Sunday, June 5, 2016

Dirt track Saturday night

The Chugach Range and Pioneer Peak rise over the south end of Alaska 
Raceway Park as moderns start a race on the inaugural Saturday night.
Give human beings anything that moves and soon enough we'll find a way to race with it. Perhaps nothing has captured the competitive compulsions more than the advent of the automobile, and racing them has become embedded in the American culture like almost no other. And the one type of automobile that has captured the interest more than any other is the stock car. Stock car racing has been the country's most watched spectator sport for years. Part of the allure of the stock car is almost anybody can recognize the car itself, why, it's the same Chevy Gramma drives to the store ­– almost anyway.

And, stock car racing isn't just a once-a-year  event where professional drivers steer exotic looking open-wheeled vehicles like at the Indianapolis 500 or sleek sports cars built in remote European conclaves. Nope, just about anywhere in America on a Saturday night you can find an oval where local folks are racing what could be Dad's sedan on a dirt-track seldom more than half a mile long.

In one part of that misspent youth I keep alluding to, a trip to the local track on date night constituted the go-to arena to take your favorite girl – not that she did anything but feign interest while the men discussed cars and engines and drivers while all manner of wheeled vehicles roared around the track raising dust mixing that with exhaust fumes and ear splitting noise contained within the bowl formed by the raised edges of the banked raceway.

At the time, when service stations really were service stations, each with a couple of bays with huge doors where mechanics worked on customers' vehicles, you couldn't drive by one of those gas stations without spotting some sort of wildly colorful stock car parked somewhere on the property. Today all they sport are mini marts and Subway shops.

During that aforementioned misspent youth a summer Saturday night lured us to the nearest track with its beer and loud cars, living vicariously through people who we could almost be driving cars we could almost drive ourselves.

As I thought about it, going to a stock car race sort of conflicts with what I want Alaska to be and going somehow seemed a betrayal of all that is Alaskan. But, this past Saturday night that lure came back – big time – and it was stronger than my loyalty to the North.

Every summer Sunday since I've been here this neighborhood has suffered the roars of big-bore-high-rev engines at a drag strip not half a mile away. Neighbors complained. Not me. The sounds of those Sunday races took me back to the drag strips of that youth, like music from a song that spoke to you in years past. In recent years the folks who own the strip wanted to put in an oval. Hearings were held, arguments argued, neighbor against neighbor for and against more noise and more racing in this neighborhood which is relatively quiet if you don't count the occasional rifle shot.

The Butte guards the north end of the track.
After that dust settled, the folks built their oval over there and last night the first racers took to the track. I have always meant to watch the drag races but never went. The new oval, stock car Saturday night had a lot stronger draw and I went to the races.

I was barely out of my car and walking across the dusty parking lot when the nostalgia hit almost full force. My eyes welled up and a flood of memories from the past washed over me. The occasional roar of an engine tested in the pits, the crowd, all manner of people dressed in combinations of NASCAR paraphernalia mixed with Alaskans' need to stay warm on aluminum bleachers with a healthy wind blowing down the Knik River Valley from the glacier not even 20 miles away.

There probably isn't a track in America in a more beautiful setting with Pioneer Peak looming over the south end of the oval and the Butte rising from the horizon to the north, both sometimes wearing fluorescent green when the sun briefly came out from the clouds overhead. The only thing missing was the dirt. This track is paved.

Soon enough races started and ran for about three hours.  Classics, mostly cars that looked like the Ford coupes of the 30s with wide fenders; then a class I hadn't heard of consisting of modern smaller models (think Camry); and of course modern with recognizable Chevys and Dodges, the loudest and fastest of the bunch. There's also a mini stock class with four-cylinder engines, but only one of those showed up.

