First Win - By Joe Haas

It is a hot Friday night in July. The paycheck in my pocket is just enough to keep us going for another week. I enter the track and wave to the ambulance crew who has patched me up once or twice. The sound is ear splitting. The track announcer promises speed, thrills, and chills.

Damn! My engine is running sick. I am more than a little disgusted with this thing on wheels. But all is not lost! A driver from Carolina has not arrived, and the car owner offers me a ride.

The heat is ten ragged laps of over enthusiastic fender banging. My car seems lighter. It has a quicker steering response and is alive with horsepower. The engine sings!

The owner smiles when I win the heat and the semi-final. I will start 19th in The Feature. The track announcer promises a bonus to anyone who breaks the win streak of the track champ.

The field rolls forward with engines reving. The fans yell encouragement. Twenty-four cars in a double row ricochet through the first two turns. It is too loud, too fast, and too tight. Sparks fly and fenders are redesigned by impacts. I am making no progress.

The champ is two places in front of me. Two other front runners are working me high and low, outside and inside. Slots open but I can't find the right grove. Hey, the champ is behind two cars that are slowing! I make a stupid move to the outside of all three and the right rear rubs the wall. Dripping with sweat I realize that I have bitten the wet sponge I carry in my teeth into two pieces.

Two cars impact hard and one hits the wall. A crack and a loud, slow roll right in front of me. How did I get away with just a fender nick? The tow truck picks up the two cars. No ambulance rolling. Racer's luck. All is okay.

The flagman insists that I restart in 12th position. The champ is 11th. I'm positive he should be behind me, and I stop to yell at the pit steward. Okay, I've had bad calls before.

The champ can stay at his present position and use up the track. I loosen the distance and anticipate the green just enough to pull along side him. I am on the outside with just enough momentum to pass before we enter the first and second turns. He taps my back bumper, and I pour it on.

There must be a leak in the header pipe. My eyes are burning from the alcohol and nitro mix. I can't blink or I'll be in second place. I can only push it to the ragged edge.

Three laps left. Something is wrong with the engine. The sound is not the same. Then I realize that I am hearing only my engine. Either the champ has fallen back or I have gained ground. I quickly check the oil pressure and the heat gauge. Just that quick glance, and the champ moved up ten feet. Let it go! If it blows, it blows. Run hard and go for it!

I am waiting for something to go wrong. I hear a strange sound in the headers and imagine there is a binding in the rear. It sounds like the car is losing power. The white flag is 50 feet ahead. Now I'm on the final lap with 75 feet between me and the checkered flag.

Wow! It is like a grand slam home run, a touchdown, and winning the Indianapolis 500 all rolled up into one. I yell for half a lap. I'm out of breath. I'm exhausted. I'm happy. I'm relaxed. It is the highest high I've ever had. Three years of trying -- thousands of hours of hard work -- scrimping and saving to make a race. Yep, it was worth it. You bet it was worth it! The first win is never forgotten.