As I drove on, my eyes filled with tears and my breathing became labored as the emotions rose within me. I could scarcely believe I was heading out to the shop to attend a memorial service for my friend, Bob Olthoff. I topped one of the hills and, seeing the long straight away going down the other side and back up the next little hill, I just kept the hammer down....letting the power kick me in the ass..."I MISS YOU, BOB!" I screamed at the top of my lungs as I roared up the next hill. I didn't care who heard me...although I doubt anyone but Bob could have above all the ruckus I was making...!
I was second, or third to arrive at the shop...I know behind Jerry Witt, because I recognized his car as I pulled into the lot. Just for the helluvit, I nailed the throttle again as I pulled in and squealed the rears again....just felt like doing it again. I circled around and stopped just next to the flag poles. As usual both the American and South African flags were gently flapping in the breeze. I shut down, and just sat there in #770 thinking about Bob...trying to dry my eyes before I got out. I heard someone behind me...but, whoever it was must have sensed I needed to be alone for a minute and they retreated.
When I went in to the showroom, Dennis walked around the corner from the lounge area and stuck out his hand. I grabbed it and hugged him close. He mumbled something, and all I could say was how sorry I was about all this. He thanked me for coming, and I told him I wouldn't have missed this for anything. Just then, Baby walked around the corner of the lounge area and when I saw her, I just wailed all over again. I hugged her as tight as I could...and told her how sorry I was. We held on to each other for several moments.
Back in the shop Dennis, Jack, and Dave, along with other attendees had opened the front roll-up door, and were just starting to roll cars out into the bright morning sunlight. I helped as I could. Dennis was asking folks if they would drive this car, or that car....Ron Frohs was asked to drive a titanium coupe, and he jumped at the chance...who could blame him?
Hal Copple arrived, Frank Generazio, Dave Leland, Bill Austin, others arrived....too many to recall each and every one (I'm sorry....). Mike and Pat Stenhouse drove in, looking like they were in a west coast low rider. A rear shock mount had sheared a bolt on the way in, and they had to limp into the shop....but, they were there. In true Olthoff fashion, this problem was rectified before 2:00 that afternoon!
Others continued to arrive, right up until we left for Tyatira Presbyterian Church, just down the road east of the shop. As we left the shop drive and turned east to go up the hill in front of the shop, many of us let the ponies bellow again... just our way of letting Bob know we were there.
Tyatira Presbyterian was a perfect setting....up in the trees, with a long drive coming in and circling around in front. Ron Frohs drove the coupe up onto the lawn right in front of the church doors... all by itself....standing alone in recognition and as tribute to Bob's life. It seemed fitting, and looked like it belonged there! As other MkIII's came in they were backed into place along the drive, up in the lawn...some 38 cars, all looking beautiful, red, blue, black, silver, yellow, some with stripes, some without....some with Olthoff designed double wide roll bars, some with double hoops, some with single hoops....but each and every one driven lovingly into place by proud, yet mournful owners. It was truly a fitting tribute to the wonderful talent and skills Bob possessed.
Several of us gathered in small groups outside around the cars and up and down the drive. Pictures of the lineup were snapped from every angle. When it came time to go in for the service, many of seemed to hang around outside, not wanting to go in. No one wanted to be there for the reason we were there. It hardly seemed possible.
The services were nice... I might have liked for each of us just to get up and say something about how Bob had touched our lives, maybe relate a story about Bob and how he had helped each and every one of us in that chapel. A wonderful picture of Bob in his denim red and grey Superformance cap looked out over the congregation...Bob smiling that wonderful smile he had...the one I had grown to like so much..and if you knew Bob, you knew that smile. There was scarcely a vacant spot in any of the pews, and I'd guess there were 125-150 in attendance. Dennis read a poem that Cheryl had found, about celebrating life and not dwelling in the sadness of death. When he had finished, Dennis said how he knew his Dad would have liked to have seen everyone here, and how he would have not liked to see everyone with ties on... Well, that's all I needed....Ron Frohs and I immediately reached up and pulled the knots out of our ties and yanked them off...! Dennis looked over at us and smiled. I wish everyone wearing a tie in the chapel had taken theirs off, too. But...it was Dennis' words that he closed with that really struck a chord with me. As he closed, he said "He was a good guy, and I will miss him."
