COMMENTARY - BOBBY BENNETT: A TALE OF TWO PASSIONS
Some days are better served just by calling in sick.
I had never wished a stomach virus or any other illness on myself, but with hindsight being 20/20, this past Saturday I wish I had been sick as a dog.
The second day of the Professional Drag Racers Association [PDRA] Spring Nationals dawned with a strange sense, at least for me, that something just wasn't right. It was windy, cold and not the kind of day you ever wanted for a drag race.
Still, the show must go on.
Two people whom I have called friends for many years experienced life altering experiences; one of them lost his life and the other's will never be the same.
I wish time travel were possible.
I doubt it would have made a difference in what happened, but at least I would have tried and even gotten into a fight if I so required.
At every PDRA race, or anytime we crossed paths, I would always say to Ronnie Davis, "They call him the King."
He would chuckle and say, "You always say that."
My response? "I always mean it."
Ronnie and I always had a peculiar relationship, from my early days of covering the sport as a "starving artist" reporter for Super Stock & Drag Illustrated where I just knew his name from writing race reports to our initial bonding when he called me from the "University."
Ronnie had sought me as the one to do his public relations when his two-year "curriculum" was finished; when he returned to racing. The challenge was to make sure everyone knew he was "The King" and I promise you it was not the press releases which did the job; it was his talent as a driver. I'd venture to say even in the most remote locations of this world they knew Ronnie Davis as “The King”.
Ronnie lived hard and raced even harder. Back in the day, he had a swagger second to none.
Ian Tocher doesn't have nearly the swagger “The King” did.
What they have had in common for many years was a work ethic second to none; and an even more incredible talent for their craft.
I first met Ian, at least that I can remember back in January of 1999 at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC, attending the IHRA Awards Banquet. At the time, he was involved with a Canadian-based racing publication, Performance Racing News, but it wasn't until the years when he went to work with my then rival Jeff Burk, that I really noticed everything about him that led me to covet his talents as a journalist.
Eventually, I was able to land his services after Kenny Nowling let him go from the ADRL and I hired him as a freelancer only to lose him to Wes Buck at Drag Illustrated.
Wes was gracious enough to allow Ian to work with me on the weekends of the ADRL weekends. There were times when I just shook my head when Ian would show up to work with a bag full of snacks and a six-pack of energy drinks.
He would then proceed, and I do not exaggerate, to put in 20 hour days ensuring every story from the event got told. What would irk me, but I would later accept as his persona, was he would often spend most of those 20 hour days bonding with the subjects he covered. Deadlines were one thing, but relationships were another for him. Knowing those people, he reported like the back of his hand meant everything.
Ronnie and Ian were the epitome of a drag racer and a reporter, respectfully.
If God would ever allow me to go back, I know exactly what I would have done Saturday morning, instead of calling in sick.
When I stopped by Ronnie's trailer Saturday morning with my customary "they call him the king" line, I would have been more engaging with my conversation.
Ronnie initiated the chit-chat about my family and then offered, "There's no track out there," I should have countered with, "You're right King, you have nothing to prove here. Let's call it a day and race another time."
Instead, I proclaimed, "You're The King, and you're The King because you make poop happen."
Making something happen was exactly what cost my friend his life.
How ironic after I left Ronnie's pits that I crossed paths with Ian as he was coming to work Saturday. Typical Canadian in the south, wearing shorts in the cold, I offered, "Hey, too cold to be in your short britches here." He laughed.
I can vividly remember twelve hours earlier he was in the press room showing off the tire marks across his trademark Toronto Maple Leafs hat blown off by a Pro Extreme car and sporting tire marks from Brandon Snider. He especially was proud of the fact Snider had autographed it. The was one of the items I noticed first in packing up his belongings Saturday after the incident.
You would be amazed what enters your mind when you're packing up the belongings of a fallen friend.
What if I would have blocked the doorway and told him, "You're not going to work today."
What if I had told Ronnie, there's no way you are making this run when I saw him before the final session, racing just to make it to the lanes.
They were both Georgia boys, one natural and the other transplanted. Maybe, Ian, a hulking hockey goalie, might have had more patience but eventually he would have thrown me out of the way.
Ronnie would have just slugged me, and hopped on his golf cart headed for the staging lanes.
There was nothing capable of holding them back from their passions; one in driving a race car and the other in telling how well the other guy did it.