Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, July 26, 2015, 10:38 a.m.
As I sat on the hard, fourth-turn concrete of Laurens County Speedway, it occurred to me why I hadn’t been there in so long.
My friend Joe VanHoose accompanied me. He lives in Athens, Ga. When, a few days ago, I had written a blog about NASCAR’s Truck race at Eldora Speedway, I mentioned that I liked watching the action at local dirt tracks. Joe said he was free and would go with me. He had to drive to Charlotte and back, so he detoured through Clinton, and we spent the afternoon playing our guitars, alternating back and forth between songs we had written, and watching the Xfinity Series race from Indianapolis.
Time flew. It was great fun. We compared and contrasted our music styles, and finally we made our way up to the track, which is about ten miles from my house.
My “Eureka moment” came when I thought what it would have been like if I hadn’t had a friend to come along.
I’d have walked in and found a seat on that concrete. The stands at the track are hard for me to get up and down because I have one knee that is bad and another that is getting worse because of favoring it over the bad one.
When I go to ballgames alone, particularly baseball, I often strike up conversations with nearby fans. In fact, highly ranked among the reasons I love baseball is the fact that I often make friends with people I’ll never see again for a span of nine innings.
Had I gone to the track alone, I would have talked about the same things I talked about with Joe. I would have reminisced about old times at other tracks, told stories about Dale Earnhardt, Tony Stewart, Bud Moore, David Pearson, Buddy Baker, Cotton Owens, and others, and the fellow who would have been sitting next to me would have thought to himself, Well, this fellow is quite the bullshitter. I know this because, if the roles had been reversed, I would have thought the same thing.
Fortunately, Joe knows that my job was writing about NASCAR for twenty years, and he was satisfied that all those stories really took place. Joe also goes to a lot of short tracks, giving him perspective I lack, and I would have known he knew about that of which he was speaking, too.
Many people in the USA, and a few abroad, follow me for my racing perspective. Around these parts, people remember when I used to cover the Red Devils and Blue Hose for The Clinton Chronicle and The Laurens County Advertiser. In the off chance that the theoretical fellow had known who I was, he might have asked, “You still working at The Chronicle, I reckon?” and I would have replied, “No, I left there a little over twenty-five years ago,” and he would have said, “Oh.”
This has happened. Many times.
Sometimes it seems like the only place on earth where I get no respect is my hometown, and, when I think that, I realize further that Clinton is also the only place where I don’t get my ass kissed, and since I don’t leave Clinton very often anymore, my ass has become largely unloved.
This is not a bad thing. This is functional in its way. I believe I prefer it to the alternative. Clinton keeps me grounded. On a hard slab of concrete in the fourth turn of a dirt track nearby.
The racing? I’ve seen better. Joe and I sat there, watching and swapping tales, and, for the most part, we probably learned the names of five drivers out of all the local heroes in all the local classes, and, in most cases, we had no idea how many laps the racers would run. We barely glanced at our phones, didn’t follow the racing on Twitter, weren’t hooked into timing and scoring, and if we missed a wreck, we didn’t get to see the replay.
In just about every class, though, every car went through every turn sideways, and sideways at Laurens County Speedway is a lot more sideways than what gets announcers hyperventilating on paved superspeedways. In fact, sideways at Laurens County Speedway was more sideways than trucks racing around Eldora.
Taken as a whole, it was a unique day and night. I don’t believe I’ve ever spent an afternoon playing music and then a night in which the other musician and I went to a dirt track. I’ve played music before a NASCAR race, and after, as well, but that’s a whole different vibe.
Taken together, it was an exquisite experience. I could see Joe and me doing it again sometime soon.
Later today, I’ll watch the Sprint Cup royalty race at the antithesis of Laurens County Speedway (assuming rain doesn’t fall in Indianapolis). The 3/8th-mile of red clay had a good crowd. The crowd at the 2-1/2-mile of asphalt will be about a hundred times larger. One of the lower divisions at Laurens had a first-time winner, whose name now escapes me, and team member and other drivers treated him to what is a apparently a Laurens tradition of rolling the first-timer in mud at the bottom of the front straight.
The Brickyard winner will kiss bricks.
What has changed since I last attended a dirt-track race?
The dust wasn’t as bad. I wore some goggles that came with a weed-eater I bought about twenty years ago and have never used with the weed-eater, but they weren’t necessary, though several times, I did have this weird sensation of wanting to go swimming.
The crowd wasn’t as partisan. In the past, it hasn’t been uncommon for me to sit near warring bands of fans, each rooting for one driver and professing unbridled hatred for the no-good so-and-so for whom the other jackasses were cheering. Perhaps those people were sitting on the straightaway, and the fans in the turn were more detached and disinterested.
I also missed the obligatory drunk, parading up and down the worn path in front of the grandstands, shaking his fists while relatives just told everyone else, “Don’t mind Uncle Jack. He’ll be ah’ight.”
It cost ten bucks apiece to get in. Parking was free, though the lot was rutted, and I’m glad I brought the truck. Joe and I didn’t sample the concessions, though I’d bet they were reasonable and probably quite similarly priced to Clinton High football.
It wasn’t too hot. When we got back to the house, I told Joe thanks for coming and be safe on the way back to Athens. I went to bed and “dreamed in peaceful sleep of shady summer time, of old dogs, and children, and watermelon wine.”*
Something like that.
*Tom T. Hall, of course.
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