Friday, January 16, 2009

Off to the races

I never understood the whole NASCAR phenomenon.
Even as a kid I just did not get the thrill of watching a pack of cars going around in circles.
“They’re on the starting grid. They get the green light and they’re off. They’re coming to the first corner and they are turning left. They are coming out of the back straight away into a left hander which will be followed by a left hand turn. Hang on folks, they’re turning left again. Wait, no, yes, it is another left-hand turn.”I just didn’t get the thrill. Going fast was thrilling, and of course the crashes were often spectacular – where else can you see a Chevy do 6,000 barrel rolls in a row - but I was more inclined to watch Formula One or rally racing where there were numerous turns and twists and places to pass and crash.
The history of NASCAR is pretty cool though.
Stock car racing was bred from moonshine runners who would deliver their load of booze in modified cars designed to out run authorities. They would then race each other around a track to see who had the fastest car.
It was all fun and games for the good ol’ boys of the Deep South, which, by the way, is where NASCAR has its most rabid fans.
NASCAR is absolutely huge in the United States and is one of the top spectator sports going. Like I said, I didn’t understand the attraction so I figured I should check out a race in person.
As luck would have it, the NASCAR show came to the Okanagan when Sun Valley Motor Speedway hosted the big boys, including Canadian racing star Alex Tagliani – a very big name in the world of motor sports.
I have watched stock car racing on the TV before, but only with mild interest, so I headed out to the tri-oval to see if I could figure out what all the hullabaloo is about.
Outside of the grandstands was the usual myriad of vendors selling shirts, hats, hoodies, small Caribbean islands and anything else they could think of that would voluntarily get people to lighten their wallets.
The grounds were buzzing with a palpable excitement that even a non-hardcore race fan such as myself could detect. I like racing and all, but I am not a rabid fan like my buddy Kevin, who went to the track with me. He soon became my race guru and fielded a variety of questions. After a little while I felt like I was five years old again asking question after question, so I decided to sit back and let the racing speak for itself.
It didn’t speak so much as scream.
The first thing I noticed once the race began was just how loud – and I do mean loud – the cars are.
I was told these cars had some volume to them, but when you get 20 of them roaring past at full throttle they are louder than a taco fart in a crowded elevator.
Ear plugs were the must-have fashion accessories for the evening, at least where we were sitting. The cars were so loud the ground actually vibrated as they went past – cool.
I was somewhat unprepared for the magnitude of their exhaust. When they were doing a few warm-up laps I thought, “Ya, they aint so loud,” but then someone said “Go” and the volume increased dramatically.
Once the race began, I learned what the hullabaloo is all about - it is about going fast – really fast. They are still making all those left-hand turns, but they are rounding the track faster than a gas executive can raise the price at the pump.
Like most sports, watching it on TV pales in comparison to watching it in person.
If I had any hair, it would have been blown into a messy tussle by wind generated from the cars as they sped past at about three million miles an hour.
To see just how fast they move in such close proximity to each other was quite exciting. They were mere inches from each and pretty much every car had tire marks on it from a competitor, now that is close racing.
Seeing it live is a far cry from sitting on the couch in my underwear (I know, that’s a little too much information) with a remote in one hand and a bag of chips in the other.
Instead, I was sitting at the race track in my underwear...(I am kidding of course.)
There was even some high-spirited drama when two drivers clashed, one crashed and then retaliated by bumping the offending driver with his slightly damaged car.
The announcer, who did a brilliant running commentary over the loudspeakers, said the cars can round the half-mile course in 18 seconds. That’s rather speedy actually.
The A&W 300 took a little over two hours to complete and that included a few spin outs, a couple crashes and a blown motor that puked oil all over the track resulting in a stoppage while crews cleaned up the mess.
Overall it was a fun evening. For die-hard NASCAR fans it was a must-see event and even for those not-so-die-hard fans it was an interesting evening of motorsports.

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