My Dad and Downforce
My dad did not play board games. The only gaming I truly remember him ever really doing was dominoes on occasion and maybe a game of Uno. My mom tells me that when they were dating he frequently attempted to get her to agree to games of strip Uno, which I don't believe is a legitimate version. She also tells me that he was a notorious cheater. Not on her, but at the game. That's probably why she never agreed to engage in such a lewd way to play. At least, as far as I know.
Saturday night would not find him around a table playing games, but, as often as possible, in the grand stands at auto races or, better yet, in the pit. Cars were his obsession, even if that word seems incredibly too strong. Not only did he enjoy watching the cars zooming around a track, the drivers battling for position- making risky, gutsy moves that resulted in glory or collisions, he wanted to be the captain of a souped-up, four-wheeled vessel.
I don't remember where it came from, but somehow my dad bought a dirt track car. He put the money into it that he was able, custom-building the dash board instrument cluster and applying his iconic orange splatter paint that stained a rich, black coat. Racing is an expensive hobby where it is often the driver with the deepest pockets and not the greatest talent that wins. My dad could spare little money, but was happy just to be competing.
While he was racing, he tried to get me to go to every race. Usually I went with him, and there is something special about the sounds and smells in the pit-area. The roar of the engines being tuned up- the exhaust belching out the strong smell of high octane fuel rising up and mixing in with the aromas of summer nights and funnel cakes. And while I enjoyed watching when it was my dad's turn to circle the track, I spent the majority of the time wandering with a friend- the son of my dad's friend.
My dad's racing "career" didn't last long. I don't know exactly why, but I can speculate. We weren't rich. As a family, we were pretty average- maybe even a little below. Racing doesn't just put a hole in your pocket, it puts a blackhole in your pocket. It's a money hemorrhage. But I don't think it was just the money. It was the sweet burden of four active children. When I think of the extra curricular activities that I was in from first grade through graduation of high school, the list is quite extensive: baseball, football, cub scouts, Odyssey of the Mind, orchestra, band, and dance. And I was just one kid- not even his busiest.
As I've grown older and a father myself, I've realized that my dad's greatest characteristic was his willingness to put his interests on hold in order to foster those of his children. And the more I think about it, doing so wasn't even a sacrifice for him. He attended every game he could- even reworking his schedule at work to do so, every concert, every recital, every competition.
He didn't just go as a passive spectator, either. He was at camping trips. He volunteered to help with the marching band-loading and unloading the front ensemble pieces. Regularly he was tasked with moving the wheeled timpani cart where our 400+ pound timpanist would attempt to get a free ride. My dad was such a great guy, that the two of them sometimes shared a diet Dr. Pepper.
He took my brother to Pokemon competitions. I don't think there was a single name he could correctly pronounce and he made fun of the little pocket monsters regularly, but he was always excited to take my brother and was proud of him in his successes with the game.
He took us to baseball games, and zoos, and fairs, and parks, and on and on and on. He gladly set down his interests so that he could participate in those of his children.
That's why I KNOW he would have played board games with me.
He might have complained the whole time. He might not have understood the rules completely, but he would have played, and he would have enjoyed the time together.
That's why when my father passed away from complications of COVID-19 on April 19, 2020, I felt that I had to purchase a board game in his honor.
I wanted to buy a game that would fuse our interests. I wanted it to be a game that he might even be excited to try. It had to be a racing game.
After a little bit of research, I decided it had to be Downforce.
Downforce is a game where it's not necessarily the owner of the car that crosses the finish line first that wins, it's the one who invests in himself, but also in others that ends up with gaming glory. I can't think of a better representation of my dad.
He was a man that would gladly share his love of cars with those he cared about, but would just as gladly push others forward in their own loves. In essence, my dad lived how Downforce plays.
Every time I play, I think about my dad. When I play it later today on the first anniversary of his passing, I'll be doing so in his honor. Spending time with my family and sharing my father's interests with my own children is the greatest homage to a great man that I can think of.
I'm sure he would agree.