Flower Power: Philips Family Cultivates Super DIRT Week History
Philips family creates Victory Lane wreaths for Super DIRT Week
by Brendan Capria
Bryan Philips was put to the test this week, 18 years ago. The conundrum: he could either be in the grandstands of NAPA Auto Parts Super DIRT Week or at the alter to marry the love of his life, Robin. The two joked about the ultimatum all the way up until that Saturday, when Bryan traded in his race t-shirt for a spiffy tuxedo. There was one vow in particular, though, that made it all worthwhile to him.
Robin promised Bryan he would never miss another Super DIRT Week from thereon out. So for one week of each year, Bryan celebrates his two greatest loves in life – Robin and dirt racing. While Super DIRT Week is one of the sport’s biggest stages, it now holds added significance for him.
Much like her parents, Robin’s relationship with Bryan was founded on racing. He was a dirt racer; she was a freelance small-block modified writer at the 5/8-mile Oswego Speedway. And while the two met at a crossroads between asphalt and dirt track racing, they now agree that 20 tons of dirt at the legendary “Steel Palace” is a sight to envision for a lifetime.
“He called me the ‘Princess of the Steel Palace,’” said Robin giggling like it was yesterday. “I’m an asphalt kind of girl, and he loves dirt. I think with clay on Oswego is the best of both worlds. There’s been so many amazing drivers there, cutting their Hoosiers there. Now the dirt racers get to add to that history. All of those big names from Super DIRT Week will be able to test their skill at the Steel Palace.”
The Philip’s family will be a part of that extension of Oswego Speedway’s storied 65-year history. Oswego Speedway will host the prestigious Bud Light 300 for the first time in history, and to top it off, their daughter will be presenting the winner with a flowered wreath in victory lane.
Robin, the owner of Designs of Elegance in Pulaski, N.Y., makes floral arrangements for Oswego Speedway. It is a tradition at the track, and one that will be introduced to NAPA Super DIRT Week for the first time.
For this racing family, making the arrangements for the week’s feature races is an honor — enough to make Cassidy flip out before lunch period at school. Cassidy races in the junior blue class at the Oswego Kartway, a 0.0805-mile go-kart track next to the speedway. The 13-year-old aspires to race at the speedway someday, so when her mom broke the news to her via text, all she could respond with was, “WHAT??!”
“I just turned on my phone to check the time, and I had a text message from my mom,” Cassidy said. “She was freaking out, and my friends were like, ‘What’s going on?’ I was like, ‘Guys, look! This is crazy!’”
Cassidy, who drives the No. 81 like her father had in the small-block dirt modified class, finished in the top three at Oswego Kartway this season. Unlike soccer or dancing – her other sports – racing gives her that adrenaline rush. She is in her second year racing, and her father says she has a knack for it. Her other two siblings also race.
“This past season, she really came around,” said Bryan about his daughter. “She was a whole different racer. We always try to talk about things like what the track is like or where she’s starting. That’s all well and good, but I always tell her to just go have fun.”
Robin said her daughter is meticulous in creating the wreaths – artificial arrangements in a horseshoe to go around the race winner’s neck. The artificial flowers allow drivers to preserve the moment, and Robin said she finds a lot of her arrangements hanging in drivers’ garages. Each wreath takes about two hours to create, but it is an unforgettable experience.
“It doesn’t matter how much money you have in your wallet, who you are, or what you do for a living,” Robin said. “We’re all here to enjoy a great night of racing. Everyone is on an even keel. Racing takes a step back from society. The millionaires walk shoulder to shoulder with the rest of us, and a lot of times you don’t know who the millionaires are and who the rest of us are, and nobody cares.”
NAPA Super DIRT Week has brought the Philips family together for generations. Racing’s Biggest Party at their home-track this year simply completes the circle.
“I make them for the Kartway Classic…the Fall Frenzy…the Classic Weekend for Oswego Speedway…” said Cassidy, listing them off. “So mixing it up and making the wreaths for Super Dirt Week is cool.”