Sunday, July 31, 2011

Best man at worst place for a wedding day

When you think of drag racing, you think of a mad dash to the finish. You don’t think of enduring love from the start.

You think of two competitors, side-by-side, racing the heck out of each other. You don’t think of two partners, side-by-side, entering into holy matrimony.

You think of a man with a loud, deep voice screaming “Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!” You don’t think of a Justice of the Peace.

You think of nitro. You don’t think of nuptials.

You think of vroom, vroom. You don’t think of wedding vows.

You think of Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney. You don’t think of Derek “Grease” Wilson and Tracy Hawkins.

Yet in the Funny Car world of John Force, Wilson and Hawkins did a funny thing on Sunday. They got married in Victory Circle at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma at the Fram Autolite NHRA Nationals. Even funnier. They asked me 15 minutes before the ceremony to be the best man.

Derek, my former colleague at the Marin Independent Journal, and Tracy met last year on eHarmony. Though Derek is a longtime devoted auto sportswriter, he claimed it was Tracy’s idea that they get married at the racetrack.

But at the drag races? The absolute loudest spot on earth?

“She wanted the sound effects,” Derek quipped.

The bride arrived in a light purple flowered dress with a media pass and ear plugs. The groom wore a gray suit with a black shirt and black tie and a smile as long as the drag strip. They were met by Tim Boeve, track chaplain at Infineon who has officiated a pair of weddings in Victory Circle during the NASCAR race in Sonoma. But this was his first during NHRA weekend.

Boeve, the Minister of the Race Track, tried to explain to Derek and Tracy how the ceremony would work, but his words kept being interrupted by elimination heats in top fuel dragster about 50 yards away. Mind you, when the dragsters take off, your ear drums explode and the ground literally shakes. Let me put it this way: The force of the vibration was so great in Victory Circle one could see the scantily-clad Umbrella Girls jiggle.

It was at this time during the elimination heats that I was recruited to be the best man. It was like asking Brian Wilson to make an emergency spot start for the Giants. I was game and have a beard, but I wasn’t prepared. I was wearing blue jeans and brown short-sleeved shirt.

Suddenly, I was put in charge of handing over the rings to the Minister of the Race Track on cue. A verbal cue. Suddenly I realized I might not hear that cue. Suddenly, I panicked. What if an elimination heat started and the shock and awe of it caused me to accidentally drop the rings (passed down by Tracy’s paternal grandmother) and duck for cover?

Elimination heats for the Funny Cars were underway when the ceremony started. The Minister of the Race Track had a microphone yet I feared a violent four-second burst of noise from behind us would drown out the wedding vows at some point. But when?

Tracy joked that they had flash cards that read “I Do” if need be. I half-expected the Minister of the Race Track to begin the ceremony with … “We are gathered here today … SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY! … in front of family and friends …”

Instead, the ceremony went off without unadulterated noise. The sun came out. The Christmas lights went off. The vows could be heard in the nearby grandstand.

It was go time in Victory Circle while there was an unscheduled oil down on the track. Someone’s Funny Car sprung a leak on the strip at the most fortunate time for the wedding ceremony.

“The Big Man upstairs took care of things,” said John Cardinale, vice president of communications at Infineon.

He didn’t mean Infineon President Steve Page.

Derek and Tracy recited their vows without the wows of the crowd and I actually recognized my cue to give the Minister of the Race Track the rings. I also held Tracy’s bouquet of flowers for her, making me the Maid of Honor as well. They were pronounced husband and wife and people heard it. The groom kissed the bride and Tracy hoisted her arms in the air and whooped it up.
The real victory in Victory Circle on Sunday was that happy couple were heard and seen.
I gave the champagne toast moments later and again I was not prepared. What could I say? The Funny Cars were lined up waiting to race and I was trying to think fast of something encouraging and supportive to say to the married couple.

May the Force be with you.


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