Facing your mortality isn’t something to think about every day or dwell on, because you’re alive and death isn’t in your daily mindset.
But when cancer and leukemia decide to gang up on you then everything changes, and you are suddenly lining up in a heat race with The Grim Reaper. Might be a 50-lapper, could be an enduro or you might get lucky and run for a year or two.
My situation is pretty cut and dried. There is no cure for my illness but it can be treated, and I’ve spent lots of hours at the clinic in Greenwood, Indiana with an awesome staff of doctors and nurses.
The outpouring of good wishes, prayers, positive thoughts and support from RACER nation is beyond humbling. I never dreamed that a guy who writes stories about race drivers could impact people’s lives and instill so much passion. I’ve had the greatest life anyone can imagine, and I’ve been lucky enough to share it with the fans.
Jim Hurtubise befriends me when I’m 17 and stealing beer for him at sprint car races, I’m stooging on his Indy 500 crew in 1968, then I’m covering USAC and IndyCar by 1969 for The Indianapolis Star, I’m working on Bill Finley’s pit crew by 1971 and driving him crazy by 1972, I’ve got a Formula Ford from Andy Granatelli thanks to my friendship with Art Pollard. I’m writing a weekly column about USAC by 1974 and a year later I’ve become the fourth Bettenhausen brother because I bought Merle’s midget.
It was tough love because the first night I ran USAC at Kokomo I made the feature and afterwards Gary B. told me I might have some talent and I was on Cloud 9. Three nights later I missed the show at IRP and Gary told me I was a p***y and needed to take my name off the car. It was a great time, pounding up and down the highway with Timmy Coffeen, Bobby Grim Jr. and Tony Lee Bettenhausen. We didn’t have any money, but damn what an experience as we ran Little Springfield, Terre Haute, Kokomo, Eldora and some bullrings that were pretty sketchy but always an adventure.
Yet it was my job that gave me such an entrée into IndyCar history and such an education.
I idolized Herk, Parnelli, A.J., Rutherford, Mario, Gurney, the Unsers and Johncock and by the mid-1970s I was pals with all of them and it was the golden age of racing for my money. They were the modern-day gladiators and revered universally.
I got fired at The Star after 33 years after tangling with Tony George, but it turned out to be a godsend because I’ve spent the past 20 years working at ESPN, Speed, RACER and NBC. Was there ever a better show than “Wind Tunnel” with Dave Despain? Of course not, and Dave was so generous to let me co-host many times. Most fun I ever had.
Working with Marshall Pruett for the past decade has been a great partnership and his hustle, knowledge and work ethic is second to none and the main reason RACER is the place to go for IndyCar news, scoops and commentary. Our founder, Paul Pfanner, is all-in on keeping RACER relevant and vibrant, and co-owners Rob and Chris Dyson have kept the last real racing magazine alive.
I almost died two weeks ago with a nasty infection and fever but my little sister, her best friend and a neighbor saved my life and rushed me to the hospital where three nurses also came to my rescue. I’ve put on 10 pounds and got my appetite back after three months, and my goal is to get to the triple-header at the Brickyard next month.
But I have to tell you about the amazing people who have stepped up with generosity that’s immeasurable.
Randy Bernard sent my sister an American Express gold card and said I wasn’t allowed to pay anything in the way of bills. Indianapolis Colts owner Jimmy Irsay did something that can’t even be imagined, but showed how big his heart is and it’s beyond humbling. Ditto for 1970 Indiana Mr. Basketball David Shepherd, whose generosity is off the chart. A.J. has called several times asking if I needed financial help and The Gas Man (Tom Sneva) has offered whatever I need. My best buds Steve Shunck, Larry Schmalfeldt, Feeno, Billy Shepherd, Davey Shep, Ralf Frey, Billy Benner, David Benner, Larry Walker, Bob Grim, John Mandlebaum, Al Freedman and Monk Palmore bring me lunch, dinner and hours of great conversation and they’ve rebuilt my condo, installed an electric staircase, built my sister a bed and kept me company daily. Nobody has more good friends than I do and I’m so… the word “lucky” isn’t appropriate. It’s beyond comprehension.
And my sister Diane has been here three months and I cannot begin to explain what an angel she’s been. I’d be lost without her mothering and nursing skills, along with her best friends Terri, Susie and Riney.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m at peace with whatever happens, be it a year or six months or six weeks or six hours. My plan is to move to Phoenix later this year because I want to watch the nephews and niece grow up and just peacefully pass on surrounded by my family, whenever it’s time.
I know I’ve probably rambled too long and maybe given more information that you care to hear, but I just wanted to try and thank everyone for their kindness and support and let them know how special you’ve made me feel in the past few weeks. I hope I see you at a racetrack sooner than later but if not, it’s been a GREAT ride and I’m so thankful you folks were able to share it.
And next month it’s the Motorsports Hall of Fame induction, so that’s one more caveat I never expected, but I am humbled to be in the same area code as all my heroes. HOF for a Ball State flunkout? Hell, that even made Letterman grin ear-to-ear.