LHRR legend retired – Famed press truck put out to stud

It roared to life like it was being fueled by a Saturn V rocket and you hung on for dear life less you got bounced into somebody’s front yard as if a projectile from a sling shot. And that was just the beginning. The ending of its journey was much like a 747 hitting the tarmac, going from 60 mph to a standstill in about three seconds as you prayed the reverse thrusters kicked in and you didn’t die or get catapulted across the Litchfield green, over the road and into somebody’s living room.

In between were 25-30 minutes of banter, BS, jostling, joking, positioning, holding on, waving to the multitudes, actually taking some notes, picture taking, checking out the bands, prayers to God and thoughts about how you wanted to be remembered.

‘It’ was the Litchfield Hills Road Race Press Truck. A Ford of distinction and an iconic piece if there ever was one of an iconic event. Note the use of the word was. Where there used to be the pace car, the press truck and then thousands of runners, there is now just the pace car and runners.

Another icon of the LHRR, Rick Neller who drives the pace car let me know recently that there is no more press truck at least for this year.  Gone, kaput. A memory. The reasoning? Declining press. It was a lonely ride a year ago, the once jam-packed pickup bed full of talented men and women of the pen and camera ready to put their lives on the line reduced to a deuce.

Grizzled veteran Torrington Register wordsmith Peter Wallace and this reporter.  The once proud media limousine that housed us along with the likes of writers and photographers Lori Riley, John Torsiello, Joe Palladino, Jim Shannon, Steve Valenti, Mike Kabelka,  John McKenna, Tim Gaffney, along with a passel of other mysterious passengers whose function remains a mystery to this day (they might have been hitch-hikers picked up along the way) was basically empty.

Instead of greeting colleagues, Wallace and I shook hands with the wind. We had enough room for picnic table and grill and a few hammocks for the two of us should it have been desired.  Half the food spreads on the green could have fit in the empty space.  Wallace was a good partner to have however. We complement each other well – he doesn’t see that well and hearing isn’t always my forte. We mix and match. Heck of a way to cover a race. The blind leading the deaf.

It wasn’t that the media didn’t cover the event although numbers did seem down. There are always different ways to do the job and for this LHRR different story angles and ideas did not include the press truck whose purpose is to keep the press ahead of the runners to see how the race develops.

So you get it. The need disappeared.  On a serious note you are touched by the winds of change. This isn’t the LHRR of our youth. I started the LHRR as a card-holding cooler carrying member. That is long gone. Drinking laws put a dent in that as did age. Even if I could carry the cooler now there are probably a few waters in it and a chiropractic opponent in the future. Age has wilted consumption and stamina. You don’t want to completely empty the cooler because that would just be wrong and against LHRR etiquette. It also would probably get you banned from the race on principal.

I had hair back then. Mostly gone. Hot Ethel was a headlining band on the course (almost as big as the Beatles entertainment specialist Biff Pond told me). Gone.  Dancing feet where rocking away and fingers were being lost at the post-race party house, Beverly’s. Not anymore. No Linda and the Love Letters, no building. The best you can do now is go to the empty parking lot where the red edifice once stood and leave a flower as a memorial. Or just remember those times you already forgot.

So many of the fixtures that planned, built and organized the LHRR starting with Joe Concannon gone to the great road race in the sky.

Ahh the sands of time and winds of change. Now the iconic press truck. Gone. We thought it was immortal like Secretariat and Hulk Hogan. We thought nothing could kill it. Maybe we should stop thinking.

We are now left with what was. A proud contingent standing tall in the cattle car after lumbering up the aluminum ladder soaking in the scene on the green and thousand plus runners ready to storm down Main Street into gloried exhaustion.

We proudly stood with hands over heart as the National Anthem blared out and then it was off.  In the old days `Gas Pedal Gus’ otherwise answering to Ricky Clark nearly had the front wheels off the ground as we took the corner on to Meadow Street on two wheels, doing the first quarter mile  in 4.8 seconds. Big Daddy Don Garlitz would have been proud.  (Hence the waiver we all signed before liftoff).

 Later on Colin Neller, Rick’s son, took the wheel and gave us a tad softer ride. Still, he opened up the headers and along the way we said a few Hail Marys, prayed for divine intervention and ducked under the G-forces to get out ahead and observe the lead pack.

One year we had Torrington’s Bill Borla leading the pack. A solid runner yet hardly a Kenyan according to ancestor research. We had not yet gotten our rhythm.  We recorded mile times, shared hydration (early days) and waved to the multitudes while staggering into one another. In White’s Woods we narrowly avoided decapitation from low-hanging branches. Always there was a `Hello Joe’ as we passed LHRR co-founder Joe Concannon’s grave.

We took on the challenge of famed torturous Gallows Lane with disdain. Mainly because we took the Meadow Street cutoff to beat the runner’s to the finish line. Nobody ever questioned our finishing kick. We were strong, dominant I might say. We never ever lost a race and broke 30 minutes every time without disqualification. The only thing we missed was LHRR stud announcer Brent `Hawk’ Hawkins and his plume acknowledging as we hit the finish line.

The last challenge was climbing down the ladder to Mother Earth again, flush and wind-burned but survival proud. After checking all our parts we were ready to welcoming the rest of the finishers including those who finished first after us.

Alas while the memories are in the laughs and the scars they are just that now – memories. Farewell golden steed, our chariot of fire not to mention bumps and bruises. Rest easy now that you have been put out to stud. What that means for a Ford I’m not sure.

Fair to say we were treated to quite a ride. Memorial services are pending.

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