We’ve arrived. Finally, it’s Minnesota State Fair season. Which basically means I revert to being 12—begging to go, while also getting overly nostalgic for my home state. And, it gets me thinking about my dad.
My father was a man of habit. He could have served as a fire safety spokesman for as routinely as he changed our smoke detector batteries. Saturday nights invariably involved t-bones on the grill and caesar salad made with his recipe clipping from St. Paul’s iconic Blue Horse restaurant. On weekday mornings our kitchen radio was tuned to Minnesota Public Radio, but on weekends he went rogue and switched over to am—WCCO. The day after Thanksgiving meant vacuuming behind the refrigerator, an event which was actually scheduled in his date book. Who does that?
At any rate, in my college years I came to predict a phone call each Labor Day. “Wanna go to the races?” he’d ask. “My treat.” It was forever his treat—this invitation to the Minnesota State Fair Speedway. I’m sure I respectfully begged off more times than I said yes, wheels I wish I could turn back of course. (Insert your own poignant quote about not taking things for granted here.)
By and large, my dad was a liberal, suit and tie, let’s meet for a martini at five o’clock sort of guy. Later in life he earned a black belt in Aikido, hopped on the local foods movement, and took up meditation. None of these lifestyle choices, however, curbed his love of stock car racing. I grew up watching the Daytona and Indy 500s, learning about the racers, their cars, and the pit crews. So when the big time ASA racers made their annual, one day trek to Minnesota, he hated to miss it.
And what a great venue. I mean on what other tack does the winner get a post-race glass of milk presented by Princess Kay of the Milky Way? Forget the prize money. This is serious incentive. The late Dick Trickle was a long standing crowd favorite, and we could raise the roof for him with the best of them. We’d get a couple of Kiwanis Club malts (which my father insisted were better than the official malts from the Dairy Building) and find seats as close to the track as possible to watch the next 300 laps unfold.
My dad outlived racing at the fairgrounds, but only by two years. In 2002 the classic half-mile mile track saw it’s final Labor Day race. Fans were uprooted when the the fair board voted later that fall not to put forth the $4.5 million needed to update the track for just one day of racing a year. It was an abrupt end to a 95 year tradition.
I haven’t been to a stock car race since, but that’s probably just as well. My head turns when I hear a broadcast, but it’d be hard to top the two of us taking in the last bit of summer with the mesmerizing drone of engines racing by. My dad was not without some hard edges. I know, because I pretty much have the same ones. And we went head to head plenty of times. But if there was one thing we could pull off, it was knowing how to do the easy, uncomplicated parts right.
Happy summer friends.