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Three score and ten or more

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Let me begin this post with the clear statement that I LIKE sports. As a high school student I did pretty well in football, when I physically could play golf, I could do so without embarrassment, I have been on swim teams, boxed a very little, put the shot for a track team and done a fair amount of tennis, though my apalling lack of hand-eye coordination continually made me an embarrassment in most ball sports (baseball, basketball, soft-ball etc.)

In my coothood I have become a fan. I follow the Braves, The Falcons, Georgia Southern University football, horse racing (I have a post in the archives about South Carolina steeplechase) the Olympics, both winter and summer, etc. I have even enjoyed some of the motor sports. In my least distinguished teen age activities I was known to attend the occasional demolition derby at the Bannock County fair grounds. Motorcycle hill climbs have intrigued me, though I am convinced that anyone who rides a motorcycle up a steep hill until it reaches the vertical limit, turns over and dumps the rider back down the hill, often with the motorcycle riding the rider on the return trip has a few screws missing in parts that have nothing to do with the motorcycle.

That said, since I have moved to the South I have been acquainted with a number (actually a large number) of folks who like to watch NASCAR auto races. I have two or three otherwise intelligent friends who organize large parts of their years around the Biggest Activity (I can't remember the name) at the Daytona Speedway. (The name of the event is unimportant, it is commonly referred to as "Daytona") Third son is one of those unfortunates who know the rules of racing, the names of drivers, where the races are, etc. Traditionally I have snickered at all those. Other sports make sense, but the idea of sitting for multiple hours watching cars go round in circles has always just seemed silly. Except for the occasional spin-out, even on television with multiple close-ups it just hasn't registered with me

Third son decided that it was time his old man should see the real truth in racing before coothood expired and true immobility or expiration occurred. For that reason, (and also because we really don't see enough of each other) Yesterday, July 15, he took me to Memphis, Tennessee to see the NASCAR Craftsman-OReilly truck races.

To be honest, I wasn't even sure what kind of truck would be on hand. Over the years, I have seen mud-bogging, Monster trucks that ran over other trucks, and I have spent more time than reasonable in the cab or sleeper of, what I called a semi, but is now called an eighteen wheeler, but I agreed that it was time that I opened my mind to new experience and looked forward to it. (I think)

Off we went to the Memphis Motor Sports park. Arrival was much like that at any large sports event with little men carrying flashlights and/or signal flags, wearing yellow tunics, funneling incoming automobiles to preferred or non preferred parking. We wandered off to the appropriate grandstand walking past people in Pop-up shelters with outdoor grills who had come MUCH earlier that we had. When we got closer to the stands we passed sales booths, displays from manufacturers, food and drink pushers, a couple of soft rock bands playing live to the crowd, and lots of people. The general dress standard was casual, and, much like I have experienced in Georgia, very eclectic. I felt a little out of place in long pants and a shirt with sleeves and no Nascar slogans, but my beard fit in well as did my baseball style hat from Duluth Trading.

It was fun to register for prizes at the Craftsman tool display (where they had in their employ the thinnest teen age girls I have ever seen in one group-- as if they had hired all the residents of a local anorexic acadamy), and the OReilly Auto Parts Displays as well as to examine the features of Toyota trucks and a wide variety of engines. We had tickets to wander in Fan Alley which is the area behind Pit Row, and it was interesting to realize that there was equipment in every pit to replace or repair almost every part of the car but the engine block. We got to stand rather close to the racing trucks which were modified pick-up trucks. I was impressed to note that the pole car (don't you like the way I throw around the lingo as if I knew what it meant?) Number 60, had qualified at about 105 plus miles per hour. It ocurred to me that the modifications must include some weight in the back of the pick- up to keep the vehicle from lifting off the ground in the back.

Finally, after a couple of eighteen inch corn dogs, thirty-two ounce cokes and a funnel cake we climbed the stairs to our seats in the 29th row of the central grandstand -- terrific seats. As we sat, my son handed me a set of earplugs and advised me to put them on. "Why?" says I. "You'll see." was the reply, so I put them into my ears.

Before the races could begin, organizers were introduced, Miss Tennessee walked across a stage on the trailer of a flat bed semi- truck, we were introduced to three American Idol also-rans who were going to present a concert after the race, all the drivers were introduced, one by one, and a navy color guard presented the colors while one of the three American Idol folks sang the Star Spangled Banner. She had a terrific voice but couldn't resist improving the tune with a lot of glissando, which is the style, but which I really hate.

When all this was completed, and the Stage/Truck had been driven off the track, the announcer called "GENTLEMEN, START YOUR ENGINES". The roar of thirty or forty souped up eight cylander engines without mufflers made me quickly aware or the reason why I had been provided with ear plugs. As I looked around, I became aware that almost half of those in attendance had taken out something called a "race scanner", and were wearing headsets that were plugged into their scanners. The rush of adrenaline that came when those mini-monsters fired up their engines was remarkable. I hate to say it, but no football kickoff in the world could compare. That may explain why auto race fans seem to have an inordinate desire to "stand up" to watch the races. Said "standing up" is a real problem to those of us who are, to any degree, crippled. (and I am.) There were a few occasions when I said (under my breath) "Stand and be damned, I am going to just sit here and look at all your backsides for a little while (Which might have been interesting had the crowd been made up primarily of attractive young ladies, but which, under the circumstances was an occasion to, even briefly, close the eyes.)

