Monday, May 26, 2003

The most recent coolest thing ever or Ed goes to a dirt track race in Lancaster, SC

Chris and I had been discussing going to a dirt track race for a while. We realized that we enjoy major league baseball and we also attend the occasional minor baseball game so why shouldn't we take our NASCAR fandom to a local level also? After talking about going for a few months Chris got a Saturday off from work and we took a trek south to the Lancaster Speedway located in Lancaster, SC.

The Lancaster Speedway is a half mile high-banked track carved out of the Carolina clay. It's a bare boned facility which is probably running barely in the black but it is a very efficient operation. We were initially struck by how many people were in attendance. At one point in the evening the announcer mentioned that there were over one thousand fans in the stands. I think he mentioned later that the gate was 1,100.

After we arrived and the local police officer checked our coolers to determine we were not carrying bottles we grabbed a seat a few yards beyond the start/finish line. We ended up sitting about halfway up and a major thoroughfare of the grandstands was right in front of us. Most of the traffic consisted of children running back and forth to the playground and that was almost as entertaining as the racing on the track. I was constantly afraid I would stretch at the wrong moment and clothesline a four-year-old.

The first on-track action was a short testing session for each series that was referred to as "hot laps." There were around six series racing that night. Each series, or division, is determined by experience and type of cars being run. There is not much explanation from the announcer as to the difference between the divisions but you could tell some divisions had faster racecars and the drivers of the faster cars were obviously more experienced.

I was also able to determine the rules of the events by quizzing a guy sitting next to us with his handsome family and beautiful wife. He looked like Dale Jarrett was a petite and very southern blonde lady. She had that beautiful country accent that could have melted ice in the freezer. Before the night ended I was in love. Later when Chris and I were enthusiastically telling each other how much fun we were having he said "It doesn't hurt that the prettiest woman here is sitting next to you." I had to agree.

What was readily apparent as the evening wore on was that the whole affair is very local. People were constantly waving to friends as they moved through the stands, shouting out to their peeps and clusters of people who were sitting together were turning around to discuss the events occuring on the track with those around them. The community connections did not end in the stands. All the drivers were local boys and the fans knew who they were. The Jarrett look-alike with the handsome family told me that several drivers were friends of his and one was an employee that drove a tractor on his farm. He even told me he was a co-sponsor one of the cars in the featured series, called superstock, through a convenience store chained he partially owned.
Before I arrived I expected something like minor league baseball. Instead I witnessed an event that is more closely related to American Legion baseball that used to permeate the south. This was local men putting their asses on the line for the thrill of competition in front of their friends and family. It reminded me of the softball league in northern Michigan in which my father participated in the 70's. Hundreds of locals would show up then and cheer on local heroes also.

That's enough for now. Chris and I are settled in. We've watched the hot laps, talked to a couple of folks and we are very excited about watching the races to come. I finish this tomorrow.

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