By Brandon Reed
Posted in Columns 1/22/10
There are people who move into and around your life that always have a significant impact on you.
Kenny Turk is one of those people for me. A life long race fan, Kenny was an influence on my life for the better part of 20 years.
A native of Oakwood, Georgia, Kenny attended his first race at the old Jefco Speedway (now Gresham Motorsports Park) in 1968 when the Grand National series (now Sprint Cup) made their first stop there. Cale Yarborough won that race. He was there again one year later when the late Bobby Isaac took the win.
He and my mother met when they both worked for Cummins Engine Company in Flowery Branch, Georgia. There was a definite chemistry between the two of them. From there on, Kenny was part of the family.
There are many stories I can tell you about Kenny. Like when I took him to Richard Petty’s final race, which was run at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1992. I had gotten the tickets at the last minute, and offered the second one to Kenny.
Kenny was a long time Dale Earnhardt fan, and when Earnhardt tagged the backstretch wall, Kenny showed his displeasure by punching the cooler. He hurt his hand, but wouldn’t complain about it, knowing I would rib him endlessly.
And I did.
Then there was the time we were at an ARCA race at Atlanta one cold March Friday. Actually, cold doesn’t even begin to describe it. The temperature never got above freezing. As I sat there, watching Tim Steele dominate the race, I suddenly realized two things. First, it was spitting snow all around me. Second, Kenny had disappeared.
About 15 minutes later, he reappeared. At first, he wouldn’t admit where he had been. He had snuck off to the restroom to drink a beer because it was too cold to drink it sitting in the stands.
Now, how cold is it when it’s too cold for a beer? I never let him live that one down either.
But my favorite story involving Kenny and racing goes back 14 years to a trip to Daytona for Speedweeks in 1996.
I got the call about a week before. Kenny offered to fly me down, had the tickets for the Twin 125 qualifying races at Daytona International Speedway, which would set the starting field for that year’s Daytona 500, and he had accommodations all squared away. We would be staying on the houseboat of a friend of his roommate. Everything would be covered. All I had to do was be the designated driver, which wasn’t a problem for me, as I don’t drink anyway.
Needless to say I jumped at the chance.
There were four of us going. Along with Kenny and myself there was our friend Jack and Kenny’s roommate Richard.
We flew down the day before the qualifying races. I had never flown before, and wasn’t very enthusiastic about it. Kenny, of course, tried to calm my nerves by first telling me about the report he had just read on a major plane crash out west, and then by offering me the window seat.
Needless to say I declined and kept a death grip on the armrests of my seat. A flight attendant came around asking if we wanted drinks, and I declined. Kenny ordered a Bloody Mary. It should be noted that this was a 9 a.m. flight. You can see why I was the designated driver.
As we finally got airborne, the flight attendant tried to be friendly by offering me a complimentary package of “Grandma’s Old Fashioned Molasses Cookies”. I politely declined.
However, by the fifth time the flight attendant offered me the same package of cookies, I wasn’t as polite as I had been the first time.
“Ma’am, I don’t want the damn cookies,” I said firmly.
Seizing the opportunity, Kenny reached over and took the cookies, saying “I believe I’ll have me them cookies, ma’am.” Shooting a glance and a grin at me, he added, “I bet they’re tasty.”
He proceeded to eat the cookies, chasing them with liberal sips of Bloody Mary. When he finished, he looked over at me, smacked his lips and said, “You know, them cookies tasted like crap!”
When we landed safely in Jacksonville, we secured our Rent-a-Wreck and headed for our accommodations.
As I mentioned before, we were staying on the houseboat of a friend of Richard’s, who supposedly was a former vice president of a major corporation. I only ever caught the name “Foster”, and that’s still all that I know him by.
We arrived at the marina and made our way out to Foster’s slip. As we walked up to the boat, I spotted something that made my hair stand on end.
There, face down and spread eagled on the deck, was an older gentleman. Richard looked surprised. Kenny and I looked at each other worriedly. Jack had his camera out, snapping pictures.
“For God’s sake, Jack, put the camera away,” I whispered. I was worried that we had stumbled upon some sort of underworld hit.
Richard stepped over onto the boat and helped Foster to his feet. It turned out that Foster was one of the biggest drunks in greater Jacksonville area. He had been on an all night bender, which had turned into an all-morning bender, which had come to a sudden and unconscious end with a face plant on the deck.
I think you can see where some of this story is going, can’t you?
After securing Foster in his bunk, we grabbed a quick bite of lunch and decided to head into Daytona. I drove south on A1A and before long found myself on the strip.
Daytona during Speedweeks is something to see. Traffic and people are everywhere. But I drove solidly through town, heading towards the speedway. We were already having a good time.
I was in a particularly tight bit of traffic and paying close attention to the road when suddenly I heard the three passenger windows go down. All three of my passengers were leaning out their windows, hooting and hollering.
