Where Were You When?

The following is a combination of things I have written at other times to recall my memories, and a recollection of other memories about where I was and what I was doing when certain things happened during my life. I have included memories that are not racing related.

On April 1, 1993, the NASCAR racing world lost a great owner and racer, Alan Kulwicki. Prior to the 25th anniversary of Alan’s death, articles about him started appearing on many racing sites. I, like many other fans, read most of them. Some of us cried and some of us smiled at times as we remembered Alan and how he accomplished something many other independent car owners and racers had not. Most of us automatically thought and still think of the song, “My Way” and we smile as we think how perfectly that song fit Alan.

Photo from Autoweek Credited to Getty Images.

Shortly after reading many articles, I responded to the one by David Nance at RFF, that today also can be found here at PTR. If you haven’t read it already, the link will take you there.

Below is my comment to his article when it was first published at RFF:

It was hard reading this without stopping and remembering Alan and why it was that I, along with so many others, liked him. Misty eyes kept interfering and then memories would creep in for a bit before I would – or could – continue. Just last night I was thinking how one remembers where they were, who they were with and what they were doing when they heard certain news. This is one of those remembrances. Ever since that April 1st in 1993, I have shied away from April Fools jokes and until this year, I have never associated April 1st with Easter. I never see a Hooter’s ad, restaurant or picture that I don’t think of Alan. When I heard the news about Alan, I was working out of town in AZ and the mail girl at the company gave me the news. At first, I thought she was pulling an April fool’s joke and then I saw her tears. That night, alone in a motel I watched the news on every channel I could get. I made phone calls and reminisced alone and with whoever I talked with on the phone. It was unreal and sometimes it still seems that way.

After reading my response, David suggested I do an article on the subject of where and when memories and use my response as part of it. So, David and all others, here it is.

A lot of us seem to remember what we were doing and where we were when certain events have happened during our life. Sometimes, when those events are talked about, it takes us on a trip to another time and another place in our life. We close our eyes and go back to those times and then our thoughts and feelings take us on a journey. Many times, they may take us on a happy journey, other times it is a sad journey, but above all, they tend to make us realize how fortunate we are to be able to recall those special happy or sad memories.

Living in the Orlando area during the sixties and early seventies was an exciting time. I lived only about 55 miles from Cape Canaveral and 60 miles from Daytona. We not only were close to the new NASCAR world but were close to the great new space center of NASA. That time in my life left me with some great memories, both happy and sad.

I was a high school student and remember the time the teachers took us students outside to stand near the lake next to the school and having us look up into the sky toward the East and a bit to the South so we might possibly catch a glimpse of the trail of smoke that Freedom 7 would be leaving as America sent our first man up into space from the Cape Canaveral launch pad. The sky was very blue and clear and a lot of us felt as we did see the smoke trail, but thinking back, I often wonder if we did see it or just thought and hoped we did. It was a very exciting day and I remember the teachers gave us free rein the rest of the day to talk together and express our thoughts and feelings about what had just happened and how it would affect our future. I always smile when I think about that time until…

A few years later the smile turned to tears. I was riding in a car with 3 friends. We were stopped for a red light on Hwy 17-92 in Winter Park, FL just a few miles from Orlando. A news flash came over the radio and we heard how 3 of our astronauts at Cape Kennedy had perished as a flash fire swept through the command module during a rehearsal test. We canceled our plans to eat at the Steak and Shake we were headed for and decided not to go to the movies as planned after we heard the news. We just wanted to talk and share our feelings and then go home to be with our families. This was a sad time during my life. Note: Cape Canaveral had been re-named Cape Kennedy right after President Kennedy was shot, but then was later changed back to Cape Canaveral again.

Photo from Spokesman-Review

Down that same memory lane, I recall a 19-year-old me sitting on the floor of a day care room watching television while 11 children, aged 2 through 5 were napping on their mats after lunch. All of a sudden, a news flash broke into the regular programming to tell us President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. My feelings of shock and sadness still come back at times when I remember that day. America changed after that day for a lot of us. It seemed the whole world had changed.

Another memory comes from the racing world. While doing landscaping on a new home we had just bought in OR, I took a break and wanted to find out what was going on at Daytona. I went inside and turned on the television and that is when I learned that Neil Bonnett had died during a practice crash. Neil was one of my favorites back then. It was a very sad time for many fans and of course, his dear friend Dale Sr. I immersed myself in yard work to keep from thinking and crying. This type of escape is used by many people, I believe. That is because we think if we stay busy enough, we won’t have time to be sad and cry.

February 18, 2001 the Daytona 500 had the saddest ending ever. A most beloved driver, Dale Earnhardt Sr. was involved in a last lap crash. Like many fans, I watched the race on television. Normally, because of our time zone in the West, after a race I set about doing other things right after it is over. However, this day I sat with my eyes glued to the television waiting to hear anything I could about the accident. I had an ominous feeling that all was not well. Waiting seemed to go on and on, and on. Finally, after much time, Mike Helton came out and gave us the sad news about the loss of Dale. A state of shock set in and for weeks, I absorbed all news I could about Dale. For many of us, nothing has seemed right in the world of NASCAR since that day.

