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"Marriages," said Nancy Lanier, "are conducted on the telephone. Oh, I smile when I see those girls hanging around the ball park, so in love with the cute ballplayers. Take emergencies, for example. There is something in the rule book that says a husband can't be around for any emergency, disaster or occasion. Terrific! But then nothing ever happens when they're home anyway. Never! Perfect harmony. Not a sniffle. No one even gets a splinter. Last year Hal and I were separated during spring training due to the birth of our daughter. She was born the day he left—naturally. She was due two weeks before he left, but nothing happened. I said to Hal, 'If you will just leave, I'll have this baby.' So he left at seven in the morning and by midnight I was in labor." Even babies mind the rule book.
I quit. I believe one of the marks of a successful race driver is that he can retire in one piece.
Evi Gurney, housewife, sort of. Lovely home, beautiful girl; a bit more reserved than Nancy Lanier. A native of West Germany, Evi was doing public relations for Porsche when she met Dan. She was no stranger to the track and, unlike most women, she can listen to long monologues about changed stock blocks without falling asleep.
"The less you know about the business the better off you are," she said. "People ask me how I could bear to watch Dan race. I don't know. I was a nervous wreck and still suffer from it. The night before, you don't talk much about it. You look at each other and you know, but you don't talk about it. I was in bad shape because I had already lost so many friends. You give a party, and suddenly they're gone. So when I married Dan I knew very well what I was getting into, but still I didn't know. It was different, closer. Dan gets frustrated at times that he's not racing anymore. It comes and goes. He misses the competitiveness, I think.
"The last race was the worst for me. I never knew if Dan would really go through with it, the retirement, or maybe change his mind at the last minute. Very few say, here is my helmet, that's it. I was always worried, but there was a little extra fear in that last race. Emotion doesn't show on the outside. When you go to the races you see the wives. You wouldn't guess what they're going through, unless you look at their hands. Their hands give them away."
When you're through playing, when you're older, you go back to your friends.
Harry Stevens' restaurant, in the Madison Square Garden complex, is a basketball hangout. On game night it may be difficult to get a reservation if you're not into the basketball scene but Gerri DeBusschere is treated like a queen. She gets the special attention accorded the wife of a Knick star. Gerri, a native New Yorker, takes it in stride.
"It's hard for me to believe that I'm going to have to live in Detroit when Dave retires," she said, "but Detroit is where Dave is from and that's what he loves. The day I got married four years ago, I walked down the aisle and said to myself, 'Gerri, here you are in Detroit for the rest of your life,' and when he got traded to the Knicks I couldn't believe it. I was walking on air.
"When Dave played in Detroit, it wasn't the same at all. Everyone knew him there. So he played basketball; big deal. It wasn't this do a banquet here and do a banquet there, now do a commercial here. There's so much of that in New York. I guess they give him credit because he was the last piece fitted into the whole. Willis [Reed] wasn't comfortable playing forward, so when Dave came along Willis became the center and Walt [Frazier] went into a starting position and everything clicked. The whole team kind of jelled.
"Dave minds the travel now more than I do. He misses watching the kids grow up. For instance, he'd be gone for two weeks and when he got home our daughter, who was younger then, didn't know him. It broke his heart. He used to do all sorts of things to get her attention. Now, on a game day at home, if the weather is nice, he takes her to the park and sits on a bench and does a crossword puzzle. Sometimes he just sleeps. It isn't the exhaustion of traveling. He's been doing it for so long that his body is geared to it. Sometimes at home, when I want him to do something, he will say, 'Oh, I'm too tired to do that today,' and I say, 'Come on, don't give me that.' The guys are all very physical. They do what they have to do no matter how tired they are.