You can experience the racing life. One-hundred bucks and you've gained access to three laps at one-hundred and sixty miles per hour.
"Why 160?" asked my wife, "Why not 180?"
"Twenty miles per hour is the difference between completely out of control and only slightly out of control" said Sandy of the K-Love Christian radio sponsored Nationwide racing team number 81. Their car spreads the message "I am second" meaning God is first. We spent enough time with them to understand that the team believed it--the message rallied them.
Monique and I spent a weekend at Kansas speedway watching Nascar's best drivers and teams do what they do. Baker Curb Racing granted us garage/pit passes via my professor Dr. Shane Merritt, also part of Baker Curb racing. Baker Curb runs two cars, but we were there under the #27 racing team. The team had lost their primary sponsor, but the team's spirit seemed undiscouraged, including the significantly charming driver Drew Herring, hired to drive for only the third or fourth time this year. Team 27 were serious about racing but allowed us access to just about every inch of the trailer and garage, even finding time to allow us a fantastic barbecued meal. At race time, they're focused. We spent our time viewing the race from every angle we could. One-eighty sounds fast on T.V., but at the track, looks fast, super fast, inspiringly fast...intentionally fast.
Practice. The drivers love practice--the pits are wide open, no speed limits off race day. They turn off the garage area and nail it. The noise comes at one like the second coming, but feels wholly exuberant. I know they're working out there. Crew chiefs, mechanics and drivers talk talk talk. The drivers listen to the road and their cars and communicate back, the crew chiefs help the driver understand marks, and the mechanics plan their strategy for when the driver rolls into the garages.
The garage--a frenetic pile of full crews, sponsors and some fans, although not many. We felt privileged to be back there. There's order to the mess but there's also an invisible safety net, one where guys like Rusty Wallace can hang out with whomever, and enjoy a good story. I thanked him for designing the Newton Iowa track, a 7/8 mile short track that races like a massive speedway. After that, my brain was due for some de-icing.
I'm sure team members miss their families. A couple of the guys said so. A few guys are away for a long time. Sometimes the brightest days seem foggy when you miss someone. And yet the team can't wait to get their car to the track. When lulls approach they're comfortable, but they're pacers. We didn't meet anyone who was seriously wound up though. They all seem like fish in water. Pit crews checking tires and gear and talking to mechanics, drivers like Drew Herring stroll here and there, obviously nervous, but obviously calm--I perceived Herring's satisfaction to be driving one of Nascar's super cars. He had something to prove after crashes and mistakes gave the #27 car a bad day the previous week.
Tools clank and knock and ring. Monique and I hung out in the garages and watched them work. They bend the metal on the left side of the car inward, and also turn the tire somewhat inward. They do this to compensate for deep turns and powerful side force...actually improves aerodynamics. Awesome.
In the end, even the spectator feels intensity watching men and women drive at super-speeds. The average driver feels the intensity, they must. They lick up the track like fire and wind. Drew Herring, humble, grateful Drew Herring said "we look good, but we're all half crazy." Maybe he wanted to give me a good quote, but maybe he didn't think twice about telling me like it is.
Yet these guys--these race teams are class-at least the teams we met, they're friendly and sweet, and most of them taller than I am. Racing legend Bill Elliot is 6'3 for cryin' out loud. I didn't know. Some of these guys carry sacks of money to the bank I'd guess. But some we met don't tarry amongst the wiles of the super rich. In fact, most of who we met and saw were simply the best of the back-street bible-belt Johns itchin' for a race.
And race they did, every horse in the complex motor ran their legs off. They wear speed like old comfortable shoes that've been perfectly broken in. Except turn four; turn four tested the famous, the infamous and the non-famous alike. Some drivers came into the turn too hot and were tight on exit. But the cars, they're not simply safe, they're 3500 pounds of bars, belts, hans devices and body tight seats. They're not as nervous that the cars will crush them, they're nervous about the 169 mph blur of a three-wide run into turn-four. They're nervous about hitting their passing mark one-hundred yards ahead of turn one.
And the pit-crews, they're hard on themselves. Tenths of seconds matter and if a teammate lags or screws up, they're bent. Racers lose several spots on a two-second mistake. But they're fun to watch. The gas guys are massive, and they should be. They've got to move lightening fast into the fuel-tank of a hot race car with 95 pounds of flammable super-juice.
These teams and their cars are trend setters--you find some of their ideas on Buicks, Chevys, Fords and Dodges. But these guys aren't headed to a party on some gravel road. Trunk-space has been used up with more tubes and lines and bars. Of course the average Joe doesn't pay half a million dollars per car built. But these cars gleam like artwork and that's exactly what they are, fine-tuned, fantastically sophisticated sculptures.
Y'know, some guys are Ph.D's in something flashy, and some guys are less educated, but as knowledgeable; all of them know racing better than they know their own behinds, short of a few fart jokes from time to time. But they're just guys. They literally use the same bathrooms as everyone else. I almost had a pee with Joey Logano. I can't imagine what they feel like on the corner of Main and 4th street. I don't have the capacity to understand. They're probably a tick away from a neighborhood burnout, a flash away from another adrenalin rush, maybe. Maybe they get it all out on the track. Maybe they simply do their jobs. But in some ways you get the feeling that race day is like hitting fast forward on a video of a group of kids cruisin' the loop in shiny, detailed cars off highway something-or-other around streets rife with Americana.
I'm not sure how any given person describes experience. I suppose I'd say that some experience must be like arranged marriage, it is for better or for worse and ya live with it. Some experience wears one out like force and gravity and time. And some experiences indelibly invigorates new inspirations that live with a person forever. That's us. We weren't merely close to the action, we were part of the action. That's how we deal with that race-weekend and that's why we'll never forget.
Some day, I'm going to spend a hundred-bucks for three laps. I'm going to test the boundaries of this side of eternal life.
|There were Gatorade stations all over the pits! Sweet Perk.|
|Well, ya have to start somewhere right? She's already in winner's circle!|
|That's A.J Almendinger--Monique's favorite driver! I think she just likes to say his name.|