On my way home from the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal in 2004, I pulled into a gas station outside of London, Ontario. There were a few people inside, including the clerk. Something made me take notice of three gentlemen who were about to leave. As I got a better look at the older man in the middle, time seemed to slow down. I said to myself, 'It can't be...man alive...that's not him, is it?!' The three men were almost at the exit and, in a matter of seconds, they'd be gone.
I cleared my throat and said, “Frank – sorry about Ralf.” Ralf Schumacher had been disqualified at the big race in Montreal. At that point, all three men stopped and turned around. “Were you at the race?” one of them asked.
“Yes I was, and I had the best time ever, thank you.” As they left, I asked the girl at the counter if she had any idea who they were.
“Nope,” she said.
“That's Sir Frank Williams, owner of the Williams racing team!” I informed her. Then it occurred to me that I was missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “I'll be right back!” I yelled, and headed for my car.
After a frantic search, I came up with my old Minolta and raced to the back of the lot, while checking for the green 'ready' light on my camera.
I was expecting to see a limo, a semi-truck with a Williams logo or maybe even a helicopter, but there was nothing of the kind. Then, out of the corner of my eye, maybe 15 feet away, I spotted Sir Frank's driver closing the trunk of a Ford Taurus – and there was Frank, sitting in the passenger seat with his door open! Fighting off a heart attack, I made my way over to the car. “Could I get a photo with Sir Frank, please?” I squeaked. “No problem,” his assistant said.
I leaned in and said, “Sir Frank, it's an honour to meet you.” I reached down and shook his hand. As I looked back up, his driver snapped the shot. I was elated about meeting one of my favourite F1 personalities of all time. Even the slightly embarrassing fact that I'd been wearing my red Ferrari shirt while having my photo taken with the owner of the Williams team couldn't put a dampener on my mood.
At the next race at Indianapolis, I passed along the photo to a member of the Williams team with a note kindly asking Sir Frank to autograph it (and apologising for the unfortunate choice of jersey).
Months went by and then one day a large envelope arrived at my door, addressed from Grove, England. I carefully opened it and there it was – the picture of me and Sir Frank. It was signed 'F.W.' Words can't describe the way I felt that day – and every time I look at that photograph.
I was so inspired, I wrote a diary-like account of my F1 weekend and, on a whim, sent it off to Sir Frank. He wrote back, saying he had really enjoyed the story. He even sent along an invitation to a meet-and-greet event at Indy for the next F1 season. Some rich guys are rich in spirit, too!
By Donald Lugers (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Originally published in Our Canada