After the shock from reading
the tragic news of the loss of Sy Sidebotham had slowly worn
off, the sound of a long ago forgotten Italian love song with
an almost mournful tune started playing in the back my mind.
Followed a little later by the sarcastic words and Jazzish suggestions
of brothers Steely Dan...
"I'll play just
what I feel
drink Scotch whiskey all night long
and die behind the wheel"
The old love song brought to
mind the times I overheard 'Sy' call his beloved wife Dottie
while sitting at the table in his motor home and sing a song
to her over his cell phone as we cruised along the Interstate
at a high rate of speed. Sometimes he'd sing a tune I could recall
from my younger days. Sometimes it would be something he make
up entirely 'on the fly'. But in any case, it sometimes got me
to thinking of another song...
"Better to shower
the people you love
Tell them the way that you feel"
Eldon 'SY' Sidebotham wasn't
afraid to show anyone how he felt about them. And that's a wonderful
thing... and not always a good thing, 'ya know.
The first time I met Sy was at
the 2004 Charleston Dragway Reunion. He was already a bigger
than life legend in the New England (and national) drag racing
circles. The weather that year was less than ideal for an outdoor
reunion... rainy and cold. None the less, Sy opened up his huge
'double stacker' trailer for all. **Shelter From The Storm**
indeed. Got to meet and make some good friends that wet afternoon...
Tom 'Tuna' and Tim Steed, Bob 'Bear' George, Don Roberts, Jeff
Howe, and of course Sy.
Upon learning that I had just
lost my job of twenty seven years driving the big trucks (and
my plans for the remainder of the summer included spending a
lot of time with my feet up out on the back porch consuming copious
amounts of Tequila while I could still afford to do both) Sy
asked if I'd instead be interested in driving his transporter.
The beautiful '69 King & Marshall front engine dragster needed
to be taken to the York US30 'Muscle Madness Reunion' and the
driver's seat was empty.
Two weeks later I found myself
leaving the parking lot of Seal Tech (Sy's business) in Manchester,
N.H. pointing his absolutely beautiful eighty-five foot long
behemoth southbound on the Everett Turnpike. By the time we got
to the second toll booth Sy leaned over just slightly from his
position in the passenger's side 'Captain's chair' and asked
if I'd be interested in driving the rig to the upcoming 50th
Annual U.S. Nationals at Indy! Hmmmm... lemme roll that one around
for about half a second!
For the next eight hours or so
I got to listen to the history of The New England Dragway...
Sy's family along with the Brock family built it. I also heard
about how Sy got hooked on the drags like so many of us did at
a young age. And about how he tried to talk his Dad and uncle
into mass producing dragster chassis' at their machine shop...
and how they both turned a thumbs down on the idea... convinced
that drag racing was just a fad and would soon pass. Then there
was his first serious drag car, an Oldsmobile powered roadster.
Followed by an Olds powered dragster that morphed into a blown
Chrysler powered NITRO burning fuel dragster. Sy told me how
he believed the Chrysler powered dragster to be too short. So
he lengthened the frame and took it to the races... where it
immediately broke in half.
Back in 2004, I was still living
in PA. The York Fairgrounds were just up the road from my home
in Harrisburg. The Boopster drove over to meet Sy and give me
a ride home that evening. He greeted her with his patented hug
and insisted she sit, rest, and have a cold drink in his luxurious
motor home following her grueling twenty-six mile drive. I never
talked to Sy after that without him asking how was "the
lovely Miss Betty, the soap lady?" Quite a gentleman he
The next day we unloaded the
King & Marshall digger from the trailer and parked it in
it's assigned spot inside the Main Hall. That was also the day
I learned I could fit quite comfortably in the confines of the
Don Long chassis... something that would prove again to be a
true gift from the drag race Gods (and Sy) in a few weeks.
Next? Lunch at an Italian restaurant
As I'm enjoying my plate of spaghetti,
Sy looks across the table, smiles, and asks "Do you know
"Nope." I reply.
So... he opens up his cell phone,
punches a few buttons, and hands it to me.
"Here... say hello to Pat
Foster." he said about the same time the phone on the other
end started ringing.
