People always inquire, “How did you get interested in racing?” The simple short answer is always, “Well I grew up in Watkins Glen” (home of the US Grand Prix), and that normally satisfies the questioner and moves the conversation onto the area’s wine growing or winters or other topics not related to racing.
The truth is a much longer story. (Big surprise there, right?)
The saga of my passion for motorsports began long before my family moved to the Glen from nearby Horseheads, New York (that name is another long story) when I was entering high school. My parents and our family physician are the central points of blame for this addiction that caused my life to take the path of noise, gears, grease and delightfully, world travel.
Richard and Edith Roller (my parental units) were life long residents of what is affectionately known as the “Southern Tier & Finger Lakes Region” of upstate New York. Both were fans of racing attending some of the early road races at the Glen, before the Grand Prix circuit we all know and love was built on the hill overlooking picturesque Seneca Lake. Dad also liked Modifieds and dirt track racing, however the hook for me was set to be a life long road-racing nut because of our family physician, Dr. Francis Ward. Besides taking care of the medical needs of the Roller’s and their five children, (Of which I was the youngest
! – that still bothers my siblings!) from his downtown Watkins Glen offices, he was the track doctor for the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Circuit.
As part of that role Dr. Ward also hosted the area’s social event of the season, a party after the annual Grand Prix, for the drivers, other celebrities, and anybody who was anybody from the local social scene. This soiree traditionally celebrated that year’s world champion, as the title was normally decided before the big doings at the Glen.
What does any of this have to do with me falling in love with road racing? Well it just so happens my mom had a pretty good reputation for baking yummy cakes and the creative streak required to deliver that yumminess in various shapes and sizes. Always just a hobby, this was just a way for her to do nice things for friends. In 1962 or ‘63 (The family’s collective memory is a bit fuzzy on which year was first – and I was only two or three) after Dr. Ward enjoyed the fruits of my mom’s labors for his birthday the fateful question was asked, “Could you make a cake that looks like a race car?” The response, “Piece of cake!” (Or so the story goes!)
What began was a run of cakes commemorating world champions, Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart and ending sadly with Jochen Rindt the only posthumous winner of the world driving title.
Of course the project took on a life of it’s own. The requisite research for correct colors, shapes etc. came from photos, and, model car kits.
Early versions were made completely of cake, wheels and all. Later versions sported working wheels that allowed the drivers to pushed the finished product back and fourth across the floor, much to their delight and the chagrin of the ladies in attendance at the party who understood the work that was involved in the completion of these yummy commemorations.
For me it was a time of discovery. I was 10 years old when the final cake left the house for the party. Those research photos and models were all handed down to yours truly feeding my curiosity and enjoyment of the sport. I guess you could say the foundation of my love for the sport that came to define most of my working career and life was built on cake… with great icing!