Of Memories and Patriots Day PDF Print E-mail
Written by Colin Brassington (aka Brash)   
Monday, 24 April 2017 10:30

I live in Australia. That means, amongst other things, that I have no real concept of war or terror in my country. Yes Darwin was bombed during WWII and yes the television networks have waged a war on good taste, but neither of these really represent what it's like to experience war at home. Similarly we've not been subject to many major terror attacks. Sure there have been ideas hatched and schemes plotted, but they tend to get foiled before they really get the chance to cause mass disruption. Whether this says more about our law enforcement agencies or the attempted perpetrators remains to be seen.

4Wide zMax

A couple years ago when I was travelling through the US and A on holiday there was a terror attack in Boston, Massachusetts. I was nowhere near there at the time, but knew people who were. It was worrying. We didn't know who was responsible, and other than the very vague something blew up at the Boston Marathon we didn't even really know what happened.

Film makers often say that they want to make the viewer "feel" things. Stir emotions and provoke thoughts. Things like that. It's how they justify what they do. Of course the money certainly helps, but you don't tell people that, you talk about the philosophy and the reason and all that other wanky shit.

Recently I saw the movie Patriots Day starring Mark Wahlberg. This movie claims to tell the story of the 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon, and the efforts of the local law enforcement personnel as they chased the perpetrators. It follows my knowledge of the story close enough to consider it the story, though I'm sure it has been Hollywooded to make it more interesting or emotional. Now this isn't going to be a movie review, I'll just say that I really enjoyed it. But it sparked memories of my own experience at that time, so for the fourth anniversary of the attacks and subsequent arrest I thought I'd share that part of my story.
Mark Wahlberg in Patriots Day. Image from Boston Globe coverage of movie of same title

I was in a rented VW Jetta, with Florida plates, cruising through upstate New York. While flipping stations on the radio I heard about an explosion in Boston. Not much more was known at this stage. A day or so later, having been to Niagara Falls and walked across the bridge to Canada, I was headed to Vermont - home to Ben and Jerry's ice cream - that's not just a redundant fact, I went for a tour of the factory. It was cool (literally...see what I did there…?) and I was headed to some random town with a big enough airport that I could catch a flight to Charlotte, North Carolina.

I remember being in the hotel gym, doing the best impersonation of a fit person I could manage while on holiday, and I stopped for a moment - I don't remember what activity I had been doing but it doesn't seem impportant - and I glanced at the tv screen. They were doing a story on the marathon bombing I’d heard about a day or so ago. People had been killed, injured and were missing. But the detail that sticks in my mind from that night was that they named the suspects. And showed the pictures of them. While I had spent much of the time between hearing about the bombing and that particular moment had been spent inside the car, they said that it was presumed the suspects were on the run, and I consciously made the effort to have a think about it, had I seen anybody meeting that description in the last couple of days?

Satisfied that I could not assist with the investigation further at this time, I went back to my workout. Though it wasn't long before I decided that I'd done enough of that so went looking for a bar. After all, local craft beer seemed a much better idea than a post workout shake.

A couple more days pass. I caught my flight to Charlotte, rented a car, watched baseball, visited the NASCAR Hall of Fame and made the acquaintance of a lovely local girl and taught her and her friend how Australians drink tequila. I did burnouts in my V8 Ford rental car, I ate at local diners and I went to the race track. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and still talk of my days as a spectator at zMax Dragway in Charlotte fondly. I also speak of my own near-death experience as Robert Height launched his Funny Car body into the crowd and it landed close to me. Well it landed on the same side as me. Anyway...

4-Wide hight 2013
Robert Height launched a Funny Car body into the crowd during qualifying. Pic used without permission from CompetitionPlus.com, that's why I left the watermark on it

Sunday morning dawned a wonderful clear and sunny day. I went down to breakfast at the hotel, and sat at a table with a random bloke who was wearing a John Force t shirt. Yesterday I had introduced myself as Colin from Australia before adding 'Judging by your t shirt we are going to the same place today'. He was from somewhere or other, and we discussed the racing at our local tracks, and what we'd seen yesterday. A short time later we were joined by a lady who saw our clothing and decided we were going the same place she would be and introduced herself. Waffles and coffee finished, we parted ways, with them heading out later while I made a quick run to the track. I wanted to be there early to make the Track Walk.

