From Race with Death to Race for Life
WHAT a sight! Beautifully painted, multicolored cars with chrome plating glistening under the lights. Motors revving to the limit, 20,000 screaming fans and the smell of racing fuel in the air. Small speed cars driven at breakneck speeds, often just inches apart.
These are my first recollections of speedway racing. I was just a small child that night when my father took me to the floodlit Sydney Showgrounds, but the impression made there stayed with me for decades and deeply affected my life. I too was to enter the same race with death that I was observing that night.
Cars Mean More than Marriage
I was born into a middle-class family in 1940. My father was a builder and a well-respected man in the community. As with the majority of fathers in that era, discipline and respect were foremost in daily life. And as with the majority of sons, by the time I was a teen-ager, I felt that I knew more than my parents did. I began dating, against their advice, before I was 16 years of age. This led to a situation that resulted in marriage at 18 years of age. We thought we knew everything.
It did not take long to realize how unprepared for marriage I really was, and soon I became completely bored with the situation. The responsibility that comes with marriage became a real burden to me, and, after viewing other married people around me, I decided to do just what they did with their responsibilities—ignore them.
I bought a car and began spending all my time and money on it. At that time I did not drink or smoke, and adultery was a dirty word. I would just spend my evenings down at the gas station, where I could talk to the mechanic about cars and motors. My wife began to complain and, when she got no satisfaction, she began to nag. I settled down for a while, built a home and gave my children a little attention, but soon became bored again.
Love at First Sight
So back to the gas station I went. But this time, when I walked in, sitting there in the middle of the floor was a midget speed car. It was love at first sight. When could I see it run? Sunday, I was told, at the Westmead Speedway, outside of Sydney. And, yes, there was a vacancy in the pit crew.
Suddenly the responsibility of marriage, the worries, the boredom, all seemed to disappear and the memories of those nights at the Sydney Showgrounds, sitting on my father’s shoulders, began flooding back. The race meet that Sunday was magic to me and I became a permanent member of the crew. But, before long, that was not enough. I knew I had to drive.
My chance came a few weeks later in what we call a mechanics race. I came in third, frightened the life out of the owner of the car, and hit the fence only once. It was an exhilarating experience. The acceleration was fantastic. The noise and the danger kept my adrenaline pumping for hours. I relived that race for weeks. The comment that I looked like ‘a drunk cat on ice skates’ did not deter me at all.
But an occasional drive was not enough, either. So, some time later, I became the proud owner of my own speed car. We rebuilt the car and won many races. By this time, I had taken on the tobacco habit, and adultery was the accepted thing. Married life had been left far behind, although I still lived with my wife.
A Race with Death
Violent death was a constant worry to me, as winning involved taking a lot of chances. Cars were equipped with safety belts and roll bars. Crash helmets were inspected before each race meet, as were the cars. Drivers were not allowed to drink alcohol for 24 hours before a race meeting, yet the death toll was still very high.
I would constantly wonder what happened to my friends who were killed. Did they go to heaven, as was said at their funerals?
In 1964, two things happened that changed my life. I met a girl who was quite different from the girls I had formed associations with previously, and we became inseparable. About the same time, I received an offer to drive a brand-new car. This meant joining a new club in Australia. I would be driving against the best cars and the best drivers in the world.
My life centered around my driving. We would race both Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, sometimes wrecking and rebuilding the car in between the two meets. This kind of life soon took its toll on my nervous system. I was smoking and drinking heavily, and immorality was now a way of life.
The Road to Victory
In 1965 I set my sights on the Junior Championships, but lost it on the night when I pulled all my goggles off at once. (We would wear from four to eight pairs of goggles on top of one another, pulling the top pair off as it got dirty.) However, the very next year I did win and became a permanent A-grade driver. From then on I won many races.
Although death seemed ever present, I considered myself a fairly good driver and felt convinced that I would never make a mistake that would really hurt me. I was soon shocked, however, when the driver considered the best in Australia was killed not 20 m (66 ft.) from where I stood. He made the exact mistake that he had previously warned me not to make.
Success has its drawbacks in speedway racing, as the fastest car must start from the rear of the field. To win races from there means taking many risks, and accidents at times are horrifying, involving up to a dozen cars. I was driving well but I was told that one thing was lacking. If I wanted to be a really good driver I would have to throw caution aside and forget about any danger to others. This I found I could not do.
The 1967-1968 season came with a new car and our sights set on the Australian and World Titles. I was in fact leading the field in the Australian Title race when my motor blew up. So close to victory and yet so far.
Then came World Title night. I had qualified for the front row. All I needed to do was stay there for 35 laps at breakneck speeds. After three restarts due to accidents the race got under way and I did just that. Victory was mine! I could not believe it. I was the world champion!
But what a hollow victory it turned out to be. It did not take long for me to realize that the World Title really meant nothing. In fact, through it I lost many so-called friends. Here I was, 28 years of age, addicted to tobacco, alcohol, racing cars and women, and sporting ulcers and a constantly nagging conscience.
A Death to Change My Life
So the next year I decided to sell my racing car and move to Queensland, taking my girl friend with me. I became a builder again and for the first time in my life became self-sufficient. Also, my father and I became good friends. We started to do things together and really enjoyed each other’s company.
But this happy situation did not last for long. In 1971 a heart attack took my father’s life. Seeing his lifeless form broke my heart. It took many months for me to accept the fact that he was gone. I became puzzled again. Where was he? Was he looking down at me now? Was he being tormented in a fiery hell? What sort of man was he in God’s eyes? Would I ever see him again?
Not long after that, these questions were answered. My sister-in-law had been studying with Jehovah’s Witnesses and was feeding information to my brother who, in turn, was passing it on to me. Learning the truth about death was a great source of joy to me. To know that my father and friends were not being tormented in a fiery hell and that I could one day see them all again, provided I did God’s will, was both comforting and thrilling.—Eccl. 9:5, 10; Ps. 146:3, 4; John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15.
I began to tell my friends and women associates at the hotel what I was learning. But they treated me as if I had grown a second head!
A New Race Under Way
After an extensive study of the Bible, I made a decision to serve Jehovah God, using my life to please him and not just myself. I was entering the race for life. But to run in it I had to “put off every weight.” (Heb. 12:1) For me, this involved significant changes in my life. The excessive drinking, the immorality and the tobacco habit had to go.
Next came the question of door-to-door witnessing. Never! was my reaction. But again I underestimated God’s spirit, and the truth of God’s Word became like a fire within me, as it had to Jeremiah of old. I just had to speak.
In 1973 my new wife and I became dedicated and baptized servants of Jehovah. Happily, my former wife also is now one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and she and the children are safe within the Christian congregation.
So it was, in December 1978, I stood in the same arena where 10 years before I had become the world champion. Again the stands were filled with people, but what a different atmosphere! This time I was in a race in which all could be winners instead of just one, for I was attending the “Victorious Faith” International Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Yes, truly, Jehovah willing, the race for life is the one that I hope to win.—Contributed.