More truer and simpler words could not have been spoken. "He was a good guy, and I will miss him." That little phrase speaks volumes about Bob's character and about the mark he left on us all.
As the services closed, we were directed out the door and down a ramp into the church parlor room where we greeted Bob's family. We then went into the fellowship hall where food had been laid out. Along the wall as you walked in, Dennis had laid out several tables of photos and articles from Bob's life and storied racing career. Although I knew Bob had an incredible racing career, I had no idea he was so written about. There were many photos of Bob behind the wheel of this race car or that race car. Even one photo of Bob standing with Carroll Shelby...! THAT was one for the record books...to say the least. There were also photos of Bob as a child and as a young man. There were even three of four photos of Bob and Baby at their wedding...what a handsome couple they made! Both looked like movie stars...really, no kidding! We all remarked about how beautiful Baby looked in her wedding pictures and what a great looking couple they made.
As the afternoon got on, many of us straggled back to the shop where Dennis had iced down some 'adult beverages' for us to enjoy as we talked about Bob. Ron Frohs and I decided to take a run down the 'test track' that Bob and Dennis use when they need to drive a customer's car for a short distance for evaluation. Leaving the church, we made a left down White Road and followed the route that looped back south of the shop, along through the rural North Carolina countryside....the same route that we knew Bob had driven so many times. As we drove, I thought of Bob once again...and I ripped down the road even faster...apexed the left...and nailed it again. 80...90...100...105...110....side pipes roaring in tribute to my friend.
When we arrived back at the shop, several folks had already began to change out of their 'church clothes' and mill around. Mike Stenhouse's car was on the lift and Jack was pulling off the right rear to examine the broken shock mount. Dennis and he were discussing the repair as I walked up. I listened for a moment, and just started to wander about the shop...looking at 'things'....things I knew Bob had placed there. I stepped into his clean room, where I had seen Bob working so many times when I would visit. There was his unusual tool box, with all his tools right where he had left them...many shiny with wear from his expert touch. It may seem strange to some, but again my eyes welled up with tears as I touched the handle of Bob's 3/8" ratchet drive knowing he had last touched it and place it right back there where I was now touching it. I stepped back, almost reverently as I realized how humbled I was to be there. As I looked about the room, I found a notepad with some figures written on it in Bob's handwriting..."Came in with .017" or something along those lines. I again was overcome with grief..."How could a man so alive, so full of vitality and life, and so talented and well liked be taken from us?" I thought.
I continued to look around in the little clean room. I finally decided I had to leave something in that little room that Bob had spent so many hours in...something from me. I picked up a pen - possibly the same one Bob had used to write on this notepad - and just to the right of the bench on the wall I wrote, "I'll miss you, Bob. God Bless. Freddie #770" Dennis came in a little later and I told him I had written something on the wall and I hoped he didn't mind. He actually thanked me. As we talked, Dennis said he had planned to keep using Bob's tools when they needed to in the shop. He said when they used one, they would say "Thanks, Dad..." and get on down the road.
I think Bob would want it that way.
I loaded #770 back into the trailer for the long ride home around 1:45 PM, and Ron Frohs and I headed out about 2::25 for the long drive back to Memphis. Before we left we bid good bye to many good friends. And to Baby and Dennis. We vowed to return for the June track event at Lowe's Motor Speedway. We may even crack that bottle of J&B that I had bought for Bob....but just forgot to take it with me in February. Bob loved J&B Scotch
Like Dylan Thomas once wrote, "Do not go quietly into the night!"...and I do not plan to. If you've read it this far, you know how much I thought of Bob Olthoff and how much I will miss him, and I thank you for taking the time to read this much. I just wanted the chance to tell you all how Bob's passing affected me. We're all much richer for his knowledge, talent, and friendship...and we're all much poorer for his passing.
...Drive On, Bob! Life's short and the roads are long....I'll miss you. May God hold you in the palm of his hand forever and ever and know that we all loved you.