I’ve watched with interest this spring as the old auto-racing track west of Liberty reemerged after years closed as the Route 44 Speedway.
My great-nephew, A.J. Jobe, is the Voice of the Speedway.
Yes, A.J. is named after who you think he is, the famous Texan racer and four-time winner of the Indy 500. And yes, if you are thinking young A.J. gets the racing bug honest due to his name, well, you hardly know the half of it.
My late brother, David, was crazy for racing, exceeded only by his son, my nephew Mike. Mike is A.J.’s dad.
So when a Friday night rolls around each spring week, I think of A.J. up there in the press box, announcing, interviewing, adding color and character to his job, as I know he is fully capable.
I think of other Friday nights at the same track, too; forty years ago this spring, to be exact. I remember the year well because it was the same spring I graduated from Union County High School.
It was the same spring I tried to figure out what I needed to do to become a newspaper reporter, and while I was figuring, with my eye on a day-job opening at The Palladium-Item in the advertising department, I worked Friday nights at the track concession stand.
It's funny to think about now, but I did get that job in advertising, and when I did, I gave up my stint at the race track. Since then, I've known several people who worked in the newsroom at the Pal-Item, including my current publisher. But none were there that summer.
That year on Mother’s Day I got the worst sunburn of my life--at that track. Opening day was coming and the bleachers needed painted in a hurry, causing the crew to put in a long day on the holiday. I was on the crew that smeared paint on the boards and by the end of the day, I was aglow in red.
On Friday nights, the vaguely-onion-flavored burgers simmered in one of those huge, white warmers you may still see biding time on a church-kitchen shelf. They were surprisingly delicious, too.
The menu certainly included hot dogs rotating in their heated glass case, along with the pop, popcorn, and other concession fare.
I often worked the cash register, and the evenings went by quickly as there was a constant flow of people digging out payday cash from their bank envelopes, and enjoying a night in the rural countryside, the track perched atop a steep hill just east of the Whitewater River on State Road 44.
But the best thing about working at the track was the possibility of being called upon to serve as the evening’s trophy girl. The concession stand, evidently, was the bullpen of sorts for teenage girls to be tapped to head for the track near the end of the evening’s feature event, poised and ready to present the winning driver with his trophy.
It wasn’t a position one could campaign for, only one that I don’t imagine any girl in the concession stand that summer would turn down. At least twice that spring, I was asked. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to a “queen” of anything. The process was simple. Someone would come to the concession stand, and holler, "Hey, we need a trophy girl!" If he looked your way, you were it.
I’d like to say that the job meant a lot of responsibility, but it didn’t. You smiled, presented the trophy, and if the sweaty driver offered a peck on the cheek, so be it. And then you hustled back to your cash register, or to the simmering burgers, and spinning dogs.
Forty years later, a Jobe has returned to the race track of my youth where he speaks to and for the track and fans. The speedway has been reinvented by a new owner excited about its future. There was an official ribbon cutting.
I’ve always figured the trophy girl credential would surely come in handy sometime along life's way. Not in a resume kind of way, but as a roll call answer or odd fact about the most unusual job I ever held. I'm still waiting.
Until that day comes, I'll go with this blog post.