Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Riverhead Roll-over Competition

The little honda readied itself. The last artifacts of the Modified race were being cleared from the track. Behind the honda, four other equally unintimidating vehicles sputtered to life, waiting for their turn. A flag was swung and with it, the honda jerked forward. The driver mashed the accelerator. Driving a lonely circumference of the track, it hooked around the western perimeter, gathering speed as it took the straightaway. The other cars didn't move. The honda turned inward on the track, pushing its bulk the 50 or so mph it could muster. The crowd hushed. The honda aimed itself for a ramp set up within the dirt heart of the asphalt racetrack. Leaping and curling off the ramp's corner, it upended on the dirt, flipping over onto its top. The crowd waited to see if its momentum would result in another rotation. It rocked once and came to rest. The large race afficianado sitting one level beneath us in the bleachers leaned back to tell us the score: One point. They flipped him over with a towchain - the driver still inside - and seeing the infrastructure of the car still intact, they let the honda fly, two more tries left for a better score. Once more, our large racing yogi leaned back and said: You get 5 for a full roll.

The 6 events of Saturday night's racing exhibition were as follows:
1) Stock-car racing full track
2) Modified memorial to a fallen driver (segueing into a full track race)
3) Modified car racing figure 8 track
4) Roll-over competition
5) Train Race
6) Schoolbus Demolition Derby (full-size and mini)

It was the fastest, dirtiest 6 hours I've experienced since (fill in suggestive event here). Elliot suggested we attend the races after he saw a documentary on Speedo - a legendary schoolbus demolition derby driver - on PBS. I waffled at the suggestion until it became clear I'd be in Long Island anyway. It was cosmic. It was meant to be. And you really haven't lived until you've witnessed an unspoken agreement between two full-size schoolbuses to sandwich a mini-schoolbus at the same time. I wiped a tear from my eye when the mini-driver scrambled out his windshield, his engine just beginning to catch on fire.

The first two races were thrilling just for the speed. I felt nervously akin to Nascar fans - a sport I normally file under dull with golf or horse-racing. Spectacle without individuality doesn't generally flood my sportsloving neurons. But gosh, when you can taste the burnt rubber on the straw through which you're sipping your warm beer, it's hard not to hoot and holler. I actually questioned the straw and cap they give you when you buy beer - until the fireworks. The sizzling colors exploding not too far over our heads after the roll-over competition and the ash raining down into the crowd gave me a zenlike appreciation for my straw. Good ole boys throughout the crowd sipped with great aplomb.

The third race was the first figure 8 competition where instead of racing the circumference of the track, the modified cars - going about 90mph - had to race in an intersecting figure 8. The extra challenge here for the leaders looping back into the intersection is not smashing right into the stragglers just crossing the center of the 8. I'd say the 35 lap race would halt every 2 laps for a new wreck to be cleared into the pit. Can you go into shock witnessing someone else's car accident? Not if you become numb to the proceedings after the fourth or fifth collision. Wheeeeee!

The roll-over competition, I've already described. Slim Jim - a jovial, leather-jacketed racer - was the winner with a one and a half flip. He wanted to go the allotted two more times around - for a mammoth score - but was over-ruled by the roof and hood of his car being caved in completely. His 7 points still deemed him bruised champion.

I just naturally assumed the demolition derby event would be the real awe-inspirer on a taunting-death level. But you really haven't contemplated suicide until you've driven in a train race. A 'train' is actually three cars chained together. Sounds innocent enough, right? Well, the first car has a driver and no brakes. This is the accelerator car. The second car has no driver and nothing working except its wheels. The third car in the procession has a driver but no gas pedal. This is the brake car. For a 'train' race, you get 8 of these frankensteins on the track, line 'em up and watch them hit speeds of 60mph. What really makes you squeeze your beer straw is the fact that they're racing on the figure 8 track. The stragglers and the leaders - 3 cars long each - become that much more of a target for errant racing. The metaphor is either one of supreme cooperation or that big, unwieldy corporations can not chug along at full speed presuming the Bush administration will halt their head-on collisions with the current, unstable economy.

And finally, the schoolbus demolition derby. It was awesome. More strategy than one would imagine. Engines catching fire. Really brutal smooshing. Positioning one's schoolbus for a back-first crushing of a lonely mini. I thought the minis might have some kind of secret advantage but they seemed to be out there just to fire up the full-size drivers - the derby's equivalent of shark chum. Round about midnight, the same Slim Jim who had won the roll-over competition - pulverized the final schoolbus and stood atop his chassy in victory.

Next Saturday night at Riverhead Raceway? TAXICAB demolition derby AND Monstertrucks. Be-be-be-be there-there-there!


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