard who took me to my first UT football game, a win over South Carolina. Frank and I went to the last NASCAR race ever held at North Wilkesboro, a gem that featured Jeff Gordon edging Dale Earnhardt.
Back in the mid-1990s, the Standard decided to take our NASCAR coverage seriously. So Frank and I started applying for press credentials and covered many a race from pit road. Bernard wrote a widely popular Sunday column called “Down in the Pits.”
One of our adventures was the Daytona summer race. When Bernard found out we were covering the race, he was gracious enough to let us stay with him at his Daytona condo.
Despite being two reasonably intelligent adults, Frank and I decided our mode of transportation to Daytona would be Frank’s cranky airplane capable of reaching speeds of about 105 mph. It was actually Frank’s decision and I didn’t have enough energy to argue.
Defying all odds, we managed to land safely, and on time, in Daytona where Bernard was supposed to meet us at the airport. So we waited, and waited, and waited.
Impatience finally got the best of me so I called Bernard to find out why he was so uncasually late.
“I’ve seen that plane Frank flies around in,” Bernard said. “I wasn’t going to leave the house until I found out if y’all actually made it.”
Daytona is known for its beaches and motorcycle rallies. Bernard liked to tell the story of how he wandered, unknowingly of course, into a rather seedy biker bar. At this bar, it was tradition to carve your name into the table after your meal.
When Bernard was done and was preparing to leave, a biker approached him to ask if he was going to carve his name into the table. Bernard said he deflected the question and quickly made his way out the door.
“I didn’t have a knife on me,” Bernard said. “And I didn’t want anyone at that bar to know I wasn’t carrying a knife.”
As our NASCAR coverage grew in the Standard, the three of us were approached about doing a NASCAR show for WCPI. I guess a polite way of putting it would be to say our radio show was short-lived.
For reasons not entirely clear, we made the decision to record our first show not at the studio, but at Bernard’s house on Sunday after we finished watching the race together. That way the events of the race, we reasoned, would still be fresh in our minds.
Not much insightful race analysis took place on what was supposed to be our inaugural show. In fact, it quickly spiraled into less of a race report and into more of a commentary about life in Warren County with few punches pulled.
When I asked about the whereabouts of that first recording and when it might make its way to the air, I was told by Frank the tape had inexplicably been “lost” and neither he nor Bernard knew what had happened to it. Whew, what a relief.
Not to allow our budding radio careers to be derailed by this mishap, we agreed to record a second racing show, also at Bernard’s house and also after a race. I’m still not exactly sure why we expected different results, but I can tell you a second racing show was recorded and it too was “misplaced.”
Seeing as Frank and Bernard are no longer with us, I may be the only person who cares about the whereabouts of those tapes. It’s my deep hope and prayer they stay lost and don’t turn up in an envelope on my desk with some sort of ransom note attached.
Blackmail possibilities aside, we had some good times together. If there’s one thing you can say about Bernard and Frank, it’s that they lived life at full speed with the pedal to the metal. I’m glad I had the chance to sit shotgun for a few of their wild rides.