NASCAR: Still not a sport, but very cool
Thousands of my closest friends and I gathered together at Eldora speedway for dirt track racing.
Yes, I'm the much-maligned author of this NASCAR exposé. Many online friends stop by to explain to me where my head is at and discuss why I probably shouldn't travel south of the Ohio River without a phalanx of burly guards for my body.
Anyway, I was invited to attend the inaugural NASCAR event at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio. Reserved seats were proffered. I accepted.
We park in a cornfield
We drove there. Since Rossburg, Ohio, includes about 200 people on a normal day, we were fairly certain that parking facilities would abound. We were not disappointed.
For $5 we parked within sight of the venue on top of what was once a farmer's field. It may be a farmer's field again today or perhaps an enterprising agronomist realized that his time should be spent harvesting cash from hyped-up race fans rather than planting soybeans. Try parking at an NFL, NBA, or MLB game for $5: good luck getting your car down off the jacks when the game is over.
There's more to see than a race
Monster trucks matter. If you live in a high-rise or a college dorm, you probably won't see Grave DIgger or Brutus or Rap Attack or even Spike Unleashed looking for a parking space. These beasts inhabit dirt tracks and converted indoor arenas across the fruited plain.
We were presented with opportunities to gawk upon stylized monster trucks. No guards, electric fences, or bulletproof glass came between us and the awesome fiberglass. No chaperones shooed us away if we touched it. Fan were respectful and highly interested. I had my picture taken with that thing.
Free with admission: a hands-on experience with Grave Digger
Our first glimpse of the track
Being careful not to get overstimulated by Grave Digger, we strolled toward the track. Eldora hosts a 1/2 mile banked oval made of dirt. There's no asphalt. There's no yellow lines. There's not even a start/finish line. OCD fans would be quickly disappointed.
We would shortly learn what happens to the dirt when horsepowered vehicles slide through it at high speeds.
1/2 mile oval. Dirt.
Lots of dirty driving
The feature race was scheduled for 9:30 PM. We arrived at 4:30 and the place was already packed. It turns out there were many other vehicles turning left at high speeds throughout the day.
- Practice: each truck went out and played in the dirt by itself.
- TIme trials: each truck ran two laps against a stopwatch.
- Heats: groups of 5-6 trucks raced a few laps to see who got to run in the main event.
- Main Event: broadcast on The Speed Channel and witnessed by 19,999 NASCAR maniacs and me.
Interspersed with the truck events raced 'late model' cars that looked like developmentally-delayed jalopies and sounded like psychotic bass drums. Those beasts ran faster than the trucks because all of them had actually run on that particular dirt before.
Grandstands and lawn seating and cheap food, oh my.
We sat in the main grandstand adjacent to the starter's tower. That might not be the correct phrase describing the tower where the starter stands, but someone will let me know.
The starter waved flags. Green means go, yellow advises caution, checkered means it's all over. Roll up the yellow flag to indicate one last caution lap. Cross two rolled up flags to signify 1/2 of the race remaining. Most of that I didn't already know.
No one escaped the dirt. Thirty five trucks thundering down the brief straightaway at 90mph (no kilometers here, duh) kick up a massively pervasive cloud that you scrape from your nostrils for the following 48 hours. Don't ask me how I know.
The coolest part of the evening
Every NASCAR event includes a protracted run-up. Manic redneck Tom Bergeron wannabes introduce each driver with minute detail. The PA announcer explains racing nuances. These fans hardly need additional motivation, but witnessing the St. Henry High School Marching Band play the National Anthem with fireworks in the background was absolutely worth any price of admission. They formed up in the dirt and they nailed it. Band Moms: I hope you never wash those plumes.
From the podium before the race and after the National Anthem, a prayer was offered. Imagine the opposite of a generic TV prayer appropriate for any major religion. Think of a prayer that the Democratic party would not be proud of. That was how we prayed.
Racing: you feel it more than you see it.
Next time you find yourself cruising on an interstate highway with a grandma 6 inches off your rear bumper, blame NASCAR. Professional racers do not observe the 1-car-length-per-10mph rule. That mindset has trickled down to pretty much everyone who can swipe their own credit card and pump their own gas.
This race kicked off with a rolling start. The pace-truck pulled off. The trucks rounded turn 4 and simultaneously jumped on the accelerator. The starter waved a green flag, but that was for show. Nothing was going to stop the maelstrom. Even if you can't see it, you can feel it. You might be stuck in line at the T-shirt trailer or waiting for a hot dog with mustard, but you can always tell. That much horsepower bunched up into a thundering dust bunny drowns any plans you might have had for being able to hear your grandchildren say their first words.
Most of us wore hearing protection. It helped mostly. OSHA was nowhere to be seen, but they were probably wearing Dale Jr. tank tops and eating nachos.
It's still not a sport, but it's an event that you shouldn't miss.
Everyone was absolutely nice. The ticket takers were patiently kind. The lady charged with searching incoming coolers for non-American beer was polite. The guy sitting next to us was a stranger for about 15 seconds. Navigating the crowd was unnerving for claustrophobic me, but that's not the fault of NASCAR or Rossburg.
The whole place felt like family. Pass-outs were free and unlimited. Race food was cheap and plentiful. You don't have to worry about bumping into any Kardashians.
Would I go again? Absolutely.