As I was watching the tornado coverage (see previous post), I was following the coverage using GoogleMaps. I was needing to refresh my memory of the area. During the Google-ing my mind wandered to one of the fonder memories of growing up in Oklahoma City. That memory was my time as a “pit man” for a guy that raced a car on the dirt track circuit around Oklahoma and southern Kansas. By “pit man,” I mean general flunkie.
I was a junior in high school and went to the races at the OKC fairgrounds every Friday night. Somehow, I don’t remember the exact moment, I decided that I wanted to be part of that scene. A friend of a friend knew this racer name Dutch ter Steege. I hung around his garage for a few weeks and finally worked up nerve to ask if I could help him.
I was Dutch’s only pit man. I helped him change the oil, scrape the mud off the car, change the tires… stuff that i knew very little about. Once in a while, he let my drive some slow laps to warm up the engine. As time went along, I learned how to disassemble and help reassemble the engine. I learned how to repair the fiberglass body.
One Thursday night we were reassembling the engine, and I broke off a bolt in the cylinder block. Dutch was known as a man with a temper, and I was expecting an explosion. He gave me a look, but never said a thing. As a machinist, he just picked up tools and went about digging out the broken stub.
As I began engineering school, I even helped do some calculations with gear ratios and tire sizes. This was stuff that he was estimating, and I could quantify the numbers.
He raced in OKC on Friday nights. On Saturday nights, we (Dutch, his wife and various of his kids) drove to Enid or Lawton, Oklahoma, to race. Some nights, he was sleepy driving home, so I ‘got’ to drive the truck.
One night in OKC, Dutch had a pretty hard wreck on the track. He didn’t seem hurt, and would not let the ambulance crew take him to hospital. His wife and I noticed that he was acting goofy, and finally, he let me take him to the hospital. One of the first questions the doctor asked was, “Are you seeing double?” His response was, “Yes, I see two policemen.” We looked down the hall, and sure enough, there were two policemen. So very typical Dutch. He had a cracked rib, and what would today probably be classified as a concussion. He raced the next week, but had to have some help getting in and out of the car.
As I got more involved in college life, I spent less time with Dutch and eventually lost touch when I graduate and moved away.
So, why all this reminiscence? I Googled his name and found his obituary. He died in in 2012 at the age of 77. He apparently continued to race for nearly 30 years after I last saw him.
If you want to read about a true character… read the obituary here or here.
Thanks for the memories, Dutch.