A Lost Opportunity
Rochester, N.Y., June 8 — I first "met" Earl Ma on Usenet in the original rasi boards when open wheel racing was one big happy family. Initially, it was easy to remember Earl as simply that crazy Hawaiian racing fanatic. However, his love for racing and intelligence on the subject was evident from the start. His passion for the history of the sport and willingness to help anyone on anything made Earl a friend of everyone, whether you met him in person or not. He gained the respect of all.
Earl wrote numerous articles on racing, past and present. He took garbs of photos. It was Earl that single handedly got Danny Ongais into the Hawaiian Sports Hall of Fame, getting them to look beyond their stick and ball tunnel vision. It was Earl who lobbied hard for the induction of Jerry Unser for his racing exploits on the Islands while stationed there in the Navy.
He befriended many racing drivers, and convinced Memo Gidley to open up a karting clinic in Hawaii. He built and freely gave models of the cars his favorite drivers drove.
As open wheel racing split apart and Usenet became an example of the worst of the Internet, Earl never played sides. He was a member of message boards dedicated to all the types of racing as well as a contributor to various history message boards and email lists. To him, racing was racing. It didn't matter if it was the IRL, CART, Champ Car, ALMS, Grand Am, NASCAR, F1, or whatever other string of letters a racing series calls itself. Indy, Long Beach, Montreal, Daytona, Sebring. A venue was a venue to Earl.
As the rest of us fought over the perceived rights and wrongs of "our" side, lobbing virtual bombs at each other with vitriolic writing that would embarrass our mothers, Earl set an example that many of us were unable or unwilling to step up to.
While some of us were busy talking about the decline of Indy and making fun of a driver like Phil Giebler creating an actual bumping situation, Earl was busy being overjoyed that his friend Phil made the Indy 500. While some were busy finding all the wrongs in this whole messy American open wheel disaster, Earl was enjoying the last thrills of his life.
When did all our perspectives go wrong?
I always wanted to meet Earl. I was horrified to learn over a month ago that the cancer returned, and after it attacked his spine, he woke up one day unable to walk. That didn't stop him, and he still planned, and successfully completed, a trip to the Indy 500, wheelchair and all.
I was even more upset to hear he had been in Long Beach before this decline in his health. I never knew that as I too was in Long Beach for the first time. It rips me up inside knowing that I lost an opportunity to meet him. (I hope the friends and acquaintances I see at Cleveland and Toronto don't mind if I give them an extra hug.)
Earl talked about also making it out to Watkins Glen for the Six Hours. Despite how I hoped I would get a second chance to meet him, deep inside I knew that was not going to happen. Though I thought he wouldn't make it because of the difficulty of embarking on another long trip, it turned out worse than that.
Earl died in his sleep yesterday morning.
Tomorrow, I will be at Watkins Glen. First, I will be working in the booth for the International Motor Racing Research Center, a place that Earl would have felt right at home. Then, I will watch the Grand Am race. I won't care about whether the ALMS is better than the Grand Am or not. I won't care whether the Grand Am is good or bad for sports car racing. I won't care that the track is owned by ISC and Grand Am is owned by NASCAR. I won't care that I will be subjected to posters for the upcoming IRL race in the cradle of American road racing.
The only thing that will be on my mind is the one person who should be there more than anyone else will not be.
Then, when I get home, I will turn on the TV and actually watch the IRL race from Texas. On Sunday, I will watch the F1 race from Montreal followed by the Champ Car race in Portland.
I don't care what anyone else thinks, including my Champ Car brethren. I don't care what I think. I will do what Earl Ma would have wanted -- simply enjoy the racing, no matter what the racing is.
Copyright © 2007 by Russell Jaslow and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.