Inez Ballantine couldn't sit down. So she stood the whole time.
On the concrete walkway behind a 12-foot high wire fence, she stood for two hours watching her man race.
Life at 190 miles per hour soon can be death, and Inez Ballantine, who would say she wasn't afraid, was afraid.
She always sits down at Beltsville and Old Dominion. Those are the auto racing bullrings around Washington, the short tracks where Bob Ballantine has raced for 29 years, raced well enough to be track champion. He was 14 when his daddy, Bill, built the track at Dorsey and built Bobby a '34 Ford flathead to run on the dirt. At Dorsey, Inez Ballantine sits down.
"Going 190 bothered me before I saw Bob on the track here," she said this afternoon. Her husband raced in four decades at 80 and 90 mph. Today, for the first time, he raced at twice the speed. "But he looked so good out there, and the car looked so good," Inez Ballantine said. "So I wasn't afraid."
"The car's handling perfect," said Chuck Pearce, an old buddy working in Ballantine's pit crew. "Bob looked like a veteran out there. That car looked like it was going around on a string."
"Like driving down the highway," Inez Ballantine said.
"Bob had come from 29th place to seventh," Pearce said. "Up to the time it happened, we had a good shot at winning -- or least finishing in the top five."
Inez Ballantine stood at the track fence in turn No. 4 all day. Like all racing wives, she watched one car only. Today's late model sportsman race is the most dangerous event of 500 Week at Daytona International Speedway. A year or two older than the Daytona 500 cars, most of the sportsman cars are built for a bullring, not for a 2 1/2 mile tri-oval. Most of the drives know nothing of the critical aerodynamics of driving 190 mph.
The winds of Daytona can be killing. Johnny Rutherford, three times a winner of the Indianapolis 500, said Thursday, "You have to make hairtrigger decisions here -- before the wind makes them for you. The cars are always trying to fly on you." A small piece of driver error, say one click of the steering wheel too far, can be made a disaster if a day's evil wind compounds the aerodynamic problems of driving 190 mph.
Standing in turn No. 4 all day, Inez Ballantine felt the wind against her face.
Gusts of 20 mph came directly across the track.
"I saw the whole thing, and I think it was the wind that did it," said Hoss Kagle, Ballantine's partner in a masonary contracting business at Ellicott City, Md. "He came out of (no.) 4 a little high maybe, too near the wall, and maybe overcorrected. The wind picked him right up then. The back end came off the ground and came over the top."
"I saw him flip once," said Inez Ballantine, "and then I started running to get to him."
Ballantine's bright red Pontiac, a $30,000 machine, rolled over and over at 190 mph, sheet metal spraying off it.
Then it bounced off the asphalt 10 feet high, where it spun crazily, twisting in the wind. Centrifugal force ripped Ballantine's helmet off his head. One arm flapped out the open side window, as if Ballantine had drawn a bull gone mad.
Only the car's rollcage stayed in a piece. Everything else was bent and broken. The tires slayed out cartoon-like as the car crashed down the last time. It took a long time -- maybe 10 minutes, though it is hard to tell because the time slows when a driver's life is at question -- it took forever before a wrecker crew forced open Ballantine's car to allow medical attendants to pull out the driver.
"I saw Bob at the track hospital," Inez Ballantine said. "He knew me. He was talking. But he said he had pain in his chest. 'and he had bruises on his head. We're waiting now to find out what all is wrong."
She was sitting now.
She sat in a private waiting room at the emergency room of Halifax Hospital, a mile from turn No. 4. She waited to hear what the doctors said about the pain in his chest.
Because somebody asked, she said she hadn't been afraid once she saw her man drive this monster track.
"That's cause she drives faster than him." Chuck Pearce said. It had been quiet in the room, no one saying anything for an hour, and now he wanted to see Inez Ballantine smile.
"I'm a pilot," she said lifting her chin some. "A Cessna Hawk X-P, that's what I fly. I got my pilot's license last August, and Bob bought me the airplane for my birthday in September." She was pale. She was polite. She didn't smile.
It took a long time to get Ballantine out of his wrecked car, and not only because the car was a scrunched-up mess.
"Bob was fightin' them," Inez Ballantine said. "They told me he kept saying, 'I want to keep on racing, I want to get back on the track."
Somebody showed her pictures of the wrecked car.
"Not much left," she said.
Ballantine never was hurt this badly before. Once at Beltsville, he got it upside down and spent five days in a hospital just getting over bruises. Nothing broken, though.
"Just loves racing," the wife said of her husband. "It's part of him."
What will he do now?
The wife looked at the pictures.
"Build another one."
Would she ask him to give it up?
She turned to the man who asked the question. She looked at him a second. She blinked. "No." Pause. "That's what he likes to do."
David Pearson likes to do it, too. Pearson is a 46-year-old millionaire grandfather who has won every important race in major league stock car racing. In with the bullring jockeys today, driving 190 mph in traffic made dangerous by inexperience and second-line equipment, David Pearson won the Daytona 300 Late Model Sportsman race. For winning Pearson earned $15,115; for running 89 laps and finishing 27th, Ballantine earned $1,040.
"I dunno," Pearson said when asked why he did it when he so clearly didn't need to do it." "Why not?"
At 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon, doctors came to Inez Ballantine and said her husband had broken his third rib and bruised a lung. He was admitted to intensive care.
"They're afraid the lung will start bleeding," the wife said in a small, frightened voice.