“We grow too soon old and too late smart”
A Tribute to our Friend “Firesuit Phil” Pofahl
The heading is an old German saying that was taught in many Wisconsin households around the time Phil was growing up in Kenosha and seems to be an appropriate lesson to share. This is not meant to infer that Phil wasn’t smart. On the contrary, you would be hard pressed to find any of his racing buddies that hadn’t gone to the old master for sound advice. The quote is more in reference to racers and fans who, at first glance, thought Firesuit Phil was just an eccentric old coot. OK, he was that but, to those who knew him well, he was so much more.
The first impression one got of the Pofahl team was the car trailer plastered with events and dates depicting all the visits Phil’s ’46 Ford made to the winners circle, and there were several. If you were brave enough to look inside you would be treated to a drag racing museum on wheels and if you took enough time you would see photos, plaques, articles and awards dating back to 1958 when the infamous coupe was purchased.
Another one-of-a-kind vision fans might witness while passing Firesuit’s compound was the unique way Phil positioned himself while working on his prized Oldsmobile engine. It’s not often one sees a pair of spindly legs coming out from inside a fender well. There was Phil with his amply fortified Midwestern midsection resting comfortably on a valve cover, one arm across the radiator and his nose stuck in an injection tube. It takes a special kind of mind to come up with a way to avoid the sun by using the hood as an umbrella.
No story of the flying 46 would be complete without talking about “the paint job”. For reasons known only to Phil, that cracked and chipped green paint was an endless source of pride. Most close-ups photos of the car show a sign proclaiming “The paint on this car is 40+ years old”. Everyone ribbed Phil about this at one time or another and there was even a pit skit done about carbon dating the aging pigments but he took it all in stride. Here was a guy who was very comfortable marching to the beat of his own drum.
No place was that more evident than when he was staging and getting ready to race. Here comes Phil, being towed to the line by his son or daughter decked out in the team colors. Up goes the hood for a dramatic starting procedure and then the positioning in the water box. Was he an eccentric old coot or period showman? Hey, that was just Phil being Phil. And, if you ever thought he was all show and no go, just ask anyone who ran against him about his skill when cutting a light. At 70 years young this guy could still peddle the metal with the best of them. When Phil got behind the wheel it was the 60’s once again.
If you think NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt was an intimidator, we would always pity the “new guy” Phil wanted to test with his phony scowl that made you think he could crack walnuts with his eye lids. It was always amazing how that same old weathered face could light up the entire pit area when the scowl gave way to his winning smile.
So, what have we learned from the passing of our dear old friend, other than the fact we miss him, his family crew and his showmanship? If we are paying attention we will realize that it is never too early to start observing and cherishing the uniqueness of our friends. Let none of us grow too soon old and too late smart.
Our thoughts and thanks will often go out to Phil, for the sharing, caring and the indelible memories he left with us. There is a vision of him, comfortable in his new surroundings that is of great comfort to the racing pals left behind. We can envision him at that quarter mile in the great beyond arranging priority pit space for his friends once their last flag drops. We hope to see him again…, just not too soon. We have a pretty full venue to complete and a lot more lessons to learn. We sure do miss that old coot.