Few things in this world are as dramatic as the start of a NASCAR race. War, for instance. Or the launch of a Saturn V rocket. The crowd rises from their seats in anticipation. The starter stands in his box with flag in hand as the bestickered phalanx of cars rounds turn four. After the pace car scurries from view into pit lane the violence of dozens of highly tuned V8 engines is unleashed in unison. You can sense the invisible force of the sound approaching. Like others, I reverently remove my radio headphones so that I can fully ingest the aural assault. I feel the high frequency vibration in the aluminum stadium seats beneath my feet. And then it hits – a sound so big I hear it with my entire body. You don’t get that on TV.
These starts, which are repeated after every caution, are like hits of crack to NASCAR addicts. Add the excitement of aggressive bump-n-grind driving, a few spectacular crashes, and a dramatic finish, and the crowd could care less that the racers only turn left.
My latest foray into NASCAR society occurred at the Craftsman Truck Series Sam’s Town 400 at the Texas Motor Speedway (TMS) with my youngest son. Forget every exaggerated stereotype you might have of NASCAR fans. Real Truck Series fans outdo them all. A regular NASCAR car event looks like an NAACP convention compared to the gene pond from whence Truck Series fans hail. Equally homogeneous: the choice of vehicle that they drive to the stadium. That would be pickups.
TMS speakers blared alternative metal music while fifty-one thousand patrons found their seats. I don’t guess that many in the crowd have songs by Disturbed, Slipknot, or Mastodon on their iPods at home, but somehow the music is an appropriate prelude to thirty-five 700 horsepower 358 cu-in pushrod V8 engines screaming at full voice.
As second hand cigarette smoke wafted all about us, my host, a longtime Texas Motor Speedway season ticket holder, commented, “I know I need to lose a few pounds but in this crowd I feel skinny.” I don’t mean to disparage my fellow racing fans. They are what they are and proud of it. They’re knowledgeable of the sport and quite hospitable– that is unless your last name is Busch (Bush is okay). As in Kyle Busch, the most hated man in North Texas.
Busch is vilified as a dirty, nay evil, driver. Boos erupted as the man sporting a black cowboy hat was introduced. The NASCAR points leader was set to start in last position because he was a late driver change for the #51 Miccosukee Resorts truck. He was also in the midst of a very busy weekend, attempting to win a trifecta of races in three different classes at three different tracks on the same weekend. Pre-race gossip centered on the scandalous prediction that the bad boy had made before the race; that he would break into the top ten within the first fifty laps.
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series pickups share little in common with the Chevy Silverado, Ford F-150, Dodge Ram and Toyota Tundra pickups that share their names. Sponsors such as Lumber Liquidators, Construction Corps, Power Stroke Diesel by International, Road Loans, and, my favorite, GunBroker.com, reflect the rural working class values.
Pole position went to newcomer, Justin Marks. After the first dozen laps, five trucks withdrew due to mechanical problems. The race fell into a predictable rhythm: race for about twenty laps (until tires become worn), crash, pit under a caution flag, cleanup, lather, rinse, repeat.
Ron Hornaday Jr. in the #33 Camping World Chevrolet emerged early in what appeared to be the fasted truck in the field. True to his word, Kyle Busch made quick work of the rest of the field. By lap 55, Busch was in the number nine spot. From that point forward he seemed content to lurk between fifth and seventh place without pressing the leaders. But every spectator knew where he was at all times and that he could surge to the top at will.
With eleven laps to go, Busch leapfrogged into second place. Tension built for an epic battle. Concerned fans held three fingers high with both hands in support of #33 Hornaday. This night good triumphed over evil. Hornaday’s car was just too fast; reaching the green-white-checkered flag 0.283 seconds ahead of Busch.
As for my son and me, we had a great time. And although our seats were nestled in the shade beneath the luxury boxes I think my neck turned a little bit red.