THE DAY RACING BECAME UNIMPORTANT

September 11, 2001 and the impact

it made on racing

It began like an ordinary day, just another busy Tuesday in the lives of countless millions.

"It was the most unreal thing I've ever seen in my life. It was one of those things you see that you can't actually believe it's happening." - Tommy Micelli

 

But by mid-morning on September 11, 2001, all that changed. Terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. forever changed how Americans view the world - pre-September 11 and post-September 11.

The attacks on the World Trade Center shocked and horrified all Americans. It was the same for NHRA competitors Mike Ashley, Tony Bartone and Tommy Miceli. But this threesome had a different view then most, because it happened in the  New York/New Jersey area resident's back yard. And today, on the five-year anniversary of the attacks, the opinions are the same.

"Honestly, I try not to look back. I try to look forward," said Ashley, a native New Yorker who was competing in Pro-Mod back in September, 2001. He has since won two AMS Pro-Mod World titles and has been running his Skull Gear/Torco Fuels Funny Car full-time since last season.

"That was a black eye for the United States. It was an ugly day."

The nice sunny day turned dark and to terror at approximately 8:45 a.m. ET when the first of the highjacked airliners - American Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston, crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

At the time, most felt it was an accident. But that belief changed a few minutes later, when at 9:53,  a second highjacked plane - United Airlines Flight 175, also out of Boston - crashed into the South Tower.


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Miceli, a Pro Stock Motorcycle competitor who now runs just selected events, remembers the events of the day, vividly.

"I watched it from two miles away, across the water, actually. I watched the second plane crash into the tower," Miceli recalled. "It was the most unreal thing I've ever seen in my life. It was one of those things you see that you can't actually believe it's happening."

But it was. And before 10:30, both buildings had collapsed, killing countless civilians and 343 New York City firefighters.

It left an unreal feeling on Bartone, driver of Jim Dunn's Lucas Oil Funny Car. He saw it happen, and was just in awe of his surroundings.

"I happened to be in New York that day," Bartone remembered. "I watched the events unfold. I was on my way to my office and saw the buildings burning, the buildings collapse, and I remember saying, 'What's happening.' The biggest statement you could make about the whole ordeal was that it was a tragedy, a tragedy against humanity, a tragedy against the families who lost their loved ones in the attacks.

"The thing I will never forget is that I was listening to  a news radio station on the way to work. They were saying how a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers, and that another plane hit the other tower. I was in complete denial because I was thinking, 'How could that happen.' The last thing you expect was a terrorist attack."

The tragedy was a little more personal for Pro Stock Motorcycle competitor Miceli. The native New Yorker not only worked within eye's view of the World Trade Center attacks, but one of his Worldwide Bearings Suzuki crew members - Ray Tremer - is a retired FDNY fire fighter who knew several of the firemen killed as a result of the attacks. Tremer, forced to retire from the FDNY due to injures suffered on the job, was a member of FDNY Rescue Company 5, which lost 12 men in the attacks. In all, 343 firefighters were killed that day.
Miceli honored the fallen firefighters by helping out the Rescue 5 Family Fund, which raises money for the surviving family members of the fallen firemen. Miceli has kept awareness in the fund by attaching the number 911 on his PSM Suzuki. The effort was supported by NHRA which allowed him to use a three-digit numeral in competition. Previously, only one other competitor had been allowed to use a non-divisional, three-digit number.

"They were the real heroes," Miceli said. "We decided to honor them and raise money for the families of the FDNY Rescue 5 unit. They should never be forgotten."

NHRA paid respect to the fallen heroes by postponing the Keystone Nationals, which were scheduled to be held that weekend in Reading, Pa. It marked only the second time that NHRA had postponed a national event for non-weather-related reasons. The Glendora, Calif.-based organization had previously postponed an event in Phoenix in 1991, when problems arose with the Firebird International Raceway track surface. It was also the first time NHRA postponed an event prior to the race  being held.

The NHRA joined a variety of sports organizations who had canceled or postponed events that week, including the Major League Baseball and the National Football League. Previously, the NFL had received a great amount of flack over the years after it went on with it's weekend schedule after President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated in November, 1963.

"I definitely think it was the right thing to do," said Miceli, now a Systems Support manager for Apax Partners Inc. "NHRA needed to show that they where sympathetic to the rest of the world. To just go on...I think they made the right call.

"To a point, each event has to be judged on its own. That was a major tragedy. I think taking the week off was a right thing to do. If they didn't race again, that would have been too severe, because you do need to move on. But you also need to respect what happened. I think they did the right thing."


NHRA paid respect to the fallen heroes by postponing the Keystone Nationals, which were scheduled to be held that weekend in Reading, Pa. It marked only the second time that NHRA had postponed a national event for non-weather-related reasons.

 

His competitors felt the same way.

"That wasn't a problem," Bartone said. "The nation was in shock. It was an attack on Americans, an attack on humanity. Nobody knew how to react. To this day, they don't know."

In recent months, the Hollywood film industry has responded with a pair of movies that deal with the Sept. 11.

 "Flight 93," which debuted in April and which was recently released on DVD, tells the story of the United Airlines Flight 93 passengers who subdued the highjackers, resulting in the airliner crashing in an empty field outside of Shanksville, Pa.

Then in August, director Oliver Stone released "World Trade Center," an epic that deals with the rescuers at ground zero of the attacks.

 The jury, by most reports, is still out whether five years is to soon to relive the tragedy on the big screen.

"'World Trade Center' is a great movie," Ashley said. "It's a movie that America needs to see. It's the story of the brave men who went in there and saved lives. Its shows amazing bravery."

But for some, it still is too soon.

"I haven't seen it," Miceli said. "I'm not sure I want to see it. I think it is too early for me. I don't know if it is for everybody, but it is for me. It's just something I not ready to relive just yet."


 

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