Off to the Races

I love the smell of burning rubber in the morning. It smells like…victory.

Behold: a few pics from this morning’s story recon mission at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, a fifty-year-old track near downtown Nashville, hated by (some) neighbors but beloved by old-school racing fans and families who have spent Saturdays there together for generations. Future HER Nashville article TBA.

For these multigenerational racing families, short-track NASCAR isn’t just a sport; it’s a lifestyle. In a 2009 WPLN story about the Speedway, Craig Havighurst (one of my favorite writers) describes the track’s once-thriving, now shrinking tradition:  “It’s like a time capsule…a living bridge between the moonshine-running, dirt-track origins of stock car racing and the big media world of NASCAR – a slice of undiluted Southern culture alive and throbbing its engines in the middle of Nashville.”

This hot almost-summer morning, we strolled around and watched pitmen tweaking engines and tire pressure and families napping in car trailers between practice runs. I met a ponytailed brunette named Stephanie who races a souped-up Impala with a big blue 31 on the side. Her whole family takes part, always has. In a long stretch of steamy afternoon before her race time, she buzzed around pit row on a four-wheeler with her little son hanging on, giggling madly.

On our way out the gate, a flagman named Gary waved me up into the tower, wanting to share his magnificent view with me and my long lens. As he whipped a green flag around his head with evident pleasure, engines screamed to life, rear wheels tilted and skidded thrillingly upslope around banked turns, and a hot automotive wind-wake roared by. “I get paid for this,” Gary marveled, grinning at his luck, “and I get to see the races free!”

Here’s Craig Havighurst again, describing race nights:

“A typical night’s slate includes eight races. The Dwarfs and Legends, resembling 1950s speedsters with curvaceous fenders, race on the inner quarter-mile track. Next come the noisy Thunderstox and Super Stocks – banged up, hand painted sedans with sponsor decals from bail bondsmen and small-town auto mechanics. Then, about dusk, the super trucks and late models take to the big track.”

I may never be a serious NASCAR fan, but I always love a day’s journey into somebody else’s world. Look for the full story in HER later this year. Meanwhile, here’s a brief photographic preview:

2 thoughts on “Off to the Races

  1. Awesome! And thanks for the lovely shouty-outy. I need to get over there for an evening before it gets too hot. : )

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