“Yeah, baby!” I heard Kenny yell. “I looooove you!” Similar yells were coming from Richard. Jack was taking photos.
I figured the person they were yelling at had to be the most beautiful woman in all of Daytona Beach. There was no other conceivable reason for them to be yelling like that. With that in mind, I took my eyes off the road to steal a glance.
There was no beautiful woman. The person they were hooting at turned out to the guy delivering Miller Lite to a package store. He did, however, have on shorts, along with a pretty perplexed look on his face.
“I looove you!” Kenny yelled again.
“I’m surrounded by morons,” I said when they had all rolled their windows back up.
The next memorable moment came that night as we all tried to get some sleep aboard Foster’s boat.
Kenny, as the senior member of the group, took the front bunk. Jack and I were about halfway back. He was in the top bunk while I took the lower one. Richard was sleeping out on the deck with Foster.
All was well until about 2 a.m., when we were all awakened by the following sound:
“Zeus! Zeus, stay!” came a very slurred, very intoxicated sounding voice.
From the bunk above me, I heard Jack say “Brandon, who is Zeus?”
“Zeus is a Greek god, Jack,” I replied. “Go back to sleep.”
It was quiet again for a moment, and then Jack asked, “Brandon, why is Foster talking to a Greek god?”
“Jack, Foster has at least three bottles of bourbon in him,” I said. “We’re lucky he’s not talking to the light fixtures. Go back to sleep!”
Unbeknownst to any of us, Foster had actually gotten up about an hour before and, through some miracle, driven to his house to fetch his dog, a Labrador retriever named ‘Zeus’.
But the disturbances weren’t over.
Just as I was about to drift back to sleep, I heard another cry come from the deck.
“Myrna Louise, you’ve got to take care of me,” Foster yelled in a slurred, drunken voice.
From the bunk above me, I heard Jack’s voice say “Brandon, who…”
“I don’t know, Jack,” I almost yelled. “For God’s sake, go back to sleep!”
Fortunately, we made it through that virtually sleepless night and the next day, drove out way to the World’s Center of Speed, Daytona International Speedway.
Before we went in, Kenny did something I had hardly ever seen him do. He was very fair skinned and had always come up with some excuse to not put on suntan lotion when my mom had asked him to.
But this time, he did it. As we stood in the parking lot, he slathered it on.
He looked at me and said “You make sure you tell your mom I did this.” We both laughed and made our way into the track. Our seats were just off of the fourth turn at the entrance to pit road.
What a show! In the first qualifier, Brett Bodine crashed on the backstretch, clipping Bobby Labonte’s car in the process. Labonte’s Chevy flipped over, finally coming to rest upright after a lazy tumble. Nobody was injured.
Dale Earnhardt went on to hold off Sterling Marlin for the win. I looked over to congratulate Kenny on his man winning only to find an empty seat. I had no clue where he had gone to, although I knew it was far too warm to have to sneak to the bathroom to drink a beer.
In the second race, Ernie Irvin completed his comeback from being injured by holding off a hard charging Ken Schrader for the win. The only scary moment in that one came in front of my seat when Rusty Wallace took an unexpected, high speed pass down pit road after being cut off in traffic. He made the move to avoid a crash. It worked, as the race went wire to wire without a caution.
It was near the end of this race that Kenny made his return. He had been down in the medical center. Apparently it had been so long since he had applied suntan lotion (if he had ever used it) that he had forgotten that you’re not supposed to put it near your eyes.
He had begun to sweat pretty good under the hot Florida sun, and the lotion had gotten into his eyes. His eyes started stinging so badly that he ended up going to the track infirmary to have them washed out. When he returned, he was looking at me from behind a cheap pair of sunglasses he had bought to try to help his eyes a little.
“That suntan lotion sucks, man,” he said. “I’m never using that crap again.”
We flew back to Atlanta on the red eye (I gave Kenny hell about that) early the next morning. I was a lot calmer about this trip, and even took the window seat.
Maybe it was the time of the morning, but the flight attendants were far less friendly on this trip. They didn’t even talk to us, much less offer beverages of some sort.
Twenty minutes in, Kenny looked at me and said, “Damn, I was hoping for a Bloody Mary.” I just shook my head.
Forty minutes in, he looked around for the flight attendants again, who had disappeared shortly after take off.
“Hell,” he said, “I’d just be happy if I could have one of those packs of crappy cookies.” We looked at each other and had a good laugh.
That’s one of my favorite memories, and it became even more important last week.
On January 12, 2010, Kenny Turk passed away after a valiant fight with a persistent illness. He was 57 years of age.
Everybody grieves in his or her own way. Mine is by writing and telling stories.
Kenny was a special person, and I couldn’t have cared more for him if he was my flesh and blood.
We love you, Kenny. We miss you.
Brandon Reed is the editor and publisher of Georgia Racing History.com.
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