Then came September 11, 2001. While we watched in disbelief, our country was attacked by terrorists. We all suffered during and after that time. Each of us probably remembers where we were and what we were doing when we heard that news. I want to share what most of us think and feel when we hear the song Alan Jackson wrote and sang. I selected one with lyrics so you can read along and think of how important life really is.

As I listen and read the lyrics, I can relate to the following words: “In a crowded room, did you feel alone?” It is almost normal to feel that way when so much sadness abounds.

There are many more memories of this type that I recall. I remember what I was doing and where I was when we lost Fireball Roberts, when Richard Petty got his 200th win, when President Reagan started the Daytona 500 from Air Force One, and I even remember where I was and when I had my first experience using a telephone. There are so many others that are just too numerous to talk about here.

When all is said and done, life has good and bad memories and at times it may not seem so, but good usually prevails. And that is why I am often reminded of how Garth Brooks sang “Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t know the way it all would end, the way it all would go. Our lives are better left to chance. I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.” Those words are very profound.

And now, I would like to ask each of you reading this to share your memories of where you were and what you were doing during certain events that happened during your life and how they touched your life. Each of us has something that just lingers and lingers. Please feel free to share them, racing or otherwise, in our comment section. Your remarks will rekindle memories for others and remember, it is always satisfying to share thoughts and feelings with others. I only ask you to keep it clean and no bashing, please.

Note: My articles are based solely on my thoughts and observations. Normally I do not offer statistics, although at times I may reference what different broadcasters, among others, have said or alluded to.

Thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments.

Vivian Simons

(Editor’s note: This story is published with the permission from the author! It was originally published on Race Fans Forever. More of Vivian’s articles can be found; (Here)!

Cover Photo from Racing Archive


  1. Thank you Vivian for the pictures you painted from your memories. I recall the exact spot where I turned on the radio as I left work & heard a song after song tribute to Elvis interspersed with news of his passing. And I was in New York City with family when I saw front page photos of our 2nd man in space, Gus Grissom being pulled from the water after losing his capsule. You are so right about being able to recall surroundings when we learned of important events. Thanks again.

    1. Dave, thank you for your special words. I think of all the times and things we have shared and those memories fit right in with the ones we write about. I miss Elvis, Dale, Neil, all the astronauts, the dances and songs. I was just thinking about a drive in movie I used to go to as a teenager. They had a little building with snack bar, a juke box and dance area. What fun and what memories!
      Thank you again, My Friend

  2. What a great read. I was here in Orlando,living all the events you just described. I watched Alan Shepherd, Gus Grissom, John Glenn et al. The Cape is 50 miles due east of my home so I have always had a perfect view. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Patricia, thank you for sharing. The Cape is a special place and I must say that I used to envy people living near there and what they could see. You know, I did get to see a night lift off once and it was amazing!
    I appreciate your comments and hope to see more after other articles. We do have some good ones on here. Berra is very gracious about posting some of our old ones.
    Thank you.

  4. This was very moving to read, Vivian. Thanks for helping us to push aside all the fluff that dominates life and remember when something happened that cut to the core. In my case, the first driver death that really affected me was Joe Weatherly, because he had become my first favorite driver. The most personal, though, was a young sprint car driver named Billy Kimmel, who was the first driver I ever saw killed at a race. That was 16+ years ago, and it hit harder than hearing something on the radio or even watching it on TV. A young guy living the dream, and then the realization when the track crews got to his car that this was serious.
    I’ll add a very different memory, which will mark its 62nd anniversary this October. I have this memory of standing in front of my next-door neighbor’s house with three or four other neighborhood kids, talking about the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was one of two 13-year-olds, the youngest in the group; the oldest was 15, maybe 16. We talked about having heard that there might be a nuclear war because of the situation, and it might happen within the next 24 hours. We wondered if our lives were about to end. Fortunately, calmer heads prevailed.
    As you get older, brushes with mortality can happen during any doctor visit, and somehow it’s hard to be as emotionally invested in sports or other figures as we were in those circumstances you mentioned. Still, we hope we have a little emotional innocence left, because it makes life more precious.
    In its own way, your article gave one of those moments, for which I’m grateful. Happy Easter, Vivian, and keep writing.

    1. Frank, I loved your comments. You brought up a few things we all older people lived through. I was a 19 year old, working my first job after graduating high school and still in Florida during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was very scary for us in Florida at that time. BTW, I sat in the Joe Weatherly Grandstands one year at Daytona.
      As you indicated, hopefully we do have a little emotional innocence left and life is precious. Every day when I awake, I still say a short prayer and try to look forward to the beauty that surrounds us still. There are still great memories to be made and passed down for posterity, regardless of what they are about.
      Thank you again and keep smiling, thinking, dreaming and hoping.

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