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FOR CRITES’ SAKE

I guess this means I win. You and I used to argue about it … who would go first. Well, you lose, pal. Damn it all.

As most of you hardcore drag race fans have heard, one of NHRA’s genuine originals has gotten his hat and left the building. I have known and played with a lot of NHRA people, but nobody like Bill Crites. Yep, he’s gone … as in dead. At age 67.

It’s been said that it’s better to be a character than thought of as one. That was Bill Crites, a character par excellence. The NHRA photog/all-around artist was one of the sport’s genuine natural maniacs, a guy who was a president of his own private world, one that spilled over onto anybody he came into contact with. He couldn’t help himself; he was who he was and thank Lucifer for that. Some of my worst times and happiest times were spent with that afro-natural white boy.

I don’t quite know what to do here. I suppose I could wear out the reader with stories that would illuminate this wild and crazy guy, but even with a natural like Crites that could be boring after a while.  Bill was 16 years old for his nearly all of his 67 years and being cut from the same cloth, I found, like a lot of people, an irresistible playmate. In fact, in some respects and save for my obsession with politics, religion, and a few other arcane subjects, we were very similar and subsequently tolerant of each other’s foibles.

But what the hell, a guy doesn’t die everyday (Did I say that right? Bill had a bizarre sense of humor at times) so screw it,  here’s a couple of mini-headlights from one of my favorite head cases.

There was a time in 1985 at the Keystone Nationals, I had gotten seriously drunk at  some 4-star restaurant near the race site after qualifying. It was Saturday night and I was face first in noise, laughs, booze and drugs. After many reckless drunken doped-up hours, we left the joint and I eventually rolled onto my hotel room floor like a dead animal washed up on shore. Totally ruined.

I had forgotten that Crites was to be my chauffeur to the Maple Grove track early Sunday morning. Bad omission. Given that I got to the hotel at about 3 a.m., I was ignorant of the fact that “Wild Bill” would be behind the wheel of the rent-a-car that would deliver my mortally wounded corpse to cover the race.

The Maple Grove track is surrounded by (most likely} the most beautiful terrain on the NHRA circuit. Millions of trees and farms and big rolling hillocks, as in up and down and up and down. The ever-playful Mr. Bill was mindful of my delicate condition and said something in the direction of my tortured frame about testing the shocks on the rent-a-car. And up and down and up and down we went until I hollered that if he didn’t pull over, the interior of the car would look like an aquarium filled with green oatmeal.

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