Saturday nights are glorious in the Niagara Frontier: during the winter, there’s Hockey Night in Canada; during the summer, there’s asphalt circle-track stock car racing (dirt track racing is on Friday nights, but I’m at the drag races then). Racing night is a special taste of paradise, in my estimation.
Walking through the gates at any decent local race track leaves me with a certain sense of awe. It is a sublime thing that we have accomplished, capturing a wide open space within a fence, filling it with bleachers and pit-boxes, a tech barn, and all sorts of food and drink. Smells of elements which do not belong together create an environment in the mind, too, which cannot be recreated anywhere else except at the race track: burnt rubber (old and new), nacho cheese, beer, racing fuel, body sweat, old wood, mown grass (from the parking lot), perfume, and fried food. It wafts like the nose of a fine scotch, the several creating a greater one, a single malt of Saturday Night at the Races.
When I first made my foray through the gates into that realm, I was surprised at the variety of nations and peoples within it. I realized instantly that it was an advertiser’s dream, but even beyond the immediate business opportunity, I realized that this realm was for everyone; everyone could experience pleasure within these gates. It was almost cliché: fat people, skinny people, old people, young people, rich people, middle-class people, poor white trash, well-to-do, you name it. I was most surprised to see entire families like mine there, a professional-looking husband and wife with a few kids, taking in the evening. Indeed, I would say that at least the simple majority of fans were made up of small business owners, or those who worked in small-business, entrepreneur-types.
These are the family and friends of drivers and owners of the cars on the track. These are people of an understated joie de vivre. These are the people who make their own lives within a framework of ambition and freedom. When you see a car racing, which, in stock car racing, is strictly regulated for the sake of competition–nevertheless, you are seeing freedom as it is meant to be: absolute within moral limitations. At those speeds, it is impossible to keep the moral component pure; at that point, a driver is penalized, perhaps later confronted, but most assuredly received back into the realm as a friend and a family member. Naturally, the most recalcitrant cheaters are sent away to race elsewhere, but their reputation follows them, and I can’t imagine that they are ever happily received. Thus, stock car racing is a wonderful projection, a spinning model of the lives of free people. How difficult it is, and how fun, to complete a few circuits around a half-mile track!
The rewards for good driving and good mechanics are, essentially, great rejoicing, even among the fiercest competitors: it’s tough to win a race. A few bucks, maybe, are handed out, very few, if the owner is a skinflint know-nothing, but he can only do so much harm; the racing is the thing. Even so, everything is re-set for the next race, a kind of Jubilee Re-draw for the Pole Position, and the competitors are rounding from the start to the finish, friends no more, but family altogether always.
The racing at Dunn Tire Raceway Park is good. It could be better; it could be much worse. Some nights the racing is thrilling; other nights, merely entertaining. The party in the pits, however, is always an event, which demonstrates the character of the realm within the gates. Though the world will end, stock car racing will continue.