Relatives from our very blended family took us outside the box last night for what they called “some good old redneck fun” at the Willamette Speedway. Redneck often evokes images of men who drive pick-up trucks, work with their hands, love the outdoors and speak with similar country accents regardless of their places of origin. In this case it also means man-boys with big wheelie toys. The raceway is way the hell out in Lebanon. As we drove past sheep, feed plants, and dairy farms we entertained the usual questions, “Who lives out here? What do they do for a living? Where’s the espresso?” and we agreed, as we always do, that while one could get a yard big enough for several horses out here it would be at the expense of good coffee.
We bounced along, the crackle and pop of gravel beneath our wheels. The raceway is a dusty expanse with designated areas for spectator parking, heavy machinery, racers and racers’ families. Out of nowhere PB buzzed up to us on a dirt bike. Wide-eyed and sweaty, he looked at least ten years younger than his age. Similarly, so did the large man laughing his way across the road on a puffed up ATV. The wonder of it all. This is how these folks spend their time and money. It’s more than a hobby, it’s a life. We followed PB to the back lot where racers and their families had set up camp in their trailers, RVs and tents. It was a pretty sweet deal. PB’s trailer is air-conditioned and big. If I stood in the middle it would not be a problem for me to spread out my arms and spin. In fact, there’s room for two to three adults to spin. It has a full mini-kitchen (gas stove, oven, fridge), a nice table, sofa, flat screen t.v., separate master bedroom and bathroom. What’s not to love?
I quckly learned that one does not dabble in racing. Not only is there the initial investment of the car, but there are constant racing fees, maintenance, gas, gear, trailer upkeep, etc., etc. A hefty truck is necessary to haul a race-car around. Getting us in set PB back $70! The stands were made of once solid now flexible, faded, frayed wooded planks. As we made our way to the top I heard Ann Curry’s voice, “Tonight on Dateline… tragedy at an Oregon speedway…” It would be a story about the reckless subculture of racing and how their aren’t enough inspectors to prevent the collapse of grandstand seating. During the investigation they’d uncover hundreds of deaths that could have been prevented with a little structural engineering. The children were outfitted with earplugs to drown out the roar of engines and the deafening sound of cars whose mufflers had fallen out by accident. At one point the announcer said, “Looks like it’s a drive shaft out there, folks.” Behind us sat a brother and sister in their 30’s. They’d been coming to the races since they were babies and pointed to the spot in the stands where they used to sleep. The scene was remarkably similar the Pixar feature, Cars, except the cars weren’t so shiny. They flew by at about 100mph and side-winded curves as if the force and momentum of gravity would have to send them reeling off track, but somehow they stayed in. Rounding the bend toward us it seemed entirely possible that they might take flight and come crashing into the stands. All we’d see was a slow motion, sound-distorted scattering of screaming spectators, the ripping of chain-link and the underbellies of cars in thin air hurtling toward us just before a crushing darkness. Ann Curry would say, “We’d like to warn you the images we’re about to show you are quite graphic…” They said it couldn’t happen. But it could. We cheered when PB took to the track. We were riveted as he raced by at 75-80mph. The children cheered and hooted. He took the lead. We cheered and hooted. He won! What a great inauguration into the world of amateur racing! We felt attached to a great indestructible star. Later we found out PB sobbed the entire race, which he’d dedicated to the beloved dog they recently put down. Before long the boys made a break for the track. They tried to climb the fence, eat cigarette butts, knock over people’s sodas. We had to split. But the girls were transfixed. They had no intention of leaving. Ever. They’d packed their bags and were very excited to spend the night with family at the Willamette Speedway. (“Coming up next, a world known to few… the secret ring of raceway kidnappings… stay with us.”) For the girls it would be one of those childhood memories that takes on a life of its own. D is still thrilled over going to the rodeo years ago with PB. She’s been dying to introduce us to the magical world of cattle-roping, bull-riding and boot-tossing ever since. We’re just not ready. I’m so happy we finally got to experience the races. We’ll definitely go back. But the rodeo? Calves falling down, bulls thrashing about, people flinging their shoes into a poopy arena? This sounds like one of those things best left to a man-boy grandfather who owns a pick up truck.