Dad always knew how to have a good time and create lasting memories. Though growing up under a Marine’s watch didn’t always make for the fondest of memories. The early wake-up calls, the no bathroom break long trips, and the constant threat that “if you don’t clean your room, I will” (and what he meant was he was going to put all of your belongings in a big trash bag), are ingrained in us, but are not the majority of memories kept.
When Chris Steiner passed away in December 2004, he created even more memories. Though the holiday season is still tough, and the Elvis Christmas Album will never sound the same again, he decided long before he died that sadness was not how we were to remember him. Always the consummate host, loving a party, or a vacation more than most, Dad decided that when he goes, the party will continue. His request of having his ashes scattered is not an original one, but the places he choose to scatter them were. The Caribbean Sea, Treasure Island, Florida, and the Finish Line at Monmouth Park Race Track in New Jersey. When visiting Dad’s resting places, we have little choice but to have a good time. And now every year, toward the end of the Racing season, we meet at Monmouth Park to raise money for the American Cancer Society. A cause and a party Dad could really get behind.
Chris was born in New York City, and raised in New Jersey. Like a lot of kids, he spent his summers at the shore, and could not stand the prospect of starting a new school year. Self admittedly, a horrible student, Chris excelled in other areas. He ran track and played baseball with the best of them, winning countless awards for his running, and making it to a semi-professional baseball league. After High School, he joined the Marines from 1960-63, worked construction with his father, and eventually made it to Bell Atlantic, then AT&T, where he would work until retirement in the late 90’s. He became a Dad in the early 70’s, learned to deal with teenagers in the late 80’s, and was ecstatic when the last of his three kids finished college in 2001.
Retirement was a major goal of Dad’s. He had dreams of moving to Florida, traveling, and playing golf. He and Anne moved to Florida and his dreams had come true. Cruising the Caribbean, playing golf weekly, and playing with their dog, Max, daily was pure contentment. His leisure life, however, was cut short by lung cancer when he was just 63 years old.
He did, however, make the most of those years. Not one to sleep in on the weekends, he said many times, “if I can get up for them (AT&T) at 5am, then I can do it for me.” He never could understand the idea of sleeping in, especially on track day. For a number of years during the summer, Dad would take a week off from work, and we would go on a number of day trips. We would always make it to Great Adventure, Manasquan Beach, the Catskill Game Farm, and Monmouth Park.
Growing up, I never realized that most race tracks were an “adults only” kind of place. It never felt like that in the picnic area, or in the tiny arcade inside, or when I was placing my own bets through my Dad. I found out later that he would take the bets himself, and not place them with the track. I guess he didn’t think much of the selections I made, plus I was probably betting with his money anyway. That was funny about Dad, he would study and study all the racing forms, make a calculated bet, and lose, while my Mom would pick a horse based entirely on its name, color of the jockey’s silks, or especially long odds, and typically come out a winner. It drove him crazy. Like a lot of things on Track Day did.
The day started with a 7am wake-up call for the kids, even though the racing doesn’t start until 1pm. The gates don’t even open until 11am; so why did we have to be there at 9am? We had to get the prized picnic tables nearest to the track itself, the betting windows, and the bathrooms. We would all have a cooler, or an end of one, or maybe a bag filled with Pringles and pretzels, lined up at the gate, second in line, and that too would bother Dad. When the gates opened it was a race, the Guages (who always joined us on these adventures), and the Steiners both trying to secure the tables. Upon reaching the picnic area, and planting a cooler on a table, not unlike planting a flag after a military victory or landing on the moon, we could finally sit and relax for a bit. Crack open a couple of cold ones; for Dad it was a Budweiser, for me it was a Pathmark’s own brand cream soda, for Chris, a black cherry, and Kim a cola.
Sometimes we would win. Sometimes lose. Win or Lose, the party always carried on, whether to Steak and Ale or home for an impromptu BBQ.
It was heaven.
This barely scratches the surface of Track Day.
Every family carries their own inside jokes, and stories. There are some things, however, that carry over family to family. Fathers have a tendency to leave wonderful and sometimes strange impressions on their children. For instance: my siblings and I all know the words to the Elvis Christmas album, that the Marine Corp Birthday is November 10th, Charlie Chan movies are great to nap to, that “I was just resting my eyes” is not an excuse as to why you can change the channel; that some weeks are Bud, and some are Rheingold, we never found out why, but we suspect it was financial. Some shirts just don’t go out of style, and if you wear cords long enough, they will come back into style. Knee-football and McDonalds is the best way to spend halftime of the Giants game, and that studying every horse in a given race is possibly a huge waste of time. And if I ever feel that some of these things are odd, I just remember my friend, whose father told him that the smokestacks on the New Jersey Turnpike are really just cloud makers. Which, I guess, they are.
Everyone seems to have been touched by cancer, we know we’re not alone. So, take a moment to read through the tributes on our home page and share some of your memories of a loved one. See if you can top the Bud-Rheingold Mystery.