I ease to a stop at the red light. I feel the other car before I see or hear it. Its over-loud bass is rattling my dashboard. I look to the left and make eye contact with the young, cocky driver of the muscle car next to me. He revs his engine. “Oh, it’s on!” I think, looking up to focus on the traffic signal. I tune out the souped-up vehicle’s invasive music. I ignore the second, challenging rev of its engine. I am watching the light and readying my foot to hit the accelerator. I see cross traffic slow and stop. “Buddy,” I think, “you’re going to eat my exhaust.” The light turns green, and I hit the gas. My tires squeal as I speed away, putting an ever-growing distance between me and that punk kid.
“So long, sucker!” I shout victoriously.
Okay, that’s never happened. For one thing, I make it a practice to avoid eye contact with fellow drivers. No reason to spark any more road rage than already exists. Second, I drive a twelve-year-old car with a four-cylinder engine. I’m not going to beat that faster vehicle with more horsepower. Finally, even if I stood a chance of winning, luck would have me speeding past a cop and earning an expensive ticket.
But on Friday night, $20 would have allowed me to live the fantasy. Peter, Philip and I were at Dragway 42 attending the first day of their 8th Annual Rock and Race Nostalgia Weekend. It was the only night open to all models and years of vehicles. The rest of the weekend was devoted to pre-1976 machines. (As I told Peter, “Hey, we’re classics; Philip’s a late-model.”) Anyone with cash in hand was welcome on the track.
We opted to remain spectators.
Peter tried to take me and Philip to our first drag race a month ago. Unfortunately, after only three vehicles sped down the track, the event was rained out. Before we left that evening, one of the friendly staff members told us to save our wrist bands for a credit toward a future admission.
“Here’s a flyer about our big weekend in July. You don’t want to miss it.”
Peter took the man at his word and made sure we arrived soon after the gates opened on Friday evening.
Unlike my fantasy in which my car is the fastest and therefore wins, the quarter-mile gambler race that we watched is a form of drag racing known as “bracket racing.” I didn’t understand this concept during the “test and tune” runs. It just looked me to like there were different pairings of cars lining up and taking off. I watched the score boards to see reaction times and speeds, but didn’t think anything of it.
Once the actual eliminations began, I understood the appeal of these races. Drivers are actually competing against themselves. The test and tunes generate a “dial-in” speed. The object is for the driver to get as close to that speed as possible without beating their own time. If you go faster than your dial-in speed, it’s known as a break out. A break out will get you eliminated. You win your heat by being closer to your dial-in speed than the other driver. The most consistent driver, not the driver who spends the most money to build the fastest vehicle, wins.
In fact, this “elapsed time” racing is set up so that the starting lights activate first for the slower vehicle. If both drivers react and race at speeds consistent with their test and tunes, they should, in theory, cross the finish line at the same time.
Once I understood the way bracket racing works, I really got into it. I can’t say the same for Philip, however.
Just as we did for the demolition derby, we brought ear muffs for Philip to wear.
He wore them for a while, but then I think his ears got too hot. He would take them off, be okay for a while and then completely tense up and shake.
Even when he was tolerating the smoky, exhaust-filled air, the smell of burning rubber, the sickly sweet stench of the cleaner used on the track and the sudden, loud roar of engines, I think he simply got bored with the races. He went through several fidgets while we were there.
Philip and I took several breaks under a tent near the vendors. Walking to and from the grandstand gave us a chance to watch the drivers assemble in the staging lanes. He also liked standing in front of the main food stand because they had a Slurpee machine with a spinning cup on top. He enjoyed watching that as much as any of the cars.
There was no changing table in the restroom, so Philip and I eventually went to the car to stay. He was definitely showing signs of fatigue by the time we made the trek back to the parking lot. I changed his diaper, and he munched on some popcorn. The next thing I knew, he was asleep.
I was beginning to get impatient with Peter. He said he would only stay until the end of the gambler race. Spectator parking was at the end of the track where cars exit. I noticed that vehicles stopped coming out, but Peter still wasn’t there. I couldn’t hear the track announcements over the live band that had begun to perform, and I couldn’t tune my radio to the station that plays those announcements. I was starting to think the whole evening was a drag when I finally got Peter on his cell phone.
It turns out that one of the cars ran over the control panel for the starting lights. Peter thought it would be a quick fix, but forty minutes elapsed without a restart.
Fortunately, we don’t live all that far away. Peter drove me and a still-sleeping Philip home and then returned to watch the rest of the event. He missed the exhibition run of the nitro funny cars, but caught the end of the gambler race. Peter enjoyed the evening so much, he planned on going back today. Unfortunately, rain delayed on-track events until Saturday evening.
I never pictured myself attending a drag race, but I’m glad I went. If the weather is as nice for the ninth annual edition of Dragway 42’s Rock and Race as it was on Friday night, I’m sure you’ll find me in the bleachers again. I’ll be there will my classic husband and late-model son.