When you take away late race cautions, dubious restarts, and tempers flaring post-race you are still left with one thing: a race. Cars spin round the track, the air is filled with the ambrosia of unburnt fuel and shredding tires, and engines roar. It’s the heartbeat of a car enthusiast. You could remove the driver from the seat, rip off the decals, spray over the fancy paintjobs, and fire the team of identically dressed mechanics and you would still have the car.
Yesterday I did one of my favorite things; I dropped off the RV at our spot in the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Once we leveled the thing, we were ready to climb back in the truck but waited a moment. In the distance, we heard that symphony that will draw any racing fan out into the light—engines revving and wheels squealing. So, we walked down to the track.
In an empty parking lot the local car club had cones, fencing and tires set-up for a drifting track. Cars with cracked fenders and wings were lined up amidst a mish-mash of tires and tools while jean-clad backsides poked out of engine compartments. There was not a sparkling decal or pressed button-up shirt to be seen anywhere. I didn’t even see a trailer! These rides arrived as is and ready to rumble. This was the heart of the American sports car scene.
We watched some of them attempt to do the Tanner Foust dance, but few could actually execute. And that’s okay. Watching amateurs drift is like watching your four-year-old discover the joy of rolling down a grass covered hill. The engines run up through the gears, the car slams into the turn and joy bubbles out of the move in the form of smoke. Occasionally it’ll break free and spin-out, but that doesn’t mean you stop. Why should you? There’s this awesome asphalt playground set aside just for you and your car. Take advantage!
After we spent some time grinning like fools with everybody else at the meet, we wandered into the track proper. The Legends and Bandoleros were holding a race. In the pits, we were greeted by a familiar sight. Cars lined up for tech inspection, just like in Chicago. Teams bustled around—some with logoed T-shirts and others not. This wasn’t quite as formal a deal as a Cup race, but you’re talking thousands of dollars invested in your team vs. millions. Still, at the heart of day, it’s all the same. Car people were using the track for everything it is intended for.
When the big boys come to town at the end up the week, we’ll introduce the media to the mix. Broadcasts that feature music videos and manufactured drama will overshadow exactly the reasons that we turn on the TV in the first place. Those are cars lined up on pit road waiting for the command to be given. Once the engines turn over and the field rolls off, everybody in the stands will rise. We’ll wave our hats, hold our breath and wait on that first green flag to drop.
That’s when the magic happens. The numbers and names vanish for an instant and we become children for that first lap. A car rushes by. The joy we feel cannot be contained. It’s not about competition, it’s just about watching a near perfect piece of machinery do everything it physically can.
And we all mutter, “Wow.”
Fans, drivers, head wrenches and gas men, we’re all the same in that moment. We’re just car people doing what we love to do. Is there any better thing in the world?
This week, Jeff Gordon will eclipse one more record that may never be broken again. He will have started in 789 consecutive Sprint Cup races. Never a day off for a cold, sore back or family emergency. Since NASCAR now has much more stringent policies regarding concussion, I truly believe this will be the last Iron Man record set. However, I think we ought to take a moment to think back on the man who Gordon is ousting from the spot: Ricky Rudd.
I loved watching Rudd. Aggressive, he held an acerbic tongue and was one of the last do-or-die competitors out there. His bright orange No. 10 shall always be one of my favorite teams. Enjoy these clips of all his wins.
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