Todd Veney would never, ever write about himself. He'd rather, as he so eloquently stated, "jump off the Empire State building."
So I guess I'm going to have to. Sorry Todd. Hey, this isn't going to be any easier for me.
This year's final issue of National DRAGSTER will be Todd's last on the staff, a career that spanned nearly 20 years of writing about what he loved most. He's been offered a position with Mike Ashley's Funny Car team that may ultimately offer him the chance to live his dream of piloting a nitro Funny Car as the team test driver and who knows what else beyond that. In typical Todd fashion, he jumped at the chance, because for as long as I have known him, driving has been his dream, and he's proven to me and to his peers over and over that he'll do whatever it takes to get there.
I watched him go deeply into personal debt to buy his first Alcohol Funny Car, following in the steps of his legendary father. I saw him sacrifice a lot to follow that dream – personal comfort, sleep, relationships, sweat, and blood. He left a comfortable job here with us in California and worked for us on a contract basis out of Indianapolis, burning the midnight oil on both jobs to keep the income coming almost as fast as he could pour it into his racecar, because that was the only thing that kept it running. That and a determination to prove to himself and to everyone else that he could do it, and do it well.
I've never really been a racer and although I've known many of them, no one ever gave me the insight into what it's really like than Todd has over the years. He's shared intimate details about the hardships and the long hours, not in a woe-is-me kind of way but more like, "Dude, you can't believe how hard this can be." He's shared horror stories about mistakes on the track, in the pits, and on the way home from the track that have provided immense hurdles and caused huge financial setbacks, but he always found a way to bounce back. He looked after his parts -- that's what you do when you don't have a trailer full of spares –- and never brought a crappy car to the line just to be there. His dad, who taught him better and insisted on as much even if it meant his son had to pull all-nighters, made sure of that. He earned the admiration of his peers for doing it the hard way, and paying his dues, either in his own car or as a hired gun.
Even though it was Todd's car, Ken made Todd earn every run. The equation was simple: Ken would bring the engine and the brains; Todd had to bring everything else, and Todd, pleased and proud to be racing with his dad, did whatever it took and earned the trust and hard-won respect of his dad, a great, great man who does not suffer fools lightly.
I hired Todd back in the summer of 1988. We'd known each for a while through his family -- Ken and precious mom Rona – and Todd won the job on the basis of a story he submitted earlier that year about the time he had spent working at Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School in Gainesville. Quite appropriately, the headline was a quote from his story: "The only thing I really want to do."
"I have always pictured myself as a drag racer," he wrote. "Driving a race car is the only thing I've ever wanted to do. I first reached this conclusion as a 4-year-old in 1969 when the dragsters were still called slingshots and the blocks were made of cast iron. But, 19 years later, I'm not much closer to being a full-time driver."
Ironically, the photos that accompanied the story were shot by another wanna-be Funny Car racer who ended up working his way up the chain like Todd is doing and ultimately made The Show: Whit Bazemore.
Todd went to work for Hawley in 1986 to learn the ropes. He had hitchhiked to Gainesville to ask for a job at the school, paid $25 a week to a local family who let him sleep on their couch, and, while suiting up other students and working on their cars for their rides to glory, he pinched pennies every paycheck to pay for his own tuition. He ran 7.50 at 196 mph in the class' detuned Alcohol Dragsters, the third quickest pass in school history at the time, (and also surpassed his previous best of 20.65 in a Vega station wagon). And the hook was firmly set.
He was 22 at the time, a recent graduate of the University of Akron (go Zips!) with a degree in business and organizational communication, when he came to work at DRAGSTER, probably the next best thing to actually racing, and, even though I'm sure they weren't his motives, it put him in even closer contact with the world of racers he so wanted to join and people got to know him as we did: an admittedly brash but loveable hard worker.
Even while his dreams and his days were consumed in driving, I can’t say that it ever interfered with what he did for me. Todd is one of the best writers I've ever known or had the chance to work with. He never, ever took the easy way out of a story, opting for a hackneyed phrase that he knew would suffice and please the majority of the people. He always worked extra hard for that lead that would hook a reader, that twist of the phrase that would catch your eyes and make you want to reread it just for the pure poetry of it, or the little parenthetical things he'd wedge into stories that made them that much more interesting, accurate, or thought provoking, even if he knew that might get read past by the majority. There was a time when we had to wrest overdue copy from his hands after watching him pore over every word just to make sure it was the absolutely perfect word for the sentence.
Todd was just as good at the track. I knew that he had good reactions from the many times we staged intra-staff reaction time challenges (named, in his honor, The Brash Nationals) with portable Christmas Trees, but he actually transferred that to the track. Rare was the time he got left on in his Alcohol Funny Car, and we all watched proudly, and silently rooted for him when he reached three national event final rounds only to get turned away each time. He won his first Wally, at a Lucas event at the National Trail, and we couldn’t have been happier for him.
He cuts a dashing figure in the staging lanes, tall and lean in his all-black fire suit, carrying a leave-me-be face and a prowling demeanor unconsciously absorbed over a lifetime of worship of our shared idol, Don Prudhomme.
When Hawley's school offered a chance for journalists to compete head-to-head in its Super Comp dragsters against John Force in 1994, Todd was our natural pick, and he ended up beating the champ. I'll never forget what Force wrote on a poster he autographed for Todd: "See you in the glue." He knew Todd's burning desire, and that quite possibly they'd end up in "the glue" -– the burnout box -– side by side one day.
Todd finished up his work for us with a fine story on Cory McClenathan in issue 47 and another great one on Mark Faul in Issue 48. I asked him if he wanted to pen the year's final staff-authored "The Write Lane" column to say farewell and recall his days here. I knew what the answer would be (right) but I tried.
T.V. loved writing about drag racing -– that is, unless it involved himself, though many times I begged him to share his story with us -- but he loves drag racing. Now he's going to get a chance to do more of that, and although we'll miss him –- and I know our readers will miss him, too -– he's still chasing his dream, and we're proud of him. I know he'll be a success (unless he has to write about himself). See you in the glue, friend.