Out of the blue, I received a phone call at my home in March 2007. On the other end of the line was Pete, asking me what I thought about writing a weekly auto racing column for the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. I was blown away.
I had first met Pete in 2003 at Thunder Road, during my days as the Junkyard Warrior pit steward/Airborne Raceway press guy/occasional WDEV Radio color guy. I didn't know him very well, but my first lasting memory of him was forged on August 28 of that year, as he and I were on the air for WDEV's "The Road Show," discussing the night's upcoming events, and playing a short-but-varied list of country music songs. During a commercial break, Tracie Bellerose lived through her now infamous flip over the Turn 3 fence and into the parking lot. Pete and I looked at each other in disbelief, then tried to figure out how to tell the listeners what had happened.
To be honest, that's where the memory ends. We said something about the wreck, but I can't remember how big or little of a deal we made out of it. But I remember that on that day, we got to know each other a lot better. And apparently over the next four years, Pete got to know me and trust me well enough to ask me to write for him and the Times Argus, the second-largest newspaper in the state, and by far the leader in stock car racing print media coverage for Vermont.
I accepted the offer immediately, and penned a ridiculously over-the-top piece called "Drop The Green" about how exciting the upcoming race season was going to be. The following week - after Pete reeled in his new student - was a bit more readable. "Just a suggestion, but try to cut down on the hyperbole... just a bit," he said in a fatherly way. His advice then, and right up through my final days as the media guy at ACT/Thunder Road last November, was invaluable to me. The man made me a much, much better writer, and was certainly the most pleasant critic I had. "Drop The Green" lasted only three or four weeks with me at the helm before I moved to ACT. Pete wrote the column for the rest of the next two racing seasons, along with covering the Thunder Road events each week, writing about ACT news, and telling both sides of the story in an honest, thorough, and informative manner not seen in Vermont newspapers for several years.
But, to me, there was so much more than Pete being just a writer. On average, I would guess that Pete called the ACT office twice a day, meaning some days he wouldn't call at all, but some days he'd call five or six times, usually in a row. His voice was instantly recognizable, which might be the first thing I noticed about him when we first met: Very clear, very articulate, and a certain kindness not heard in 99% of people's voices.
"Hey Justin, it's Pete. Quick question, where is Bunker Hodgdon from?"
"Okie-doke, thank you."
Four minutes later... "Hello?"
"Me again. Brian Hoar... three or four ACT championships?"
"Ah, thanks. I'll try not to call again unless it's really important."
Another three minutes pass by... "Hello?"
"Hiiii.... How long ago did..."
At least one day a week for two years, Pete and I would banter back and forth like that. And we both loved it. We'd joke with each other, he'd ask how my personal life was going with my son, we talked about his ambitions with going back to college at Johnson, things that good friends talk about with each other. And he genuinely cared. His wit was dry, sometimes a little intellectually challenging, but always cutting edge and hilarious. I laughed with Pete a lot on the phone, and sitting next to him in the spotters' section during heat races at the beginning of a Thunder Road event was, without fail, guaranteed to produce something funny.
Pete passed away on Monday while working out at a gym in Stowe. He was only 51.
I am so selfishly sorry that he is gone, and I can not do justice in a silly blog post how much the man meant to me, or to the thousands of Central Vermont racing fans (or basketball fans, or fans of any other sport that he covered) that read his work religiously, and I'm proud to be able to call him a good friend. I hadn't spoken with him since a few days before leaving my post at ACT, but I was really looking forward to giving him a call and seeing what he thought of this little Vermont Motorsports Magazine creation I've built. I've had a lot of inspiration to get this thing off the ground, but the lessons I learned from Pete, and the races I looked forward to eventually share the press box with him at, served as more drive for me to get this rolling than maybe any other one person or idea. I was already preparing myself for his comments, whether positive or not, and hoping to bench-race a little bit with him this month as we get ready to drop the green on the racing season.
I'm glad that I got to know him before the checkers fell. Godspeed, my friend, you are already missed.
--Justin St. Louis, March 3, 2009