February 1st, 2003
.. happened to be our friend Tommy Farruggio's birthday. Jackie and I had been invited to (very) closed testing of the C5R at Sebring, even though we had to promise to keep the date secret from everyone we knew. So we got this wonderful idea that maybe Tommy could come along. Knowing Tommy's love of racing we figured this might be an okay way to spend the day. After approving this with our friend and getting the okay to bring guests, the plan went into action. First, about three weeks before as I was talking to Tommy, Jackie asked to speak to Mary about a tea room in Tampa. This was a real request but she also asked Mary to call the next day from work. She did and we relayed our idea; she replied, "I can't think of a better way for Tommy to spend his birthday!" She then became part of the conspiracy.
Next I composed an invitation on the computer and sent via snail mail. If you know us, then you know it wasn't your usual invite.
We were asking him to go on a "special mystery rally", designed just for him. Tommy, we were told, thought it was a joke; Mary tried to persuade him it was for real. Of course after a few phone calls we finally convinced him that it was for real. Tommy's not knowing where we were going for two weeks was slowly driving him crazy.
During the two weeks preceding this "rally" there was an NCRS show in Orlando that we attended. Jackie tried to get a few of our Tampa Bay Vette friends to rib Tommy about "Tommy Day". It was driving him nuts. I don't want to tell you how many conversations led to the "where are we going" syndrome. Mary was very good at keeping a secret.
Finally "Tommy Day" arrived. We told Tommy and Mary to be at our home at 8:30 AM. Of course we went through the many emails and phone calls as to what to wear, how long of a drive, etc. etc. The answer was "Corvette casual" and we would get there anywhere between one and four hours. He and Mary arrived at our community gate house promptly at 8:30; the guard handed him an envelope and instructed him to pull forward and read the instructions. We had him do a little rally around our community before arriving at our house. In front, a sign greeted him:
Jackie made breakfast for us while Tommy asked question upon question about where we were going. We just kept saying that we hoped it wouldn't be a disappointment and apologized in advance if we ruined his birthday. Mary was so good about joining in and continued to keep the secret. One thing we learned throughout this whole charade was that Tommy really hates not knowing what's going on. We really enjoyed teasing him. It made it even more fun. After enjoying a delicious breakfast, which even stayed within our Suzanne Somers program, the next part of the rally began. We handed him a radio, tuned it to the official Tommy Day channel, and we were off. From here on out it was follow the leader. We took him on some real nice back Florida roads and did some wonderful cleaning out of the carbon built up in our C5s. We were talking on and off by radios and Tommy still didn't know where he was headed. We continued this for about an hour or so and ended up outside Sebring. Well the radio comes to life and he asks us if we are teasing him, bringing him by the track. Our answer is "you'll just have to wait and see." We pulled in through the main gate and into the closed paddock area. The cat was out of the bag now! With the windows down and the roar of the C5R in the background, and the signing of the liability waiver, he knew that THIS was the surprise! We parked and the smile on his face was ear-to-ear. But knowing us, we said, "If this isn't what you want to do we can just leave!"
Tommy was almost speechless -- and we've never heard him speechless. Right next to where we parked were drivers Oliver Gavin and Kelly Collins. They warmly greeted us and we introduced them to Mary and Tommy were made. Tommy and I stayed for a while and chatted with them while Mary and Jackie went to say hello to other members of the team and drop off some goodies that we had brought with us. I asked the two drivers to please sign the hood of our 53CE. I asked Tommy if he would like them to sign his. His eyes lit up and he reached for the hood release. Everyone on the team was, as always, very gracious and friendly. They welcomed our friends like they were old friends of theirs.
The #4 car was in the pits having some type of rear-end trouble (hemorrhoids, perhaps?), while the #3 car was roaring around the track testing the present batch of GoodYears. Andy Pilgrim was in the pits and walked over to say "Hi!" He had met Tommy before and they had a good time reliving old times and talking racing. One-by-one we talked to each of the drivers and the members of the team. I tried to get all the drivers to sign the cars and even had Doug Fehan and Gary Pratt place their John Hancock's on the auto hoods. All the while, unbeknownst to the Birthday Boy, I was getting a card signed by everyone. Later that evening I presented the card to him and he was absolutely amazed that it was done right under his nose. Then he informed all that it would be framed and hung on his wall.
The day was spent watching the teams work and following the cars around the track. Robin Pratt was her usual friendly self and was more than happy to allow us into all the workings of the race team. I have to tell you that being one of the very few outsiders invited to the testing made for a real one-on-one relationship with all the team members. I'm talking about being able to hear just how the cars were performing and seeing just how much work goes into these runs. The Goodyear trailer was alongside and the little carts were going back and forth all day carrying this compound and that. We never knew that there was so much tire changing in one day.
As usual the brownies and cookies were a hit with all the crew and Jackie received many congratulations from everyone on her culinary skills. We were invited to have lunch with the team, but since there was a problem with the #4 car, and that team ate later and we had previously decided to go into town and have lunch then head for home. After thanking all of the team, and dragging Tommy kicking and screaming from the track, off we went. Jackie & I felt that the perfect place to end the festivities would be at The Wild Turkey in Avon Park. This is a rather small bar with long picnic tables and nothing but bar service. As we pulled into the gravel parking lot and saw the camouflage paint job, we could see that our guests were not too sure of our choice of dining establishments. We had great food and Tommy was still smiling and talking about his day.
Alas, from there it was on the road again and the trip home. After a quick stop to put on long pants, Jackie & I were invited to the Farruggio's home for a really special and delicious birthday dinner where we got to meet Mary's parents. The Vodka Pasta was to die for and I even cheated a little on our program for the chance to try it. Both Jackie & I hope this was a day that Tommy will remember for a long time to come.
I really have to THANK the Pratt-Miller organization, Corvette Racing, and Doug Fehan for allowing not only Jackie & me to be a part of this day, but graciously agreeing to let us bring Tommy & Mary along. They all wished Tommy a Happy Birthday and were as hospitable as they could be. This is but one example of the many reasons the Corvette Racing team is loved and respected by a huge following. There are other race teams and many other cars, but I know of no one who has the type of fans that Corvette does. This car not only is a great driving automobile, but is an entire lifestyle, And we are happy and proud to be a part of it.
To read Tommy's thoughts about the day, click HERE!
As we float through life, we notice that friends, like ships, pass near and far away from each other. This does not mean that they do not still effect each other. Tommy, thanks for being there on February 22 & 23 2006 for me and all the other help you gave me to help me get through the last few weeks. Who knows; look for more additions in the future.