I am not what you‘d call a huge race fan. I am known to watch bits and pieces of some NASCAR races, an occasionally NHRA drag race and some other forms of motor sports on TV. I have been to many of the big professional events of the nationally touring series: Winston (now Nextel) Cup, IRL Indy cars, AMA Grad Prix, Super Bikes, Monster Trucks, etc. It sounds like a lot, but it really is just a sampling of these different race forms as they visited nearby tracks. It does not make me a “fan” in the fanatical sense.
I have also had the opportunity, on a more frequent basis, to attend much smaller events at the local tracks close to areas in which I have lived. These are the short track, fairgrounds type of venues that so many small rural and even suburban communities have. I have had the pleasure to know a couple of drivers in some of these races and watch them race from time to time. Not including today, it has been some time since I have gone to the races.
The very first race I ever attended was a drag race at the now defunct Fremont Raceway. It was the venue for the NHRA Northern Nationals for years and eventually added a quarter mile dirt oval for sprint car racing – eventually changing its name in 1981 to Baylands Raceway Park before succumbing to the encroaching residential dwellings and the lure of the developer’s money in 1988. I don’t remember how old I was or what year, but it was before the dirt oval and the name had not changed yet. It was in the middle of nowhere – on the wrong side of the tracks, on the wrong side of the bay. It had to be the early seventies.
It wasn’t a major event. If memory serves, it was a bracket race. There were no national stakes, it was just a bunch of locals that "run what they brung." It was not the last time my Dad took me to the races, but it was the last drag race. He also took me to a handful of other races - different kinds, big and small - and when I had kids of my own, we all went. As much as I am not a race fan, my Dad is less one. I think he took me mostly because he thought I would enjoy it. He was right about that, but I know he had a good time too.
Ok, so going to the races with my Dad has a nostalgic place in my heart. Given - so does doing lots of other things with my Dad. That’s not the point. Nor is it to analyze what constitutes a fan of a particular sport. It’s an open ended definition – in my opinion, it takes more passion and dedication to a sport than I have towards racing to make me a fan. Having said that, I suppose I could look at the money spent on the pursuit and draw the line at a dollar amount – or time spent – or miles traveled – enough!
What it’s all about is simply this: There are some spectator activities that do not require extensive background information to be enjoyed. It also doesn’t require extensive investment in travel or money or time. Often, the travel and money involved to attend a major national event preclude many from enjoying them – they are relegated to TV. This is not the case when it comes to local, short track, fairgrounds style racing. It is often nearby, inexpensive and one need not know anything at all about the class of vehicle or the drivers to enjoy an afternoon or evening of excitement like none other.
A few hours ago, I returned home from the Placer County Fairgrounds in Roseville, Calif., home of the All American Speedway’s paved quarter-mile oval. I met several friends there, one of which was racing. Although I had the somewhat more expensive pit pass, general admission tickets are only $10.00. There were several heat races, trophy dashes and main events in four or five different classes. It was a blast from start to finish.
There were no TV cameras, no mega trailers and no pit stops. The cars were not brand new and shiny, but bore the scars from a season (at least) of racing. The teams operate on a shoestring and make do with what they have – which in many cases is a whole lot of guts and not much else. And they race. And we watch; fathers and mothers; sisters and brothers; uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, cousins, in-laws and friends - all from the local neighborhood, the neighboring city or the next county.
It’s the motor sports version of the high school football game or the local little league -families and friends getting together to watch families and friends. The rest of the world isn’t watching and doesn’t really care. My friend raced a little blue car, number 81. He lost his main event. Most of the race he was in a battle for last and next to last. He came in last (of the cars that were still running at the end) – but we cheered for him as though he was racing for first – and came in second. After his race was over, he joined us in the grand stands. His smile was a mile wide. I guess that sometimes, it really isn’t whether you win or lose…