A Dream Come True - Photographer Turned Racer
Tammy Auman Pottstown, PA -
If I’m dreaming, please don’t wake me up. (Kind of like the sign posted on my office door the night before my first race that said “Do not wake Sleeping Beauty before 10 AM.”) I have always had the dream of being out on the track and racing wheel to wheel, door to door with other cars. Well, it wasn’t quite that extreme, but September 7, 2013 I rolled on to the racing surface of Big Diamond Speedway in Minersville, PA. The only way I can even put into words what I felt like that night is to say I now know how Cinderella felt when she went to the ball and danced with her Prince Charming, or in this case, I danced with Prince Charming’s car, literally.
When Jason texted me “I guess I can’t wreck the car,” the message never quite fully sunk in to my ever out in left field mind. Even when I was teasing about entering him in the class and putting him in a skirt and his reply of “No that’s your job’” was still kind of going over my head. I admit it; I am slow to catch on, so it made it even more fitting to take to the track in his car that he has named the “Short Bus Express.”
In all honesty, I do not think everything really began to sink in that night until after I signed in as a driver and then drew shortly after for my starting position. First I drew for Jason, well I should have given up on picking then, because I drew last starting spot for him in his heat. So then it is my turn and again I make the draw, and well I picked 4th, well that does not sound too bad, except there were only 5 cars entered. Now that the draw was done, at least we had a game plan in place. I had told Jason that if I started in the first 2 rows, when the green came out it would be gas and go, but if I started anywhere else in the pack, I was going to lay back then attack. Yes I made it rhyme, so my brain could remember what to do. (And trust me there was so much going through my head; it was hard to remember anything, including my car number!)
I watched Jason’s heat, the car was loose but he hung on like a champ. Then we watched part of the Modified’s feature before heading back to our pit and getting him strapped in and ready for his feature. Getting him ready unfortunately gave my brain too much time to wander and let my nerves kick up even more than they already were. I mean up until that night, I had not been inside his car at all, and the only time I had been in his car so far that night was to sit in it as they rolled me off the trailer, and by roll I mean no motor running just the crew pushing the car. So I was still clueless on how to make this car go, which again it doesn’t take much to confuse me! My brain was in over drive, on my race bike I knew what to do, how it would handle, react and so on. It was simple, clutch and throttle were right hand duties, brake and kill switch left hand duties, and well shifting was left foot, rear brake was the right foot. Simple! (Well for me anyway.) Then the starting procedure had me worried. We line bikes up in a straight line at a gate, it drops, we zoom off into the first corner aiming for the Hole Shot. Well these cars do a rolling start, yea this isn’t going to be pretty, I have no clue where my car ends and the next begins. (I would say where my fenders are, but Sportsman’s do not have fenders.) So now I am thinking, I have to get it rolling, then shift, then realize and see the green flag is out, and start at the right spot and not jump the start. Ok again, my brain is in over drive with too much to comprehend!
Jason runs his feature, keeps the car in one piece brings it back to our pit, and I am ready to puke! Sandy is there with me, so she is getting me in my uniform and gear, as Jason talks with some of his racing buddies. Ok, I’m ready; I climb into the car not so gracefully and begin to get orientated. Well as we are trying to get me comfy and belted in, the center bottom strap just doesn’t seem right and feels way too short. (Remember this; it will become important later on.) Ok maybe it is just me as I am sitting on foam tire cushions to try to get me taller in the car. I am a little over a foot shorter than Jason, so yes this was a feat to figure out. With that strap being so difficult, we took out the one cushion and dropped me lower in the seat to get it to hook in. Jason comes over and goes over everything while I am sitting in the car, but he didn’t check my belts. (Checking his belts was something I teased him about after he flipped the car, which is the reason we met.) Well it is time to fire the car up! Success I got it started, in reverse and he backs me out of our pit area. I get it into 1st, low, creeper or whatever you want to call it and roll off to the staging lane. Great, I made it there without stalling! Now to wait what seemed like forever, but I am sure it wasn’t and a replay of the video proves that.
Jason comes over, after his crew guy and the track official had checked my belts and after a quick holding of hands and a final pep talk, the ladies were called out onto the track. Ok, I got this, or so I thought. I cannot get the car into high gear and am stuck in creeper. Crud, now what? The words come through the in car radio “97 we are going to push you to turn 2.” Well at first I had no idea they were talking to me, let me be honest after 11 years of racing as the number 45, the whole number 97 just wasn’t clicking in my head. Ok I realize it is me when the push truck abruptly hits the back bumper of the car. Jason is waiting and after a chaotic hustle, slamming of the shifter and rocking of the car, it goes into high gear. Once again the push truck comes up from behind and in a few short feet the Short Bus Express roars to life and after a little bobble, off I go. I have to tell you hearing it fire and taking off down the back stretch was an absolute rush.
Ok, we get a few hot laps before they line us up. Wiggle, slide and a lot of giggles and OMG’s and many saved bobbles take place before they tell us it is time to line up. Ok again, I got this! We start to line up and get our pace laps going. Wow my stomach is churning from being so nervous. I hear green is out in my ear and hit the gas and go. The caution comes out, for a spin, which I kind of cause when I had the better run going into the corner and took away the line the other lady was running. It takes me a moment to realize that I am now in 2nd place. Ok wow, no pressure now, but I am restarting on the front row! What an unreal feeling!
The green comes out, and well I am slow to react and the leader, Kim Glass just pulls away from me like I was sitting still, but it was ok. I was enjoying the long run of green flag laps and seeing how far I could push it and still save it from spinning out. The track was bumpy and slick and the car was extremely loose! I will say Jason did warn me about the track conditions as well as how the car was handling, so at least I was as prepared as I could be for being a true rookie.
I brought the Short Bus Express number 97 home in 2nd place. To me it was like a win! I did not spin out, crash or hit anything out on the track. I even did a little motocross jump going up the hill to get in the pits, I knew I had to keep rolling or the car would shut off, and I did not want to have to be pushed again. Now I get it close to the pit area, before I stall the car and it the engine goes silent, but I am too busy screaming and cheering because I was that excited for what had just happened. Now Jason and his buddy Dave are trying to figure out why the car wouldn’t go into high gear easily. Remember that seat belt? Well it was the culprit of my shifting problems as the bottom part was stuck down below the shifter and well it could have turned out really badly, but instead it turned out to be a 2nd place finish.
So all in all, I guess I did a pretty good job. I had fun, gained a new respect for all of the drivers and their skills and hopefully made my sweetheart as proud of me as I am of him when he is on the track. Would I do it again? Absolutely! Would I go out there on a regular night against the boys? Again, ABSOLUTELY! I would love to settle one of our little side jokes we have going. Will it happen? Guess only time will tell.
To learn more about Jason Neidlinger and the Short Bus Express Racing team, please go visit and like their Facebook Fan Page at www.facebook.com/shortbusexpress and be sure to thank Jason as well for giving me the chance to make my dream come true!