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  • Writer's pictureTodd Rose

Words and Racing: Poems by Todd Rose


There is beauty in many things. Beauty in nature, beauty in people, and beauty in the pursuit of trying to prove you can go faster than someone else.


Preface: Words and Racing


Words, be they spoken, written or otherwise, and racing are two things that have always been connected in my life. Heck, at one point my favorite phrase was the mysterious, ‘Oops one!.’ What does it mean? I have no idea. Some theorize it is a rough translation of ‘Trouble in turn one’ to toddlerspeak.


As it turned out words and racing would become two of my biggest passions in life. Often times combined with one another.


In my final semester of college at Northern Michigan University, I was enrolled in a poetry class for my writing minor. The class remains one of my favorites I have ever taken. After a few assignments, I tried to bring my love of racing into my poems for class.


While some of them worked much better than others, I thought it would be fun to share these and a few new ones with all of you. Included with each is a bit of the back story behind the inspiration or writing of each piece.


I hope you all enjoy!



A Statement from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway the day before the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500.

NOTE : Ever since the first time I saw the Indianapolis 500 on the big screen at my grandma’s house in 2002, it – and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway itself – have captivated me like few things have.

I thought it would be a fun idea to use the format of a ‘Golden Shovel’ for a racing poem. This is when you take another piece of writing, or in this case an Al Unser Jr. quote from his 1992 500 win, and use each word as the last of each line of a new piece.

I have also always wondered what such a historic place like IMS would say if it could actually speak, hence the title.

This is one of my favorites from this collection. It’s short, simple, and one that means quite a bit to me in general


QUOTE: "You just don't know what Indy means." - Al Unser Jr.


I’ve made legends and claimed lives. I tell you,

Know my brick line interrupted asphalt is more than just

a surface for racing. It tells stories words don’t.

Stories harbored within my four corners, only I truly know.

Call me The Speedway or what

you will, but I prefer Indy.


Know what it means.


“J.D. McDuffie was a real racer”


NOTE: I’ve always been intrigued by the story of J.D. McDuffie. In his near 700 starts in the NASCAR Cup Series, he never won a race. A week after J.D. was killed in a crash at Watkins Glen, Benny Parsons – a wonderful writer and speaker in his own right – narrated a tribute to J.D. (below). This is where the idea for this poem emerged.


Like the above ‘A Statement from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,’ this is a (modified) ‘Golden Shovel’ with the words at the front of the line instead of the end.

I pulled a quote from both Benny’s narration track and a sound bite of J.D. speaking after a win at Shangri-La Speedway the night before his passing. The title, even, is a quote also taken from Benny’s narration.

I am honestly not sure if this really works or is even good or true in any way. But it was a fun challenge to put together and I hope you enjoy.


QUOTES: “Every real racer thinks that today will be his day. That somehow, someway, things might fall their way and they will be the first to the checkered flag.” – Benny Parsons

“I hope I can repeat this tomorrow.” – J.D. McDuffie


Every start of the engine, every lap turned,

Real chances of victory dwindle for

Racer after racer. No matter what one

Thinks, reality and dreams will differ.

That is the cruel truth of any passion.

Today could have been the day. The

Will to win would overcome all else. But, to

Be denied will only strengthen

His desire for a shot to be first across the line, one

Day.


That hunger to succeed never dulls.

Somehow, it remains.

Someway, it must remain.

Things aren’t always meant to be, and that

Might help ease agony for the moment. To

Fall time and time again will not stifle

Their fervor. It will only make them look for another

Way.


And they will return.

They’ll fix the car. They’ll tune the car,

Be as mangled or slow as it is.

The next time out, they will be

First. Maybe not across the line, but

To the track. Because they love

The sport. Regardless of if they ever get a

Checkered

Flag.


I

Hope this to be the truth.

I

Can only speak for what I’ve seen,

Repeat attempts met with failure. But,

This is not the end for a real racer. For,

Tomorrow could be the day.




The Sound of Qualifying

Greg Haese on a qualifying run at the Norway Speedway.

NOTE: This was one I wrote after my first night back at the Norway Speedway this summer covering racing for the Daily Press. I had visited the pits during practice and began making my way around the outside boundary of the track to reach the grandstand and crows nest. On this walk, all I could hear was the sound of qualifying, which gave me the idea of the title and brought back memories of my first trips to the track over 15 years ago.


Forty-five minutes of impatience have led to this moment.

A packed car of family and friends empties into a grass lot.