Anyway, that's how I got to meet
Pat. Via what started out as one of the most uncomfortable conversations
I've had in my entire life. But, when I told 'Uncle Patty' that
this was Sy's doing, he said something like "Is that old
b*$!@*! there?" and laughed like hell. Soon, we all were
having a good laugh. I can't look back on this particular event
without having one still to this day. Later that same day I spent
a good part of the afternoon listening to Sy and Joe Jacono swap
lies back and forth in the comfort of Sy's motor home. Turned
out they both competed in the NASCAR (that's right NASCAR!) Drags
held in the Daytona Beach area (Flagler to be exact) back in
Now none of the above is meant
to imply that Sy didn't have a pertinacious side. Sy and myself
got into more than one good argument when we traveled the road
together. In fact, there were times when he had me so riled I
literally caught myself pounding on the steering wheel! Then
there was the time I quit and decided to hitch hike home (if
necessary) about a half mile from the entrance to Indianapolis
Raceway Park. This, after driving most of the way from New Hampshire
to Indy. There were witnesses to this.
But fortunately cooler heads
prevailed (thanks Todd) and in a matter of minutes Sy had me
laughing at both myself and him. Needless to say... I stuck around.
After all, this was the 50th U.S. Nationals and even my ill temper
knew better than to walk away.
Unfortunately, Sy had pretty
poor health to deal with too. He came down with pneumonia during
the York Reunion earlier that year. That was one scary ride home.
But... his condition, in a very unique way, parlayed into a pretty
good thing at those very same 50th Annual NHRA U.S. Nationals.
Drag race legend and everybody's favorite good guy Mr. Steve
Gibbs had known Sy for years and was well aware of his delicate
health. Fearing that Sy might take a turn for the worse and medical
help would be too far away if needed, Steve arranged for us to
park the transporter right next to the starting line. Bear in
mind, this was at the 50th NHRA U.S. Nationals... and we wound
up with a front row seat. We could sit in the lounge area of
the motor home and look out the right side windows... and see
the starting line!
But then again... who else besides
Sy... could manage to get his rig parked right beside the starting
line, in full view of the ESPN cameras... at the previously mentioned
50th Annual NHRA U.S. Nationals... with "IHRA" emblazoned
in eighteen inch tall letters on the side of his trailer!!
Check out Racin' and Rockin' to see how that mess got
handled before the TV cameras were fired up.
But... not only did we have an
unparalleled view of the starting line, we also got to display
the King & Marshall dragster. It was one of the 'Golden Fifty'
featured cars that weekend.
Remember I mentioned I could
fit into the cockpit? Well... I got to steer that puppy all around
I.R.P. until regular wheel man Tommy Steed arrived on Friday
afternoon. We also 'Cackled' Monday in front of 50,000 or so
But that was then. Now... back
to the dark present.
The headline in the Tuesday April
7th Manchester, N.H. Union Leader read...
BEDFORD MAN DIES WHEN EJECTED
Sy was just 72 years young when
he lost control of his pickup on that rain slicked Route 101
ramp. The article went on to state speed was a factor too...
along with the fact that Sy wasn't wearing a seatbelt.
Well now let me tell you...
Speeding on a wet road and not
wearing a seatbelt... hell, that about describes Sy to a "T".
He loved to drive fast and push the envelope. And that's what
he was doing.
I loved the man.
My life definitely took a turn
for the better on that Sunday afternoon in 2004 when I first
met him. I'll never forget him.
More old B.S. later.
Forward advice, rebuttals, and
death threats to:
"Everybody Loves Somebody"
words and music by Irving Taylor and Ken Lane
© 1947 Sand Music Corp. ASCAP
from the 1964 Reprise Records release 'Everybody Loves Somebody'
by Dean Martin
Co-writer Ken Lane played piano
in Dean's back up combo and showed Dean the tune just for laughs
during a lull in a recording session. Dean and his producer decided
to record it. It was released in the summer of 1964 and was his
only #1 seller. It remained in the Top 40 for thirteen weeks.
The words "Everybody Loves Somebody" are also inscribed
on Dean's grave marker.
words and music by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen
©1977 Freejunket Music BMI
from the 1977 ABC/Dunhill release "AJA"
by Steely Dan
LA based, former
A/Fuel Dragster racer (and twenty year Tonight Show Orchestra
veteran) Pete Christlieb doing both of those cool saxophone solos
on this Steely Dan number. Also, you'll be listening to Chuck
Rainey on electric bass and Bernard 'Pretty' Purdie on drums...
considered by many the best (and possibly most recorded) rthymn
"Shower The People"
words and music by James Taylor
©1976 Warner Brothers Music Inc.
From the 1976 Warner Records release "In The Pocket"
by James Taylor
And as usual... a big thanks
goes out to all those, who without their assistance and friendship,
this project would have never been completed... Paul 'Hutch'
Hutchins, Jeff Howe, Don Roberts, The Boopster, Fred the wonder
puppy, and Tequila SOLAZUL Reposado.