It’s a Friday in February, and I have been freezing my ass off all week. So today we are going somewhere fun, and warm. Somewhere shocking. Put on a ball cap, and tease up that mullet folks, cuz we’re going to the dirt track.
(Disclaimer: I posted this last summer. Not only am I cold, I am also lazy)
If there is something that all American’s can agree on it’s that we are better than everyone else. This not only includes foreigners, who obviously aren’t as good as us because they aren’t American’s, it also includes rednecks. (Redneckus Americanus, to use the correct Latin name for the species) Rednecks are defined as those other people. You know the ones. The kind that do all the things that we think are beneath us. However, given the fact that roughly 78% of the American populace are indeed rednecks, I’d say we have a bit of a blind spot about ourselves.
The internet affords a certain anonymity and freedom to redefine oneself into the image of the person you most want to be. Well, I guess I can forget about that now because after this post, there will be no denying it. If any of you knew the 20 Prospect clan you’d consider this information to be self evident.
I am a redneck.
An honest to God, sh!tkicking, beer swillin’ redneck.
This was the highlight of my weekend.
Yes, I spent Saturday night at the dirt track with 20 Prospect Jr. watching guys in really loud cars drive around in circles. And you know what? I loved it. I loved every blessed minute of sitting on those mud flecked aluminum stands, blinking to get the dirt out of my eyes as the cars kicked up dust devils behind them. In fact, aside from a High School football game I can’t think of a better way to spend a cool September night.
There. I feel much better now. They say that admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. I’m not sure who “they” are, but oddly enough, you never here “them” admitting they have a problem.
I’d like to say that it was an accident. I’d like to say that 20 Prospect Jr. and I were innocently driving home from Wisconsin when our car broke down in front of the dirt track, but I can’t. It was premeditated. September 11th had been circled on the calendar for over a month, not to remind me of a national tragedy (for surely Saturday night car racing in Wisconsin is not a national tragedy) but to remind me that it was the night of the Jerry Richert Memorial Sprint Car Challenge at Cedar Lake Speedway. I’ve been looking forward to it all summer. On hand were over 60 sprint cars from the IRA and UMSS, racing on the 3/8 mile dirt oval.
Now for the other 22% of American’s that aren’t redneck, let me explain. A sprint car is a small, lightweight, fenderless race car that is popular in the Midwest, and parts of the East and West Coast. (Down South, not so much). The name “sprint” comes from the length of the races. Most are 10-15 lap affairs. No refueling, no changing tires, and no starter motors. The cars need a push from a pick ‘em up truck to get their engines started. These little machines are no bigger than Mini-Cooper’s, yet they are powered by an 800+ horsepower, 410 cubic inch engines. That’s a big @ss engine for such a little car. When 20 of these cars come screaming around to take the start, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in the middle of a buffalo stampede. The noise is so loud you not only hear, but see, feel, smell and taste it. I can’t imagine what an adrenaline rush it must be like to be inside of one of these cars. These things are turning the 3/8 mile track in around 11 seconds!
I saw my first race when I was about 9 years old. Mom and Dad took me out to Perry Speedway down in Wyoming County on a muggy Saturday night, and we sat on the peeling paint of the wooden bleachers watching Western New York’s finest drivers spin around the bull ring in Modifieds, Midgets, Stocks, and Super Stocks. I was hooked. After that first visit it became an annual summer event to go see the races. We’d make the drive down through those verdant, rolling hills, taking in the late summer air through the windows of the Chrysler, and breathing the perfume of the dairy barns. (I still far prefer the smell of cowsh!t to that of either pigs, or chickens. Call me a connoisseur if you like.)
Wyoming County is one of the prettiest in all of New York. Maybe it lacks the variety of Genesee County, with it’s mucklands, swamps, cornfields, dairy farms, and orchards. But it makes up for it with the fact that cows outnumber humans. (45,800 vs. 43,424) You’ve just got to love a place with more cows than people. So long as the cows aren’t carrying firearms. I could spend a happy eternity living in a Greek Revival house on a nice plot of land out in the folds of those hills. But I digress…
If the weather was nice, and the original Mr. 20 Prospect was in a good mood, he’d take one of his patented shortcuts. Like all dads, his shortcuts usually added a minimum of 15 minutes to any trip. Working for Niagara Mohawk he spent most of his days driving rural back roads to fix power lines, flip switches, or do whatever it is that electric company employees do out there in the country. (Take naps I was to find out years later). Whenever our travels took us into the south eastern part of Genesee County he would cut south from 33 on the Francis Road. This little asphalt two lane road was laid out by the most sober, serious, and unimaginative of surveyors. It shot straight south through Bethany turning aside for neither hill nor dale. Up and down it went at ridiculous gradients. Dad would take this road at around 60 miles per hour. When we crested the top of each hill the soft, spongy suspension of the Chrysler would float, and we would achieve a few seconds of weightlessness. Our stomachs would flutter, and Mom and I would squeal with delight as we plunged down the other side, gathering speed until the springs bottomed out as we hit the nadir of the hill and charged up the next one.
That always got me in the mood for racing. Sitting in the stands we’d survey the cars as they pulled out onto the track, and each decide on a favorite to root for. Mom was always a sucker for the blue cars, while I would pick the ones with the best paint job, or the number of my favorite Notre Dame football player. (#15 Gino Oliveri). I think Dad took a more technical approach as his cars almost always won. Maybe he had some inside information.
For weeks after our trip to Perry, I would ride my bike up and down the sidewalks in front of 20 Prospect imagining I was driving a race car. I’d tear into our gravel driveway, and lock up the coaster brakes and throw my Huffy into a sideways skid imagining I was drifting through the corners to take the checkered flag.
Driving over to Wisconsin on Saturday night 20 Prospect Jr. did not stop talking. Being the quiet one, this is always a sure sign of his excitement. It was a gorgeous evening, with bright sunshine, and not a cloud in the sky. Crossing the lift bridge into Wisconsin, the boats stood out bright against the deep blue of the river. Climbing the bluff into Wisconsin, I thought back to those drives down to Perry as a kid. When we got to the track we parked out in the grass, and took our Amana blanket, and ear muffs out of the trunk. If Dad could have been with us I’m sure his would have been “borrowed” from NiMo, with his initials written on them in black permanent marker.
Sitting in the stands on Saturday night, we looked up from the glow of the track and noticed the bright orange crescent moon descending towards the western horizon. The sprint cars roared away and we shared our popcorn, each picking a car to root for. 20 Prospect Jr. picked the best looking cars on the track, while I judiciously studied the drivers in qualifying, and choose the ones with the best times. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The races were fun, but the season is ending, and soon our life will shift from summer into fall, and with it all the other wonderful things that autumn brings, like apples, pumpkins, and football games. Playing catch with the football in the backyard last night 20 Prospect Jr. was already asking when we can go back.
Our trips to Perry would eventually stop. At some point in my early teens, I discovered girls. A few years later they discovered me. After that, spending Saturday night with the folks lost some of it’s appeal. I’m sure in another handful of years it will for 20 Prospect Jr. as well. Then that bright orange moon will slip below the horizon for a while, only to rise again in another time and place.