None of that really mattered. I didn't know any of the drivers, didn't recognize most of the cars, barely cared who won; all I wanted to see and hear and smell was stock car racing itself, all the while feeling the cold creeping through my clothing despite long underwear, heavy wool socks, turtle neck, heavy hoodie and a winter jacket. Even back in Western New York we would feel chilled as the evening wore on. I do remember applauding particularly adept driving and some good duels between a couple of cars.

For a time I was transported to that dusty dirt track in Holland, New York, where I had spent many a happy Saturday night in years past, sipping beer and cheering over the roar of the engines and sometimes holding hands with a date who needed everything explained to her or at least I thought so. Now that I think about it there were very few second dates to the stock car races.

As the evening moved along with many delays between races that taxed the patience and made enduring the creeping cold more difficult, I was tempted to leave but just about the time I decided that, another raced started and I remained glued (maybe frozen?) to my seat. I stayed through the main feature with the moderns racing for 50 laps and then on the way out I paid $25 for a flimsy ball cap heralding the inaugural season of stock car racing in this neighborhood.

I suspect from now on I will be content to listen to the races from my own yard as I have done with the drag races, but there probably well come another Saturday night when the lure is stronger than the resistance and I will find my way over there again.

1 comment:

  1. Raced yesterday in an autocross (twisty parking lot race with cones). Racing next weekend in a hillclimb (big hill, no edges). It's exhilarating! I'm a doer, not a watcher, but there's nothing quite like racing. Have to do at least one more hillclimb before I turn 70!


Interesting quotations

· " “Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” — Ernest Hemingway

When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth. Kurt Vonnegut

“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a cheque, if you cashed the cheque and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.” Stephen King

The thing about ignornance is, you don't have to remain ignorant. — me again"

Never debate with someone who gets ink by the barrel" — George Hayes, former Alaska Attorney General who died recently

My dear Mr. Frost: two roads never diverge in a yellow wood. Three roads meet there. — @Shakespeareon Twitter

"The mark of a great shiphandler is never getting into situations that require great shiphandling," Adm. Ernest King, USN

Me: Does the restaurant have cute waitresses?

My friend Gail: All waitresses are cute when you're hungry.

I'm not a writer, but sometimes I push around words to see what happens. – Scott Berry

“The rivers of Alaska are strewn with the bones of men who made but one mistake” - Fred McGarry, a Nushagak Trapper

Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stared at walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing. – Meg Chittenden

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

We are all immortal until the one day we are not. – me again

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

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

You know that I always just wanted to have a small ship to take stuff from a place that had a lot of that stuff to a place that did not have a lot of that stuff and so prosper.—Jackie Faber, “The Wake of the Lorelei Lee”

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

If an insurance company won’t pay for damages caused by an “act of God,” shouldn’t it then have to prove the existence of God? – I said that

I used to think getting old was about vanity—but actually it’s about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial. – Eugene O’Neill

German General to Swiss General: “You have only 500,000 men in your army; what would you do if I invaded with 1 million men?”

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

Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.—Gloria Steinem

Exceed your bandwidth—sign on the wall of the maintenance shop at the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center

One thing I do know, if you keep at it, you usually wind up getting something done.—Patricia Monaghan

Do you want to know what kind of person makes the best reporter? I’ll tell you. A borderline sociopath. Someone smart, inquisitive, stubborn, disorganized, chaotic, and in a perpetual state of simmering rage at the failings of the world.—Brett Arends

It is a very simple mind that only knows how to spell a word one way.—Andrew Jackson

3:30 is too late or too early to do anything—Rene Descartes

Everything is okay when it’s 50-below as long as everything is okay. – an Alaskan in Tom Walker’s “The Seventymile Kid”

You can have your own opinion but you can’t have your own science.—commenter arguing on a story about polar bears and global warming

He looks at three ex wives as a good start—TV police drama

Talkeetna: A friendly little drinking town with a climbing problem.—a handmade bumper sticker

“You’re either into the wall or into the show”—Marco Andretti on giving it all to qualify last at the 2011 Indy 500

