Our eyes were as wide as the proverbial saucers. Cars zoomed around the dirt track jockeying for position, the jockeying resulting in dented fenders and doors, dust flying and dirt flinging off the corners as the cars slid sideways through the turns. A car gets spun out, the driver, obviously irritated at the wrong, goes against the flow and rams oncoming traffic. A big old Cadillac flips, the hood flies off, the car lands on its side, the driver climbs out.
It was summer after graduating from high school and I went to the races with a couple of friends, Ron and Bob. None of us had been to a stock car race and we decided it was something we needed to do. We made the 45-minute trip in Bob’s mother’s 1965 Fairlane from our small town to the big city that had a racetrack at the fairgrounds. Maybe the term “big city” needs defining. To us it was a big city with a population of 20,000 people. It was home to a Capitol Records division that pressed hot vinyl to form records of The Beatles as well as other popular artists. The Beatles popularity was the impetus for the opening of the plant as Capitol/EMI needed another facility to keep pace with the demand for their records. For some reason this small city in the middle of Midwest farm fields was chosen. At the time I thought it would be a really cool place to work. I know now that it would have been boring, repetitious work and I would never have actually met The Beatles or any of the other performers whose music were imbedded within the grooves of those records.
Anyway, back to the races.
I don’t believe any of us three guys had ever seen anything quite so exciting as those cars sliding and banging around that dirt track. Bob wanted to drive one. He was practically foaming at the mouth and would have slipped from the grandstand and jumped into an unoccupied race car if he could have. I was much less bold and would have simply watched Bob as he dashed across the track toward a car. Ron, the most level-head one of the trio, took in the action in a matter-of-fact manner, though I noticed his eyes were saucer-sized, too.
I knew I wasn’t the kind of fellow to slide a car through those corners and bump and bang like a pinball in that gaggle of speeding machines, but I did think it would be fun to work on them, be a mechanic or pit crewman. I did not have the urge, though, to sprint to the pits and pick up a wrench.
After the last race and trophies were presented to the winners of this pugilist event on wheels, we headed home. A couple of miles before reaching our hometown was a flat, straight stretch of highway. No one in sight ahead or behind. Bob held the accelerator to the floor and the six-cylinder engine under the hood the of the Fairlane wound up, turning ever faster, finally reaching its limit, seemingly like a person who has reached their limit and struggles for air. The speedometer slowly crept up to 100 miles per hour. Bob must have been attempting to live out his car racing fantasy as he hurled us through the darkness toward town. Finally he gave the little engine a reprieve as we slowed for the approaching 30 mile-per-hour speed limit.
In years past I went through a time when I attended numerous dirt track races and have seen some good, close racing. But nothing compared to what we three guys witnessed that hot summer night. As far as going back to that particular track, which is still in operation, I’ve thought about it and concluded it may be like the realization that working at Capitol Records would fall far short of a teenage dream. Going back would fall far short of that night 50 years ago.