TJ Hartman Racing Blog May 12, 2008

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TJ Hartman Racing News May 12th, 2008
May 12th, 2008
Author: Ted Hartman

 

In 1995, while standing on a dock waiting to unload my trailer, I met a new friend. My son was 2 at the time, and I would have never envisioned how our relationship would develop the way it did. Paul is older than me, and the only thing we really had in common at the time was trucking. That would quickly change when he invited me to see a race in 1994.

I had heard of Skagit Speedway before. Growing up in Montana, I remembered a group of racers coming over to Missoula and then Helena, and the distinct name of where they were from. I was all of 15 at the time, focused on other things, but the name Skagit - and an old pickup with a push bumper and a quick change rear end in it stood out in my mind. I couldn't tell you any of the names that were racing that weekend, or anything about the races - as I said, my focus was elsewhere.

Pauls excitement about the race we were going to see was justified the moment I saw the cars hit the track for hot laps. He was from California, and while he is passionate about all open wheel cars, sprintcars to him meant no wings, backing it in the corner, and fans that sit to watch the race no matter how excited they are. As usual, my focus was out of whack, but I recall being in awe of a guy named Leland McSpadden that night. I know he crashed more than once, and still won the race. And again, a couple of things besides the actual racing stand out in my memory. I was astounded that we could go down to the pits after the race, and walk right up and talk with the winner. And then to find out that I could actually buy a t-shirt from them too, it was pretty cool. I was shocked to find out that my host actually knew the winner of the race, and baffled that it was all just normal stuff for Paul.

But those were not the things that stood out the most to me. It was the lessons I would learn later from Paul, that are a daily reminder of who he is, and what this sport means to him. He would educate me about the cost of a drivers t-shirt, and why the amount of money spent on it was a good thing. I saw him hand a driver some cash after a race, and wondered at the time why he would do something like that. Over the years, he introduced my son and I to Dirt Cup, The World of Outlaws, Grays Harbor Raceway, and the significance of Indiana open wheel racing. He pointed out a guy named Fred, and knew the value of something called loyalty.

He became a trusted and loyal friend. He watched and smiled as my family got deeper and deeper into quarter midget racing. He moved back to California a few years ago to be nearer his mom, whose health was ailing. When we flew down to see a race in Tulare, he insisted on picking us up at the airport and spending the weekend chauffeuring us around. The race was just a bonus. After his mother passed, he transferred back up here to be nearer what he described as his "closest friends". He was one of the few people we told about going to Madras for TJ's first race in a sprintcar, and when I reminded him that it was a 5 hour drive and maybe he should wait for a closer race, he emphatically reminded me that he took personal satisfaction in knowing that he got us interested in sprintcar racing, and he wasn't going to miss "the little goof's" first race.

Last year when our team traveled to Hanford to race with the SCRA group, we both laughed at the irony of our first excursion together to see the SCRA cars back it in the corners. Paul was knee deep in work, and couldn't attend the California races. But with the satisfaction of seeing TJ's first win in a sprintcar, and knowing that one day his dream of being in Indiana during speedweek(s) could possibly entail seeing the little goof sans the top, he resigned himself to settling for waiting until 2008 to see him race closer to home.

Now, a little over 14 years later, when the first race of the season was over at Grays Harbor Raceway, I looked up to see a familiar smiling face strolling over to greet his newest favorite race car driver after the race. I shouldn't have been, (but I was), surprised to see him the next week, and then this past Monday, he showed up at the shop - once again, to help a racer. As usual, we talked about trucking, racing, the little goof, and our health. In typical Paul fashion, he said goodbye a dozen times, and asked for a better route off the South Hill of Puyallup. He had the same smile and energy as I had seen every other time we met. He was as predictable as knowing the sun was going to rise the next morning.

Because of the rainout this weekend, I didn't give a second thought to the fact that the familiar face wasn't in the pits after the race. We loaded up, drove home, and got up this morning to clean the trailer and ready everything for next week. When my phone rang this morning, I recognized the name on the caller ID as someone else whom Paul and I knew through trucking, and had spent some time with at race tracks. I was not expecting the news he was calling to relay.

Early last Tuesday morning Paul had suffered a heart attack. The details were sketchy, but he did know there was complications after the surgery, and Paul was still in critical condition. We wouldn't be allowed to visit, or even know any of the details from the hospital, as we were not immediate family, but Pauls brother had driven over from his home in Idaho, and would try to keep us apprised. The typical things engrossed our conversation. We had just seen him, he was eating healthy and exercising, blah, blah, blah. I was humbled when the caller also stated that Paul had been phoning him every Monday morning to update him on TJ's races. I called his brother earlier this evening, and among the details he shared, was knowing about TJ's racing. I had met his brother only once, and he never met my son - but he knew of him.

Many things have crossed my mind today, and in typical fashion, the focus was all skewed to me. Here was a guy that had I met 14 years ago on a dock, with little or nothing in common, and it transformed into him sharing details about us to others as if we were his family. That is a good feeling to have, and one that is too few and far between. We take for granted the smiling face walking towards us, or showing up just before dinner time. Just as I took for granted that group of racers from someplace called Skagit, I took for granted that Paul would say goodbye a dozen times before he left the shop. My focus was elsewhere.

I take personal satisfaction in knowing that this guy, who never asks for anything, thinks of my family as his. There is no way for him to know it right now, but I'm focused on my friend Paul, and counting on him to be there for Indiana speedweek(s) - one of these years.

Please give your thoughts and prayers for a friend of sprintcar racing - and a friend of mine - Paul Keith.