I watched the race with real interest, but little understanding. I knew that a yellow flag meant that something dangerous had happened on the track, but, on most of the occasions, I had no idea what it was that was dangerous. I saw two trucks spin out to create the yellow flag, and apparently one pit crew member threw his truck pit sign out onto the track to create another. I found the yellow flag moments interesting. From the inception, as soon as the pace car got in front of the line, the trucks began little movements to shift their rear ends back and forth. They looked for all the world like scout bee's at the entrance of a hive, dancing to show the other bees where to go. I assumed that this was some attempt to "psych-out" the cars behind them, which seemed silly since most of them were required to maintain the same position. I discovered later that this was a process of "scrubbing" the tires to remove debrie which might have attached to the tires as they were going slowly. Another strange thing about the yellow caution period was that one or two trucks who were well back in the running would speed up to be in line next to the leader. When I asked "howcome?", I was told that they were Lucky Dogs. I didn't understand at the time, but it appears that there is some mystic rule that the lead car in the last half of the pack gets an opportunity to move up near the leader on a yellow caution. That car is called the "Lucky Dog" and I still don't have a clue as to why this is allowed.

The best thing about a caution period is that the cars line up behind the pace car, and when the green flag is shown the adrenaline crunching roar of the start begins all over again. The lead car, number 60, lead for at least two thirds of the race, losing the lead temporarily two or three times but taking it again only a little while later. I found myself watching a black truck number 33 who began the race at about 20th position gradually work his way up to fourth place. When I expressed my admiration, second son said, with some disgust, that the driver, one Jeff Hornaby had bumped several cars on his way to the front and was responsible for most of the
yellow flags. I also kept my eye on number 08 which started last, finished last, and was lapped at least once by every other driver (two or three times by those in the lead). I reflected on how discouraging that must be, and that the driver must be tempted to drop out, since his engine just wasn't in the same league with all the others. Second son replied that he was "getting laps" which seemed to have a mystic importance that I don't perceive. To me, "getting laps" was generally a punishment inflicted by one's football coach when one did something stupid. In auto racing, it must have some other function.

I must confess that somewhere about 120 or so laps into the race I began to trance out and remember how silly I had thought this whole process seemed, but as the end drew near I found myself actually cheering at various automotive interactions. The end of the race was truly exciting. I was a little puzzled that some of the obviously hard core fans began to filter out of the stands before the race was complete, like LA Dodger fans when the Dodgers are behind in the seventh inning. We waited till the awards had been made and might have stayed for at least part of the American Idol concert had not my body let me know that I must urgently get out of the stands to dispose of the fluids left over from drinking a couple of quarts of diet soda and a bottle or two of bottled water. At my age, when the body says "excrete!" time becomes of the essence.

All in all, it was a good experience, and the following day, I got a kick out of seeing some of the brief episodes of the race on the TV sports news.

Since we had already left the stands we decided not to worry about the "concert". We wandered to our car and tolerated the seemingly eternal problem of being guided (or not) out of the parking lot and onto the highway. The hour and a half drive home in the dark provided me an opportunity to ask about the vagaries of the race, and aquire some of the explanations I have attempted to convey, though, in my ignorance or innocence I have often felt like the blind leading the blind. (the former being me, the latter being those of you who are not Nascar fans.)

Well, If I can get my mind around it, I will go back to the second half of the Funeral post tomorrow or the next day.


At 12:20 AM, Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

I also love sports - playing not watching - and I bet it'd be fun to race a car.

At 5:32 AM, Blogger Ed Abbey said...

Let me answer some of your questions. It is the Daytona 500 and is the 'Superbowl' if you will of Nascar only it is held during the first race of the year.

Before the 'Lucky Dog' award, whenever a caution or yellow flag came out, drivers used to race back to the finish line. Etiquette traditions stated that those on the lead lap would allow those who were several laps down to go zooming around so that they ended up on the same lap as the leader. Well after several close calls with fast cars almost plowing into wrecked cars that had initially caused the caution, the said that when the yellow flag comes out, you can not advance your position as of that moment. This rule didn't allow those who were laps down to make up laps so that the invoked the 'Lucky Dog' award which gives the driver who is closest to the the lead position but a lap down a free trip around to be on the tail end of the lead lap.

Now that I typed all that, I realize it still must be pretty confusing. I think Nascar is like any sport, you just have to watch it for awhile to understand all the rules.

At 6:55 AM, Blogger Kathleen said...

I, like you said, have never been interested in watching loud toxin belching vehicles go round and round a stadium for hours on end. But, one man's heaven is another's hell.

Don't forget to remove the earplugs.;o)

At 1:25 PM, Blogger Ed Abbey said...

As an engineer, I only occasionally watch for the wrecks. I'm always amazed at what drivers can walk away from.


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