My eyes find the giant wood stands.

There is no racetrack in sight.


We begin our walk toward the gates.

Excitement boiling out of my 10-year old body.

Then a low rumble.

And a muffled crackle from the PA.


We reach the line of fans, a tall wood fence stretches along our left.

Behind the rumble has grown to a roar.

Then, the roar to a full-mouthed wail

The first racecar I’d ever heard in person.


What was probably minutes felt an eternity.

From the back, to the front, I tried to catch a glimpse.

Nothing.

Just the sound of qualifying.


Admission paid, seats await.

The end of the fence draws near.

But, we must wait for all of us.

I turn as the sound passes and fades.


Finally, our group convenes.

To the stands and past the fence,

I see nothing but an empty, silent, track.

Then the rumble beckons my eyes.


Across the track, in the third turn,

Out of the pits.

There it is.

The first racecar I’d ever seen in person.


When the Checkered Flag Falls

The picture that inspired this piece.

NOTE: This was an accidental poem, actually. Having misunderstood the directions for an assignment, I wrote a poem about a picture I had taken. I made a few adjustments to it since finding it again on my hard drive but it is mostly the same since I first wrote it.


The night’s racing has glazed a coating of rubber on the track.

Lap by lap, a layer put down by tires screaming for mercy.

Each new covering, changing the surface.

No turn is the same as the one before.


With every black sheet added, a story is sealed within.

Brothers crashing and punching on the backstretch.

A new generation of driver turning their first laps.

The car of a legend turning its final.


The track is quiet now, and the stories are told.

The fans have all left for home.

There is no more racing to be done,

when the checkered flag falls.




The Senna Poems


NOTE: The two below pieces about Ayrton Senna began their lives as one, again for my class. However, it made sense to me then, and now, that I could create multiple pieces based around specific laps of Senna’s career for a larger work. I still haven’t done it, but maybe someday I will make a full book of these or something, who knows?


The first piece was directly inspired by a clip (above) from the incredible documentary Senna. If you have not taken the time to watch it, I can not recommend it enough for racing fans and non racing fans alike.


Lap 67 of 78 - 1988 Monaco Grand Prix


Senna was no longer conscious.

His body in full control of the car.

His mind had crossed dimensions.

Victory, was certain.


Left hand steering, right shifting.

The tires of the white and red McLaren dancing.

Senna kept the wild beast tame

As each bump jostled his yellow helmet.


“Slow down,” was the message radioed to his ears.

There was no need to drive so hard

With a lead so large.

A break in flow, Senna pounded the wall.

His car a victim of

Monaco’s narrow steel lined streets.

Senna would return to Monaco,

To win the next five in a row.



Lap 7 of 61 - 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.


For the third race in a row,

Senna started from the pole.

His new Williams had speed

But failed to finish in Japan and Brazil.


This third race weekend was cascaded in black.

Friday Practice saw Barrichello escape death,

Saturday Qualifying saw Ratzenberger taken by it.

Drivers whispered concerns of safety.


Senna left the circuit at Tamburello Bend.

No bones were broken nor bruises made on his skin.

Yet, Senna was dead.

Head struck by a piece of suspension.


The car came to rest, Senna motionless.

His head rose one last time.

Had he survived, Ayrton Senna would have raced again

At the next round, the Monaco Grand Prix.



The Race to Graduation

It's me! This is still one of my proudest accomplishments and I am so excited to see what else I can achieve in the years ahead.

NOTE: This was the last poem I wrote for class. IT is based mostly on the abecedarian format in which you use each letter of the alphabet to start each line. It does that until the end. I wasn't going to include this one but figured I might as well since I had included all the others. I am so proud of the work I put in to graduate from NMU and this was my way, I guess, of showing it at the time.



All the laps are complete,

Beside this final one.

Cautiously I navigate the remaining corners.

Deliberately pressing the throttle.

Ever so gently tapping the brake pedal,

Flying toward the finish all the while.

Graduation. Over five years of

Hard work now paying off.

I can’t hit the wall now,

Just moments from the end,

Killing my chances at victory.

Losing now would mean heartbreak.


Memories trickle from the

Nether regions

Of my mind.

Public Eye News, hockey games, and friends

Quilts of comfort that

Remind me how loved I am.


Sometimes it’s better to block

Those thoughts

Unregulated they’ll distract from the goal of

Victory.

With end in site, I remain thirsty for the win.

My degree is my trophy and I will raise it proudly.

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