You are currently browsing the daily archive for May 24, 2006.

By 1:05 we had eaten lunch, and the Pre-Race Show was over.  Time to curl up for a cozy afternoon watching 500 miles of top-notch Cup racing—not much else to do Sunday afternoon.  We hoped to see Stewart take the win and cut Johnson’s lead in the point standings.  I was feeling congested—sinus troubles, I guess—so I had taken a  decongestant to relieve my headache, antihistamine for my itching nose.  After a country star destroyed the national anthem, and a man in the infield applied suntan lotion to the bronze hips of a woman in a halter top, the drivers kissed their wives and climbed into their cars.  Spotters and officials took their places, and the customary “Gentlemen, start your engines” faded into a general roar—a combination of cheers, whistles, and revving engines.

Following a few laps to warm the tires, the pace car slipped down pit road.  As the green flag waved, all 43 cars made a clean start.  An in-car camera showed Harvick at 185 on the straight stretches, slower of course in the turns, speeding around the mile-and-a-half oval track, tornado-like—car and driver vibrating together.  Enveloped in the warmth of my afghan like a driver in his cockpit and lulled by the constant motion and hum of the engines, I leaned my head against my husband’s shoulder to relax.  Benny Parsons reminded his television audience, once again, that the RACE FOR THE CHASE was on..

On lap 80 a blown tire caused a huge wreck and sent six cars to the garage.  Junior was pissed but held his tongue.  Ten laps  later and there’s oil on the track.  Another caution.  More commercials.   A close-up view of the cut-away car, when they go green.


            “What’s all that water, anyway?”

            “They’re stoppin’ the cars.”

            “Gimme some more chicken, Daddy,” says a boy sitting nearby, jerking out the cooler jammed under his seat in the Pontiac Section at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, only to find he’d already eaten everything but the bones.  He settles for a ham biscuit.

            “Can’t you see what’s goin’ on, Bill?” I yell.

            “They’re not strong enough.  I wish I brought the good ones.”  Bill lets his binoculars dangle around his neck.

Someone shouts that a water main has broken.  Although the sky is mostly overcast, a glare—as well as the distance—prevents us from seeing what the problem is. After coming to a stop, drivers climb from their cars onto the track.  Kurt Busch, last year’s champion, tussles with Gordon.  No one can see their facial expressions—only their shadows, boxing.

“Smack ’im.  Smack ’im good,” comes from my left, but no one smacks anyone.

            “Sure a lot of water.”

            Each fan has, in theory, his or her own space—little as it may be—at the race track, yet clustered together, we move as a unit, craning our necks in search of meaning, while the shrill scent of motor oil coats the dusty grandstand.  In front of me, a man clambers onto his seat to get a better look.. That means we can’t see at all.  His foot inadvertently swipes an open beer can, which I upright to prevent its entire contents from dumping onto my feet.

            “What’re they doing?’

            “Shuttin’ it off.”

“Closing the bathrooms!”

My bladder—unaware of the rumor’s lack of validity—suddenly fills to its capacity. 120,000 fans scream simultaneously, while the track announcer remains silent. It’s noisier with the engines off than it was while the cars were racing.  The former, deafening but mesmerizing,  is replaced by a boisterous and constant pandemonium, punctuated with sudden overpowering shrieks at irregular intervals. A pit-road reporter  fumbles a microphone, recovers.  We see him and know what the drivers will say in their interviews, because that’s as predictable as who’ll name the most sponsors.  A few fans, wearing headsets, relay news from the radio broadcast:  “They” are trying to find the problem, so “they” can “go racing.”  Folks at home know more than we do.

“What time is it, anyhow?”

The water appears to be slowing.  Although a few people migrate toward the concession stands, most remain to watch as track workers hoist blowers from the beds of pick-up trucks to dry the track.  Others sweep the water toward a grassy area using over-sized push brooms.   Drivers mull about, take off their helmets.   Mark Martin eats.


The water was cleared.  And a general cheer rose from the television speaker, as the crowd came to its feet, anticipating the restart.   My arm, asleep beneath my husband’s back, refused to wake up.  Drivers walked toward their cars.  Crew chiefs climbed to the tops of the boxes.  Then engines droned; exhaust billowed.  No one heard the kids yell into the pungent air.  A cameraman zoomed his lens into the crowd to check out a woman’s breasts.   I heard the announcer’s laughter as I shifted to a more comfortable position and reached for a pillow.  My headache was gone.

When Michael Waltrip hit the wall in turn three, only twelve cars remained on the lead lap.  The flag man threw the yellow, and the instant replay simulated the crash from every angle.  I tagged along for the ride. Spinning, around and around—whirling like a dervish on the wide-screen tv.

I knew the race would end with a green-white-checker.