By Jeff Martin
I like racing — especially when it involves my Dodge and it’s 2 a.m. and I’m absolutely positive there isn’t a policeman parked behind a bush.
I like racing on television, too — specifically when I watch it with my girlfriend, a beer or two in the fridge, ribs in the oven, a day off.
So when I got the chance to go see the races in Little Valley in late May, I jumped. Sitting in the stands, gnawing on a slice of fried dough the size of a palm leaf, I watched excitedly the cars racing around and around like a fly above a ham sandwich.
I found myself following specific drivers, watching how they handled corners, how they took advantage of straightaways and capitalized on leaders who, for a split second, left their guard down and gave too much space.
I especially enjoyed getting close to the fence and hooking my fingers on the chain link like an 8-year-old boy watching his favorite baseball player, letting the sound punch me. It was like an assault. And the dirt — especially fun getting sprinkled violently by chunks of dirt.
A few weeks later, I decided to attend Holland Speedway, a NASCAR-sanctioned track just south of Main Street in Holland. I had actually gone to the track for the Smash-O-Rama a couple of weeks before. I wasn’t too impressed with the event, but I enjoyed the track and the seating, a collection of bleachers whose wood planks appeared as old as the decks of pirate ships. Other bleachers were metal.
We got there early before the gates opened and listened to the practice sessions. At 4:45 p.m., they opened the gates and we wandered in, finding a seat and watching the qualifying heats. It was a hot day and the engines were opened up and humming. Because it’s a short track, the driving was tight and, presumably, exhausting for the drivers. Long tracks, like the ones NASCAR fans are accustomed to seeing, provide at least a brief rest for the driver.
I’m not up on the racing lingo, and I’m certainly not up on knowing the types of cars I was watching. Stock cars, sure, but there were also smaller cars; I believe they called them midget cars and they seemed the best fit for the track itself because their size allowed for more straightaway. They darted around the track like water spiders, giving the audience a good show with several lead changes.
At the end of each race, the winner stopped in the circle and posed for pictures, and was interviewed briefly, which is a nice touch because it adds a little touch of humanity to the event. So many sports feel distant.
And I was certainly surprised by how many racers were second or third or fourth generation racers. Whole families raced through many years, filling the facility with a sense of family and tradition.
By the vending area, which serves up some quality food for decent prices, I spoke with John DeMarco, a Holland resident who has been coming to the races for years. He was alone but he wasn’t a loner — he has family, sure, but the races for him are a kind of sanctuary, a place of, dare I say, prayer.
“I always tell my family that I like going alone,” he said. “It gives me a chance to just be on my own with no one around. I can think here about what I need to do and stuff like that. And I like racing.”
I had to laugh. Think? How? Then I realized he was right. Problems can’t fit inside the head that is being knocked around by the sound of a few thousand horses racing for the finish line.