Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Night at the Sprint Car Races


[Editorial note: Alvin James "Jim" Williams was a very close friend of mine in Wichita Falls, TX. I met him while we were both studying Engineering at Midwestern State University. Jim was a highly-intelligent, yet completely down-to-Earth guy, that helped me immensely in my early years in sports car racing.

For many compelling reasons that I don't really want to go into, Jim allowed himself to succumb to a drug addiction that destroyed his life, and ultimately ended it at age 45. Regardless, Jim's memory lives on with those of us that knew him. I am proud to have had him call me a friend.

The event described below was located at the old 1/4-mile dirt track in Wichita Falls, out on the Archer City Highway, was it? I'm sure it's long gone by now... - GA]

A Night at the Sprint Car Races - Jim Williams, c. 1985

I’m in a very good mood today, so I shall annoy you with my prose.

The sprint car circus came to town last night. Not the WoO boys, but the American Sprint something or other. We’re not talking about boys with "Joe’s Texaco" printed on the side, we’re talking TEXACO INC on the side. If the WoO were NASCAR, this would be ARCA. Hell, they brought their own purse money, officials, and timers. Womble (the track owner) got to keep the gate and concession and didn’t even have to shell out anything. They even got somebody from Oklahoma to come down and properly grade the track. Looks like a real race track now, not some kids go-cart path. To make it a more interesting night for the fans, they decided to run all the Pony Stocks also. (Translation: the Ponys got to pack the track, but what the hell, they had a big purse for the ponys.)

So anyway, to the races on a Wednesday night we go. There must have been 30 ponys and at least 50 of the sprinters. The only time I’ve seen that many semis and Wells Cargo trailers in one place is the Runoffs. The sheer quantity and quality of pit honeys was worth the twenty bucks for a pit pass.

The Ponys got three heat races and one feature and Randy drew 4th inside on the third heat. Managed to turn it into a first by the length of the front straight, so I figure we’ve got no problems here, time to watch the sprints.

Carl Jung premised that there are archetypical symbols which have deep meaning to the human race; dragons, virgins, storms, etc. I think he left out small cars with big tires, big engines, and big wings. Something about that much violence going around the track like a tether ball, makes you want to grip the fence like one of those stuffed cats with suction cups for feet, assume a blank expression and moan "uuuuuh".

Six to eight sprinters at a time, put on a pretty good show and managed to keep out of trouble. Except for the guy who tried to get a bite off of the front straight fence. He got to talk to the ambulance driver regarding how many fingers a paramedic should have on his hand. Considering the fact that he tried to drive off the fence with the big flat end of the car, opposite of the end with the big round things on it, I don’t think he could have answered the question before he tried that line. Hell, I know the ambulance driver, and I don’t think he could answer the question either. Anyway, if not quite coherent, he was walking, so they let him stagger to the pits and drug his car back behind him, with everybody watching the wrecker like a funeral procession for a national hero. A collective "Shiiit" and respectful silence. Nothing hurt except his pride and a $10,000 Gambler chassis, so on we go.

They had so many sprint car heats that I lost count, but they scheduled something like six B features for the sprints, then our feature, and the consummate event: the sprinter A main. The sprint B features were having a profound effect on me. My brain waves must have reached resonance with a 7000 rpm small block Chevy. But alas, they come to an end, with no damage to anybody except maybe the guys who sharpened their nerf bars on the Armco.

Ah, the Pony feature. Thirty of the little snots all at once. Randy gets to start from the pole. The race starts and so far so good, Randy's doing a good job of staying out in front. Whatever lead he builds up, keeps getting shortened by all the yellow flags. At about the umpteenth restart, one little Okie Pinto gets around Randy and another sneaks up behind. I remember this Pinto from impound at Lawton; we got to keep 1st and forty dollars tear-down money. He got a "don’t come back for three weeks and don’t stop at the pay window" lecture from the track owner. Randy's doing a good job of keeping up with him, though. Randy's Pinto comes out of the corner harder and he sucks him up the Okie at the end of the straight. On the very last lap, in turn four, the other Pinto starts to check out the sides of Randy's car. Randy tries to come out of turn four harder and get away from the third place car. Randy's now facing backwards and the rest of the field is rolling away to the checker.

I’m sitting on the trailer when Randy gets back to the pits. "Sooooo, how much does last place pay?" I ask. He must be having a good night too, I can’t get a rise out of him.

The A feature is about to begin, and I grab my space along the fence with the rest of the true believers. Twenty some odd sprinters on this little bullring. Yes there is a God. "No mister security man, I’m not standing here with my lips wrapped around the fence having an orgasm. I’m having a religious experience. Leave me alone."

The start is awesome. I know damn well that turns one and two aren't that wide, so I still have no idea how they all came thru. But come thru they do, and away they go.

All night long they had been moving the cushion up higher and higher on the track and packing the bottom till it looked like asphalt and was probably harder. Any water that was on the track had long since been boiled out and they flew into the corners with so much dust that you can only see the wings of the cars. It kind of resembled a tornado hitting a trailer park, except a tornado is much quieter. All you could see was big sheets of aluminum coming at you from the dust cloud, then a car would appear from nowhere, hit the cushion at the edge of the track and disappear in a spray of mud and rocks.

Amazingly they didn’t have a single caution for the entire race. They were spread all around the track and going by so fast that I don’t see how they even kept a lap count. But somebody finally pulled the plug and the flag man waved the checker.

"Yes baby, it was very good for me and can I smoke one of your cigarettes, mine seem to be full of mud." Matter of fact I have mud in my hair, shorts, shoes, and pieces of my anatomy that I didn't know I had. I have mud in my beer and mud in my ear. The sound pressure from all of this has compacted the mud in my ear to a density approaching fruitcake and I’ll probably have to have it surgically removed but what the hell.

The pit honeys are asleep in the back seats of the duallys and the sprint cars are having their wings removed and being rolled into the trailers. Show's over, time to go back to reality. All I have to do now is wipe this stupid grin off my face.

Cheerfully yours,

Jim