On a hot July night in 2012, I witnessed the passing of a torch.
There wasn’t a ceremony and no one from the local newspaper was there to take a picture to document the event, but make no mistake, what happened that night was something magical.
As I made my way through the crowd along the dimly lit back stretch of Fremont Speedway, trying to get to Brian Smith’s pit stall. I could not help but notice that the people who passed by the “Grace Car” that night were not aware of the magic that was taking place right in front of their eyes.
But I did.
As the adults and race fans were getting the opportunity to see the “Grace Car” up close, Brian Smith, then a 26 year veteran sprint car racer from Fremont was kneeling down talking to a young boy. I could see the eyes of this young boy as Brian bent down and talked to him.
The look in this young boy ‘s eyes initially was a look of awe. I am sure the boy was amazed that he was actually talking to a real life race car driver and I immediately noticed the look of awe begin to sparkle in the eyes of this young boy as the transformation had begun. The torch was passed on to another generation.
No one noticed that Brian had just performed magic. He just transformed a young child into a lifelong race fan. He just made a young fan believe in heroes. One that is not found in the comic book store or on the movie screen.
Through the eyes of a child was a real life hero… living right here in Fremont, Ohio.
While some drivers lined up their race cars to get them on the trailer and get out of there. Brian was still there… no hurry… sleep could wait… there was more important business to do.
Brian isn’t the only driver doing this. There are others.
They all realize that the most important aspect of building a fan base sometimes takes place before and after the race itself.
Heroes emerge sometimes from the most unlikely of sources.
It is no secret that I am a racing fan. I have a special place in my heart for sprint car racing and it was instilled in me at a young age.
I know this to be true… because my hero found me more than 40 years earlier at the same little dirt race track in Fremont, Ohio.
For those that don’t remember him, Harold may be just another name in the record books, just another plaque on the wall. To those of us that remember him, he’s a legend, a hometown hero, a sprint car racer and a cherished memory.
I first met Harold McGilton in the early 1970’s. I think I was about 11 or 12 years old at the time. It was a chance meeting and though it was a long time ago…I remember it like yesterday. I watched him drive his sprint car full speed into the corners of that wonderful dirt track in Fremont, Ohio and slide through the turn and then fly down the straight-a-way passing cars and winning races. In my mind, Harold never lost a race… there were just times he didn’t win. However, when Harold would win his race.. he just didn’t win, he beat the other drivers.
As a young boy, when I rode my bicycle, I imagined that I was Harold making the heroic and dangerous pass on that final turn to win the race. And when I played with my “Matchbox” cars…I had a special car that was “Harold’s” car. It NEVER lost a race. I am sure there were times when in my mind, I was more Harold McGilton than the real deal. I am also sure that his family had a different perspective of Harold and his life as a hero. After all he was human… just not in my eyes.
Harold McGilton had no way of knowing that when he stopped what he was doing after a race all those years ago and took the time shake my hand on that July evening, at the Fremont Speedway, he would have had such an influence on a young boy from Oak Harbor, Ohio.
Harold never knew my name, nor did we ever talk to each other since that first night I met him. However, Harold “Mac Attack” McGilton had a tremendous influence on me during those early years. He just never knew it. He was larger than life to me and I idolized him and when he passed away a few years ago, I cried.
Tonight as I sit at my desk, I imagine I hear the roar of the engines of the sprint cars as they fly around the track just a few blocks from my home. As I imagine each lap as the cars go around, I wonder if there is another young fan in the stands watching their favorite driver take their car into a 100 MPH slide through the corners of the Fremont Speedway. Much like I was in the early ’70’s, I came to the track one night a young fan of the races and little did I know that I would leave a few hours later with a hero in my life that I would carry with me for the rest of my life.
Brian Smith understands this… he too has heroes. He was influenced by many drivers over the years and shows honor and respect for those he looked up to all those years ago. In addition, his grandfather and father were racers that planted a seed in him that he passes on each week to each child he talks to.
I have said this many times, in my life, I have traveled around the world. I have met a number a professional athletes, politicians and famous people over the years. I have even had the honor of meeting two U.S. Presidents and shaking their hands. All of these people would be considered heroes for many people, but not for me. I did not have to travel all around the world to find a hero. He found me at a little dirt track in Fremont, Ohio.
For those of you that say that there are no real heroes in life.
I say you just don’t know where to look.
Come out and bring your children to Fremont Speedway on a Saturday night and I know where you just might find one.