Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Alaskans love our engines even if nobody knows it

This is a short video of a snowmachine ski race at the 2009
Arctic Man. They hit speeds of nearly 100 mph at times.


The Alaska Commons website, a well-known and respected news blog in Alaska published a story yesterday asking the question, "Why don't Alaskans embrace our passion for the sound of engines?" I think I know the answer.

To begin with, a whole lot of Alaska's motor sports take place outside the broad public view. That is the reason for them, for snowmachines and four-wheelers and small airplanes, transportation to the far places where you a can be on your own, or in the Bush villages, for hunting and fishing and trapping. The machines are now an integral part of the subsistence lifestyle of Alaska's Natives. One man's sport machine is another's basic tool for survival. And most likely there is no one around the publicize those endeavors and very few people who want anyone to do that. The only way a casual observer might get a picture of the size of this motoring group is to watch the parade of trailers holding snowmachines or four-wheelers heading out of Anchorage on weekends.

The big exception to those rules is the Arctic Man gathering when every spring the Hoodoo Mountains become Alaska's fourth largest city, hosting a a crowd of snowmachine riders from just about everywhere in the state. It's a winter Sturgis.

But there's another, more likely reason motor sports in Alaska aren't publicized well. Despite the probability that Alaska's residents are at or near the top of the list for per capita ownership of snowmachines, four-wheelers, airplanes, and yes, maybe even river boats, you seldom read about them in any of the news media that serve the state.

This is the subtle myopia of the press these days, or perhaps it always has been. For more than 40 years I have worked on and off in the Alaska news media and in that time I don't recall meeting one person at least on the editorial side of things who owns any of the above vehicles. The possible exception might be Craig Medred who likes to go against the grain, any grain. (Written with respect, Craig.)

At least as some radical conservatives like to point out, a stereotypical reporter lives in a city and owns a Subaru. Recreational preferences of these folks include cross-country skiing; climbing Flattop; running; my favorite, winter bicycling; bicycling in general; and a wealth of urban sports, not one stinky, loud engine necessary among any of those activities. There was a joke in the newsroom that if Congress burned down and somebody local won a 10K, the 10k would lead the paper that night. Instead of trailer hitches, their vehicles are adorned with ski racks and bicycle carriers.

The Alaska Commons article pointed to all the motor racing that goes on in the state. I am well aware of that, but never having gone, I wonder how many fans motor sports draw. I live close enough to Alaska Raceway Park to hear the drag races every Sunday in the summer. Now, you would think someone who constantly seeks the solitude and quiet of the wilderness would hate that disruption. Not for this person. In my late teens and early 20s I spent time at drag races and can still hear the radio ads that pervaded the airwaves in those days."SUNDAAAAAAY!!!   NIAGARA INTERNAITONAL DRAG STRIP,  SUNDAAAAAY!!!!"

When I hear those high-rev engines over at the raceway park on SUNDAAAAAYs, I love it.  Warm reminders of a misspent youth with loud engines fast cars, lots of beer and a Sunday sunburn from the bleachers or pits. I have yet to wander over there to watch but I look forward to the engines I can hear every weekend.  I doubt the sound of a Subaru would even carry this far.

The owner of that raceway has petitioned to build an oval track on the grounds. Of course residents howled loudly about the noise and traffic that would bring into a relatively quiet neighborhood. Supposedly petitions were circulated to stop the project, but no one ever approached me to sign one. I wouldn't have. Friday or Saturday dirt track stock car racing would be another welcome sound over here. In the days of that misspent youth a whole gang of us often went to the dirt track races in Holland, New York. The odor of exhaust, loud engines, beer and warm summer nights made for an intoxicating mix. Often it was the place to take a date though that might have been the reason those relationships never went very far. There are races here not far away but again, I have yet to venture to see them. Maybe next year.

Even the public nature (and romance) of racing doesn't draw the media. I recall editing paragraph-long stories with a lot of agate listing who won what race at what race track on a Saturday night, but that was it. It's surprising given that auto racing nationally is supposed to be the country's most popular spectator sport.

It's back to that stereotype and the myopia. Newsman or not, if you aren't interested in something, you are a lot less likely to want to write about it or assign someone else to write about it. And when an entire media is pretty much inured with quiet sports, the stories just don't come out. And if it doesn't get written about or put on TV, it looks like Alaskans aren't embracing their love of engines.

I can't count the number of stories I have edited about climbing Flattop or hiking Powerline Pass, but I don't recall any about an extended snowmachine trip into the Bush unless it was about the Iron Dog, and even that race gets minimal coverage.  A picture of Sarah Palin kissing her husband good-bye at the start and a three paragraph story about the finish in Fairbanks a couple of days later.

This myopia isn't unique to Alaska. Almost anywhere outside the NASCAR cities of the South, motor racing takes a back page in the sports sections to any sport involving a ball, or at least fancy running shoes.

It's not that we don't embrace the sounds of our engines, it's that nobody else hears them, at least not the way we hear them. And, if they do, it brings more complaint than appreciation.



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Interesting quotations

"In the final analysis your life is only as good as the background music you dance to." – that was me

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"You want to feel alive until the day you croak" – Frank Gallagher Shameless

"Smooth is good but sailing takes a brisk wind" – me

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"Religious Freedom is not about stopping persecution; it’s about being the one who gets to do it. Glory!" – Mrs. Betty Bowers, America's best Christian

It doesn't matter what you write, it only matters that you write.

"Give someone a book and they'll read all day. Teach someone to write a book and they'll spend a lifetime mired in paralyzing self doubt." – internet meme

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“Don’t think you’re on the right road just because it’s a well-beaten path.” – JD

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Like most writers, I feel like a reprobate who does not deserve to live on any day that I do not write, but I also feel that four or five hours is enough to earn my stay on the planet for one more day. – anon

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The non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. – Franz Kafka

If the muse is late, start without her – Peter S. Beagle

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Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain Actually you could do the same thing with the word "really" as in "really cold."

If you are looking for an experience that will temper your vanity, this is it. There's no one to impress when you're alone on the trap line. – Michael Carey quoting his father's journal

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – Benjamin Franklin

It’s nervous work. The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums of money to get rid of. – Shirley Hazzard

So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence -- Bertrand Russell

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If you attack the arguer instead of the argument, you lose both

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Swiss General: “Well, I suppose every one of my soldiers would need to fire twice.”

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Hunting is a “critical element for the long-term conservation of wood bison.”—a state department of Fish and Game official explaining why the state would not go along with a federal plan to reintroduce wood bison in Alaska because the agreement did not specifically allow hunting

Each day do something that won’t compute – anon

I can’t belive I still have to protest this shit – a sign carriend by an elderly woman at an Occupy demonstration

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You’re just a wanker whipping up fear —Irish President Michael D. Higgins to a tea party radio talk show host

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"… there's a fearlessment about him …"

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"Kansas has always had the ability to score with the basketball."

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