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Drag racing feature

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by rpmmutant, Feb 10, 2008.

  1. rpmmutant

    rpmmutant Member

    This was one of the toughest interviews I've had to do. Driver's two sons die in a car crash two weeks before start of the NHRA season. A week after the funeral, he's at the track to race. During the interview, I could see that he was fighting tears talking about his kids. Never cried, but I could tell it was tough for him to talk about it. I don't know if I conveyed that in the story though.

    POMONA -- None of the drivers know what to say to Doug Herbert. None of them even try to imagine what he is going through.
    While testing at Firebird Raceway near Phoenix for the start of the NHRA Powerade Drag Racing Series season, Herbert’s two sons were killed in a car crash in North Carolina. Herbert dropped everything, left the race track in the middle of the test session and headed home. He had no choice, any father in that position would have done the same.
    The funeral for his sons, Jon, 17, and James, 12, was a week before the start of the NHRA season-opener in Pomona. He went from preparing and testing his dragster to holding a funeral service for two of his three children, killed instantly in a head-on collision with another car.
    “I thought actually about just not racing at all,” Herbert said. “Just being done racing. But you know, I like racing. They loved being here and I love being here. And all the racers that are here, they’re kind of like a family. Most of these guys are all my friends and they’re part of my family, too. So it makes me feel good to be here.”
    The drivers he races against are amazed Herbert is back on the track. No one questions his decisions. No one doubts his resolve. Everyone has a heightened admiration for Herbert.
    But what Herbert did before the races at Pomona is nothing short of remarkable. He vowed to dedicate his season to his sons and win the Top Fuel championship. He calls it the “For My Boys” tour. One of his Top Fuel competitors said Herbert, who finished a career-best sixth-place in the NHRA Top Fuel standings last year, is on a mission. But that’s not the remarkable thing. There is nothing too remarkable about a driver wanting to win his first Top Fuel championship in memory of his kids.
    What’s remarkable is that Herbert went to his sons’ next Boy Scouts meeting – without them.
    “He still keeps his responsibility up in the Boy Scouts,” said Larry Dixon, a Top Fuel driver for Don Prudhomme Racing who’s competing against Herbert today in the NHRA Carquest Auto Parts Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway. “I don’t know how he could do that mentally, going to the kids’ meetings without your kids.”
    That’s the kind of person Herbert is. Faced with what has to be the most difficult episode of his life, Herbert is still doing what is best for his kids.
    “I guess it’s kind of selfish because I go there and it makes me feel good,” said Herbert, who is an Eagle Scout. “But it makes them feel good too.”
    James wanted to be an Eagle Scout like his dad. Herbert wanted to see his son progress through the ranks of Scouts and achieve his goal. But now that James is gone, Herbert said he wants to see other boys reach the rank of Eagle Scout.
    “I was helping them. I was helping James and trying to be an example,” Herbert said. “It makes me feel good and I think it makes them feel good.”
    Dixon said he has been text messaging Herbert almost on a daily basis since the accident. The two have known each other for more than 20 years, working together at a speed shop called the Service Center that had stores in Van Nuys and Orange. Dixon worked in the Van Nuys shop, Herbert in the one in Orange. As NHRA drivers, they see each other on a weekly basis at drag strips across the country for 10 months out of the year.
    At the race in Brainerd, Minn., last year, Dixon remembers he and Herbert’s motor homes were parked next to each other. Herbert was away from the track at dinner; Dixon stayed at the track barbecuing for his family. Dixon has three children, who were with him for the race.
    “He came back from dinner and we were grilling. He hung out with my kids and rolled around in the dirt for two hours with them,” Dixon said. “I just feel so bad for him. I have no idea how you go through that. He’s a big kid. He has a lot of fun and was very involved with his kids.”
    The drivers who have children can relate somewhat to Herbert. Still, no one dares tell Herbert they understand what he’s going through.
    “Most people don’t even know how to pretend it actually happened,” said Tony Schumacher, last year’s NHRA Top Fuel champion.
    Schumacher has three children and says before every race he makes sure to kiss them. Herbert did the same to his kids, kissed them and told him he loved them before he went to test at Firebird Raceway.
    “We walk away to go to a race, we kiss our kids and we fear that we may not come back and what our kids would be going through if we didn’t make it back,” said Schumacher, a driver for Don Schumacher Racing. “That almost never crosses your mind that it may be them. That’s a tough thing.”
    Herbert has the images of his sons on his car and he wears a chain around his neck with an engraved locket that reads: “Always in my heart, Jon and James.” A friend of his from North Carolina made the locket for him and they serve as reminders, not that he really needs them.
    “It’s hard and I can never stop thinking about them because they were such a big part of my life,” Herbert said. “My life will never be the same. Maybe tomorrow won’t be quite as bad as yesterday.”
    Herbert was amazed at the turnout for the viewing before his sons’ funeral. He said it took three hours for all the people to make their way through the service. One of the people who attended was Bobby Allison, a NASCAR driver whose two sons were killed in race crashes. Herbert heard a few stories from NASCAR drivers, crew chiefs and families who have lost children in one way or another. The stories and the kind words have helped Herbert the last couple of weeks.
    “I believe in God. I believe in heaven. I believe in doing things right and treating people right,” Herbert said. “I guess the thing that kind of keeps me going is knowing that those kids were so good that they gotta be in heaven, they just gotta be.”
  2. imjustagirl

    imjustagirl Active Member

    Very good story. You got some great quotes, and you didn't get in the way of it too much.

    A couple of nitpicks, though.

    In your second graf, it should say "While Herbert was testing..." because doing "while testing...., Herbert's two sons" it makes those sons the subject and means they were testing.

    Secondly, I do think this story tells itself. I think saying things like "He had no choice. Any father would have done the same." and things of that ilk are kind of unnecessary. Let what he did speak for itself.

    But overall, very very good. I know it's hard to NOT get good quotes from NHRA guys...but you got really good stuff. The "Maybe tomorrow won't be quite as bad as yesterday" line about killed me.
  3. friend of the friendless

    friend of the friendless Active Member

    Mr Mutant,

    I'm with Ms girl on the "no choice" ... not needed. I think if you pull it out, you can see that.

    Just wondering if the lead as a tease might be that he goes to the Boy Scout meeting without the boys (then goes to the track with them in spirit, or something like that). You know, if you show his resolve in the day-to-day (frankly, a little spooky) it says more about his character than the keep-on-racing thing. More jarring, I think.

    But that's me. It's a solid, solid story.

    YD&OHS, etc
  4. rpmmutant

    rpmmutant Member

    I thought about leading with the Boy Scouts meeting, but it was getting a little long to get to the point. His sons die, he goes to their next Boy Scout meeting. His youngest son wanted to be an Eagle Scout, like his dad. Not a drag racer, an Eagle Scout. That made Doug Herbert want to continue his son's pursuit and it's one of the reasons he still goes to the meetings.
    Something like that, but I'm not sure if that's clear and concise and gets to the point that Doug is doing his best to get on with his life without his kids. If anything, he is doing his best to continue his life with his boys still in it even though they're dead.
    Thanks for comments. I still can't believe I messed up that second graph. I was an English major. I should know better.
  5. friend of the friendless

    friend of the friendless Active Member

    Mr Mutant,

    I hear everything you say. You know, if given the space and what have you, a more measured roll-out might have worked. Just thought I'd float it out there -- if you thought about and spiked the idea, I understand.

    YD&OHS, etc
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