By Jim Taylor, Editor MACS ACtion Magazine
Her boss described her as “the best car guy we have around here”—high praise when your mutual employer is BMW North America. Linda Gronlund was a personal friend and I met her in the late 1980s through our sports car club. She became the chief flag marshal for our regional club, and she was my boss when I went racing.
I got to know her fairly well on race weekends. She was organized to a fault, she expected her briefing meetings to start on time – and you to be there or else! – and she expected her safety workers to know their jobs and perform them well. Nobody wanted to get the radio call to “please see Linda at the tower during lunch.” That was a lightly coded message that your station had somehow messed up and you were soon to be counseled on the matter.
Linda demanded a lot of herself and expected as much from you. She never stopped achieving. She held at least two degrees, one in marine chemistry and one in law, and each of her personal interests required detailed knowledge and personal application. She was a SCUBA diver, a New York state emergency medical technician (EMT) and held a variety of belts in martial arts.
She became skilled and knowledgeable about anything that took her interest, and she had the car chops as well. It was not uncommon to find her in the paddock at the end of the day chatting with a race team about their fuel problem or the dynamics of a suspension upgrade. We all respected both her knowledge and career path, first with Volvo and then with BMW.
But it wasn’t until I started at MACS in 2003 that I realized the greater standing Linda had in our industry. She had been deeply involved in convincing Volvo to begin an early phase-out of R-12 and strongly supported the changeover to R-134a at BMW. She served as an organizer of SAE’s Mobile Air Conditioning Climate Protection Partnership, and assisted Ward Atkinson as a technical director in organizing the early Phoenix symposiums on alternate refrigerants.
In early 2001, Linda began dating Joe DeLuca, another member of our club. They had known each other for years and worked together at various events. Joe finally asked her out. In a way, they suited each other, both intense and involved. But Joe was a different kind of car guy, quiet, reserved and laid-back to Linda’s almost larger than life persona.
Joe was immersed in cars for a long time. His competition career began when he rallied in a Sunbeam Alpine, and then moved on to Pro Rally (high speed, closed roads) in a Mazda RX-2. He later discovered he could field an on-track racing car for less money than preparing the rally car and competed in several club classes before winning a regional championship.
Joe loved the methodical work of problem solving on cars or otherwise. He held a degree in mathematics and worked at Pfizer Consumer Healthcare as a Systems Business Consultant. Joe once told an interviewer, “I am a business systems specialist. I started out as a programmer here, worked my way up to senior analyst, project leader, project manager. At this point I have a title that is meaningless. It’s mostly financial applications. Like I said: boring. That’s why I need an outlet.”
Another perpetual achiever, Joe had several outlets – do you know any other meteorite collectors? – but cars were his preoccupation. He’d squeeze his six-foot-plus self into the brightly painted “Yellow Peril II,” his perfectly maintained 1957 Morgan 4/4. That thing ran like a clock and looked like a million bucks.
Joe also had a droll and devastating sense of humor, some of which showed up in cartoon he created while editing the club newsletter. He called it “The Adventures of Raymond the Cat.” Was Raymond Joe’s alter-ego or just an outlet for some automotive puns? [The Mechanic, pulling a pair of boxers from the Morgan’s distributor: “Found it! Shorted ignition.”]
Hard to say, but the friendly cartoon cat started out in rallying and then raced a Sunbeam Tiger (of course!) In later strips, he tried to maintain a daily-driver Morgan in the face of the usual British car difficulties. Raymond’s long-suffering girl friend often watched his efforts with at least a raised eyebrow, and both characters quickly became reader favorites. Art often mimics life, and today the sketched pair stands as club shorthand for our friends.
Joe and Linda were traveling to California on Tuesday morning, September 11th, 2001. Linda was to attend corporate meetings and later they had planned time in the wine country. They were on United flight 93 that crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania that morning. My wife and I had been with both of them ten days earlier at the Labor Day races in Connecticut.
By the time you read this, I will be traveling to or have attended the September 11th, 2011 dedication of a Shanksville memorial to those who perished on the flight and on the day. Everyone had their own reasons for being there, whether patriotism, politicism, or otherwise.
My reason was simple: I couldn’t not go. I had to remember a pair of car guys that were good friends.