The Track Walk is something that the NHRA do on race day at their national events, and it's something that really slams home their fan access policy. Early in the day, well before the first passes of the day, a few hundred die hard fans met in the staging lanes under the tower. NHRA announcer Alan Reinhardt invited us out to the bleach box burnout area where he introduced a handful of pro racers who would join us. During this I bumped into National Dragster editor Phil Burgess, and told him how much I enjoyed his Dragster Insider columns.

Yeah. Selfies with random strangers next to the 4-Wide Christmas Tree!

Reinhardt told us we had lane choice for this run (walk?) and we set off. Many used the opportunity to get a selfie with the 4-Wide Christmas tree, while others used the opportunity to test the levels of traction available. Many shoes were lost, presumably by those who don't spend a lot of time walking on drag strips. The group of spectators and racers made their way up the 1320ft ribbon of concrete, eventually leaving via the finish line gate and wandering back down the return road. I grabbed a drink and headed to my grandstand seat - it was still early but I was keen to see the opening ceremony.

They opened with the introductions, the Grand Marshall gave a brief speech and somebody sang the Star Spangled Banner. While this was happening somebody flew in on a parachute dragging a massive American flag behind him, landing on the return road to a deafening applause.

About this time, I noticed that there was a helicopter hovering just behind the control tower. I dismissed this as being merely odd, not too dissimilar to my bag getting checked for firearms or explosives but not alcohol, and refocused attention on the man with the microphone. I forget his name, pretty sure it wasn't Reinhardt. He thanks everyone for coming one last time, then pauses before changing his tone.


'Flags around the country have been at half mast all week in a show of remembrance and solidarity for those effected by the terrible bombing in the city of Boston' he said, being careful to not say anything too controversial.

'However,' he paused again before continuing (seriously, is this something they teach at school over there because everybody seems to do it) 'Thanks to the American public they caught those responsible,' he said before pausing once more to regain his composure. He changed posture at this point, from semi-formal man behind a lectern giving a speech type of stance to one similar to that Donald Trump uses when he is berating the media.

'They caught the guys responsible, and we've been told...' he starts to yell 'TO RAISE THE FLAGS BACK TO FULL HEIGHT!' The crowd gets on their feet, deafening cheers for their fellow Americans and for the efforts of Boston law enforcement. But picture this:

Remember that helicopter I mentioned earlier, just hovering behind the control tower? Well when the master of ceremonies started to yell in excitement about raising the flags back up to full height, that chopper - I'd like to think it was a USAF Apache but I'm really not sure - rose up dragging another massive United States flag behind it.

The retired army man sitting in front of me, whom I'd met the day before was weeping with happiness. In fact there was hardly a dry eye in the stands. Even I started to blink really hard, getting caught up in the raw emotion of what I just witnessed and been a part of. The applause and cheering continued, while race day officials used this moment to give the track one last rub down before the first of the days' competitors towed out.

The racing began with Top Fuel elimination round 1 and the chopper carrying the flag disappeared from sight. Racing continued and after the presentations I headed back to my rental car, and off to the airport where I hopped on the last domestic flight before I headed home.

To many this display was probably nothing special. Even to me at the time while awesome, and I certainly embraced the whole America, fuck yeah type of attitude that it brought on, it was just an opening ceremony at a sporting event. Just like so many that I've seen both before and after it.

And so it was, until a few years later. At the end of the movie, they show the archive footage of the heroes of the Boston investigation being introduced at a baseball game, and brief interviews with some of them. And it was at this point of the movie, that I mentioned my memory of this to my lovely yet-to-be-given-a-stupid-nickname girlfriend. And while I've spoken of this ceremony since I came home, never in this level of detail until now. I did saw a lot of really awesome things on that trip, some that I e written about in these pages, and some I haven't. All are memories that I come back to when prompted by seeing or hearing something.

So there you go, something a little different this month. A motorsport themed story but not a story about motorsport. Let me know what you think in the comments. Or don't, I won't lose any sleep over it.


Terrible photo of chopper towing flag by me, as if you couldn't tell



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