Makeup is not for the faint of heart—the makeup guerrilla

“I’m going to relax in a very adult manner.”—Danica Patrick after sweating it out and qualifying half an hour before Andretti

“Asking Congress to come back is like asking a mugger to come back because he forgot your wallet.”—a roundtable participant on Fox of all places

As Republicans go further back in the conception process to define when life actually begins, I am beginning to think the eventual definition will be life begins in the beer I was drinking when I met her.—me again

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

Life should be a little nuts or else it’s just a bunch of Thursdays strung together—Kevin Costner as Beau Burroughs in “Rumor has it”

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

Being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are—Michelle Obama

Things sports announcers say

"… there's a fearlessment about him …"

"He's got to have the lead if he's going to win this race."

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

"NFL to put computer chips in balls." Oh, that's gotta hurt.

"Now that you're in the finals you have to run the race that's going to get you on the podium."

"It's very important for both sides that they stay on their feet."

This is why you get to hate sportscasters. Kansas beats Texas for the first time since 1938. So the pundits open their segment with the question "let's talk about what went wrong." Wrong? Kansas WON a football game! That's what went RIGHT!

"I brought out the thermostat to show you how cold it is here." Points to a thermometer reading zero in Minneapolis.

"It's tough to win on the road when you turn the ball over." Oh, really? Like you can do all right if you turn the ball over playing at home?

Cliches so imbedded in sportscasters' minds they can't help themselves: "Minnesota fell from the ranks of the undefeated today." What ranks? They were the only undefeated team left.

A good one: A 5'10" player went up and caught a pass off a defensive back over six feet tall. The quote? "He's got some hops."

Best homonym of the day so far: "It's all tied. Alabama 34, Kentucky 3." Oh, Tide.

"Steve Hooker commentates on his Olympic pole vault gold medal." When "comments" just won't do.

"He's certainly capable of the top ten, maybe even higher than that."

"Atlanta is capable of doing what they're doing."

"Biyombo, one of seven kids from the Republic of Congo." In the NBA? In America? In his whole country?

"You can't come out and be aggressive but you can't come out and be unaggressive."

"They're gonna be in every game they play!"

"First you have to get two strikes on the hitter before you get the strikeout."

"The game ended in the final seconds." You have to wonder when the others ended or are they still going on?

How is a team down by one touchdown before the half "totally demoralized?"

"If they score runs they will win."

"I think the matchup is what it is"

After a play a Houston defender was on his knees, his head on the ground and his hand underneath him appeared to clutch a very sensitive part of the male anatomy. He rolled onto his back and quickly removed his hand. (Remember the old Cosby routine "you cannot touch certain parts of your body?") Finally they helped the guy to the sideline and then the replay was shown. In it the guy clearly took a hard knee between his thighs. As this was being shown, one of the announcers says, "It looks like he hurt his shoulder." The other agrees and then they both talk about how serious a shoulder injury can be. Were we watching the same game?

"Somebody is going to be the quarterback or we're going to see a new quarterback."

"If you're gonna play running back in the SEC you're gonna take hits."

"That was a playmaker making a play."

Best headlines ever

Sister hits moose on way to visit sister who hit moose.

Man loses his testicles after attempting to smoke weed through a SCUBA tank

Church Mutual Insurance won't cover Church's flood damage because it's 'an act of God'

Homicide victims rarely talk to police

Meerkat Expert Attacked Monkey Handler Over Love Affair With Llama Keeper

GOP congressman opposes gun control because gay marriage leads to bestiality

Owner of killer bear chokes to death on sex toy

Support for legalizing pot hits all-time high

Give me all your money or my penguin will explode

How zombie worms have sex in whale bones

Crocodile steals zoo worker's lawn mower

Woman shot by oven while trying to cook waffles

Nude beach blowjob jet ski fight leads to wife's death

Woman stabs husband with squirrel for not buying beer Christmas Eve