Drag Illustrated Issue 180, January / February 2023 - Page 66


On the Road with Van Abernethy

It ’ s hard to believe it ’ s the week of New Year ’ s 2023 as I sit down to write this column , and I ’ m indeed scrambling to gather some fresh column material , as my travels are somewhat limited during the doldrums of winter . I did take an early-December trip to Florida ’ s Immokalee Regional Raceway , and I was reminded of the first time I ever traveled to this unique Gulf Coast town .

That first trip is something I ’ ll never forget as long as I live , so I hope you don ’ t mind me revisiting this remarkable little slice of culture shock I experienced roughly a decade ago . Back then , IHRA kicked off their Division 2 meets in Immokalee , and as always , I was eager to visit new places . I had no idea what Immokalee , Florida , was like , nor did I realize that it was a largely non-English speaking community .
On my first morning in Immokalee , I arose very early , before sunrise , in fact , so that I could drive into town and experience the local breakfast offerings . I was driving the original , wildly colorful DI Dodge Sprinter van back then , and I pulled up alongside a man on the street and began to communicate my desire for some breakfast . He grinned great big and replied , “ No English .”
I figured this unexpected language barrier was merely an isolated case , so I drove on a little further and posed the same question to another gentleman out on an earlymorning walk , only to receive the same two-word response .
At last , I spotted a young Mexican woman about to enter a building streetside , so I pulled up alongside and quickly cut to the chase : “ Speak English ?” I inquired . She nodded “ yes ” as she glanced over the curiouslooking vehicle I was driving . After explaining my now-dire need for a hot meal , she replied , “ Breakfast is here ,” as she pointed to the very building she was about to enter .
I parked the vehicle and quickly followed her inside . From the kitchen , a little lady emerged , barely 5 feet tall , with dough-covered hands . “ I ’ ll have to translate for you ,” says the helpful young woman . I thanked her sincerely and asked her to please order some bacon , eggs , and coffee .
With a completely straight face , she then asked me if I wanted “ one taco or two ?” This kinda threw me for a loop . “ Two , of course !” was my reply , not at all sure how tacos fit into the breakfast conversation . The young woman communicated my order to the little lady from the kitchen , then she bid me a good day and dashed out the door .
I was the only soul in the place , so I took a seat at a tiny wooden table just as the early-morning sun began to pierce through the window . A few minutes later , the little lady from the kitchen returned with bacon and eggs , along with the unexpected inclusion of refried beans , all
wrapped up in a pair of soft taco shells . She also provided me with a dab of hot sauce on the side . This unique arrangement would become my go-to breakfast anytime I was in Immokalee , and I returned many times in the following years .
I eventually learned the name of the little lady from the kitchen . It was Eva , and I assumed she owned the place . She eventually realized
that those breakfast tacos were “ my usual ”... and she even remembered that I drank my coffee black . Somehow , we got past the language barrier just enough for her to understand that I was wild about those tacos , although we weren ’ t able to talk about anything else .
There was also an early-morning customer named Juan , who would often arrive at about the same time as me . Juan spoke very good English , and we actually made fast friends , and he always sat at the table beside mine . One morning over breakfast , I gave him a pocket knife as a gift , and it thrilled him to no end .
Amazingly , this would be the last time I ever saw him because a few months later , 2020 arrived and changed life as we knew it . Eva ’ s restaurant shut down at the start of the pandemic and never reopened . I haven ’ t seen her or Juan since and likely never will .
Each time I visit Immokalee , I always drive by the restaurant , disappointed to see that it ’ s still closed and the windows shuttered . Inside that little block building , I ’ ve got some great memories and also cultivated an unlikely friendship with a pair of locals that I would have most certainly never met had it not been for this drag racing gig .
Over the last decade in my return trips to Immokalee , I also discovered a weekend flea market that ’ s something of a melting pot of culture and commerce . I always try to pick up some sort of trinket there , but the ultimate score was the time I ran across a vintage Kodak film duffle bag .
More recently , the nearby Everglades has become one of my most favorite places on Earth and , without question , my most exciting fishing spot .
Immokalee Regional Raceway continues to be one of the coolest , most unique tracks I ’ ve ever laid eyes on , as airplanes from the neighboring airport are constantly taking off and landing directly beside the dragstrip . One time during an IHRA meet , track owner Ralph Hester even arranged a flyover during the National Anthem , which was executed with NFL Super Bowl-caliber perfection !
I ’ ve talked to so many racers over the years who share my affinity for Immokalee ’ s dragstrip . Meeting Juan and Eva and discovering that tacos could be eaten for breakfast was just a fantastic bonus ! DI
66 | Drag Illustrated | DragIllustrated . com Issue 180