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Monday, May 7, 2012


     'that's talladega, baby.' darrell waltrip

Yesterday's race was the 2.5 mi track at Talladega, Alabama. It looked like every redneck in the South was there. Talladega is a big race of endurance for the cars. They top 200 about every lap in the straight stretch and don't have to slow down very far to run through the curves. The issue every driver dealt with in this race was motor overheating. They run wide open for several hours. I can't help but appreciate the drivers, the mechanics who build the cars and keep the motor going. I've never been one to get carried away with sports and winning games, though since watching every race this season I've begun to see subtleties, strategies, learning about the cars. I've come to see the cars as 4-wheel motorcycles inside a light-weight plastic shell and a cage of roll bars running on an exquisitely crafted motor that is eight cylinders to the motorcycle's two. The drivers of these cars have to be young to be able to think fast enough to drive in a pack of cars, bumper to bumper, side to side, at 190mph, going through the curves in a tight pack. I've an idea if I were to get in one of those cars and told to give it just a little bit of gas to get going, I'd smoke the tires and spin in circles like the winner does at the end of the race. He does it with intent. I'd do it by mistake.

A few days ago, Thursday maybe, talking with somebody, I forget who, I was told that people who watch car races want to see somebody die. I've heard that cliche so many times, the only thing it tells me is this individual has no idea what he's talking about. Go easy on him, because he's talking out his ass and doesn't know it. I used to attempt to explain that drivers very seldom die in a crash anymore. The framework of the cars is a cage of rollbars. It can roll for a mile, fly through the air, spin, be hit by other cars. The driver is most often safe. He crawls out the window at the end of a crash and the crowd cheers for him making it. There might be a few people wanting to see somebody die, but the crowd did not cheer when they found out Earnhardt was dead.

His was a freak accident, so much so it seemed awfully karmic. He would not have been hurt at all had he worn his head brace, a relatively new item that prevents the neck from being snapped to left, right or back. Speaking for myself, I prefer a race without wrecks. I prefer to see a driver crawl out the side window than being cut out by welding torch and loaded into an ambulance. The thousands of people there watching prefer to see the driver emerge unhurt. Sometimes they're a little wobbly like Montoya a few weeks ago when he skidded directly into the back of a truck with a huge tank of jet fuel in it for drying the track. Big ball of fire. By the time the car came to a rest in the grass, the front and back parts of the car were gone. Only the cab and frame was left. He walked away, though not without a little bit of a wobble he couldn't control.

I like to watch the cars run and see the drivers maneuver the cars in relation to each other. Yesterday's race had a racing dynamic about it I've not seen much of, or any of. I'd seen cars push others, a team mate's car, without knowing why. Yesterday's race saw cars run tandem like that so frequently it became the nature of the race. I saw that two cars running together, one pushing the other, at 200mph two cars can indeed run faster than one. I saw two running side by side several times, and a team mate come from behind and give one a push and they move on ahead. It's like going into a new gear. Another thing I've learned is when the cars are going in the 190s, one taps the outside of another car's bumper, he loses traction, sometimes both lose traction, smoking tires, car parts flying, hoods flapping, fenders gone, screaming tires. Several cars out of the race. One car pushes another by the middle of both bumpers. Having some idea of what a squeeze that is at 200 to pull that off and not lose traction. I call it skillful driving. Like when Kurt Busch loses traction, I've seen him time after time keep it in the road, catch traction again and go.

I've learned to appreciate nearly immaculate skill at car driving. I heard Jr Johnson (a driver from the early years of nascar) say when asked about today's drivers, "They're just boys." By a mountain man's assessment, a man from another time where an 18 year old is a man. In the mountains, by the time a boy is 18 he is rugged, will hurt you in a fight even if you win, backs down from nothing, is a genuine marksman with a rifle and is unafraid to use it. In relation to Jr Johnson and Curtis Turner, mountain men who grew up running liquor. Outrunning highway patrol and Blue Ridge Parkway rangers was their fun. Everything is different now from what it was then. People are not as rough and rugged as in the old farming days in these mountains. Mountain boys now grow up playing video games and watching Sponge Bob Square Pants, a talking sponge that wears clothes. My translation of  Johnson was saying into my language was there are so many generation gaps between him and today's drivers, they're another breed of human. I don't know about Jeff Gordon's life, but I doubt he grew up running liquor. The men today have their own idea of what constitutes a man. It's not nearly as hard edged as Johnson's.

Justin had a bow tournament yesterday that started at the same time as the race. His tv is set to record the races. We started watching it around 8. When it was down to about 20 laps to go, when it was really getting good with some serious driving going on, the recording ended. No getting it back. He found a place that told the race results. Brad Keselowski won. I have to say in this race the best driver in the best car won. He out drove and out strategized everyone else. There might be drivers that could be said to be "better" drivers, but not in that race. He won it straight out. The one wreck of the race didn't involve him. The race was over before we started watching it, and neither of us looked ahead to see the top 10. Takes the fun out of it. I like the tension of not knowing who might win. Up to the last centimeter at the finish line, anything can happen at any time. I've seen them run out of gas coming out of the last curve or have a tire blow out in that last stretch. Earnhardt Sr had his wreck in that last stretch, on his way to winning Daytona again. As in life, what's ahead in a race cannot be anticipated because every second anything can happen.

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