Sprint Car Apocalypse
Perris. It's always Perris. I wake up in a strange bed and go down to a breakfast room full of strangers and I shuffle and I mumble and I shake until I get to the track where friends and the smell of fuel and the clinking of tools starts to bring me around. I love my wife and kids but I don't seem to walk the walk. Tulare, Hanford, Petaluma; it's always some corporate hojo somewhere instead of home where I really want to be. But the home track calls and reels me back in. They have a mission for me. There's a guy and he doesn't brake for slide jobs. Drives right through them. They're concerned. He's north of the border operating outside of anyone's control. I picked up the trail in Perris. It's strange. On the coast, everything starts and ends in Perris.
The Salute was to Indy but Matt Mitchell had just killed that monkey on his back. So now Kazarian lit the fuse on the Firecracker 30 and man that thing went off like Slim Pickens doing a hat trick. I mainly remember that those Arizona firemen had died and how sad everybody was and how much we owe. The people came and the stands were packed with people waving flags in a surreal afternoon glow and the vibe was contagious. The dismal pessimists on the message boards fled the joyful sunshine and grandstands stuffed like sardine cans. Those racing fans were soundly rewarded with Nic Faas again demonstrating an uncanny ability to balance critical mass going in against terrifying acceleration coming out of the corners. Bobby Michnowicz ripped another Lightning Sprint win. The whole thing was a brilliant race day and the track should really feel the pride! But off the podium, it was the Ripper that gave me hope. Watching him work the crowd after the race I realized the best way to grow fans is race forever and then just sign them up one at a time. I tipped my hat, decoded my sensibilities and headed for the drop location.
Watsonville was weird. That promoter worked his ass off; the car count was all right but that crowd was thin. He's got one those great tracks with grass in the infield and the incomparable Santa Cruz county in his backyard. I watch Steve Lafrond work his camera perched on freaking edge of the track. I'm scared to death for him but probably the best photographer on the West Coast for my money. Brilliant edge of your mind perspectives of mud caked cars screaming across the finish lines of your fate. Runs a killer rock band and has been kicking around the Silicone Valley forever. You can find him sitting at the bar of a legendary joint if you know where to look. Point's leader Damian Gardner takes a really hard flip in his heat race and is done before he started. No two-spin rule was tough in the main leading to dozens of yellows… Ryan Bernal runs out of gas but hardcore and persistent Marty Hawkins guts out an emotional victory. That was a good feeling floating in the air. I tap our wheelman Mike "Full Throttle" Truex and we head south scratching for shelter from the night.
Santa Maria was a dream. That's some track that old cuss built. Sticks for a tower and concrete seats rising out of the stickiest shit this side of tar baby. And doesn't that stuff get on you and once your tagged; it's hard to come clean. It was all about Ryan Bernal at Santa Maria although Matt Mitchell was no slouch. Damian ran third but I swear he had a couple of cracked ribs from Ocean and hesitating in the corners. JMO. I do remember standing inside turn one and the whole crowd of people were hooting and hollering as Flying Ryan would slam into a crowd of back markers and just dance a jig through the openings and some not so opens, Mitchell hot on his tail and dodging the collateral damage. We got our money that night as earnest Ryan stood in victory circle and threw his arms around crew chief Jimmy May for what turned out to be the last time. Those guys won a lot of races together and I sure enjoyed every one I ever saw. For me, Ryan is like a wild mustang, still untamed, still in the hills racing a moonlit mystery train just for the hell of it.
We hooked up with lens man Tim, threw the Demon in another truck with Jeff Steady, took one last glance at truly Julie and pointed those patrol boats upriver and headed into that deep jungle on that darkest night. Rick Bernal was heading home from Santa Maria and he texted me that we motored by like a hurricane from hell. Candied apples and rock music fuels the storm cell and we clear Stockton, home of Jonathan Henry at 2:30 a.m. It's three am and we're breezing through Elk Grove, home of Kyle Larson. Sacramento, Truckee, Reno, they fall like bowling pins as we spin into Utah and float onto the great salt flats of Bonneville like refugees from our childhood dreams and ready to kung fu fight at whatever monsters rise up in front of us.
Bonneville was a trip. Watching the Demon work through the mission was a lesson in individualism that would have made Ann Rand blush. Damion is about getting in tight spots and then letting it rip. I think ordinary life just kills him, he needs a certain amount of adrenaline flowing and down time is just planning with Stich for the next sitch. He doesn't sweat the feelings or explanations, he's focused on the job at hand and you're either on the crazy train or you're back at the station. Time, money, muscle, food and metal are just components that swirl around him like sparks off a grinding wheel of forward motion. People gravitate to him like magnets because they want that pure energy he puts out. Any race, you see his hardcore friends circled around his car or trailer like Secret Service surrounds the president. I call them the Concord Mafia. Unpaid, unheralded, cool, detached and calculating, they are there to protect the vision, there to protect the mission. Forget your normal bullshit sunny boy friendships, these guys don't brake.
Bonneville is a premium margarita, high quality tequila, ice fields and a salty rim as intoxicating as a Tulare cushion. But Bonneville's a bitch. You're in the moment, cruising along with the wind in your face, ears pinned back, grinning like a golden retriever in old truck. Suddenly, the pretty white disappears, you start spinning and loss of control at this speed is never a good thing…. I drag my ass back to LA and prepare to debrief The Alphabet Race Committee about the revolution brewing in the hinterlands. Perris is going off again. I think it was the Glenn Howard, I'm feeling a little fuzzy at this point but I did talk for quite a bit with Steve Howard up on the roof of that hot dog stand. That guy raised a lot of money for racers in the past few years and is strangely feeling a bit unappreciated. I asked him for a picture and I made sure to thank him. I'm pretty sure Nic Faas won this race but I'm starting to get a little wobbly. USAC/VRA/URA didn't like what I had to say and they shipped me out of there faster than David Cardey on a last lap pass. Man, I'm going to miss that guy for a long time.
I fled to Calistoga and the minute I walked onto that track I felt like sprint car nation had hope. In a peaceful mountaintop valley sits the most gorgeous track I've ever seen. The vineyards seem to come out of the clouds and practically spill over into the infield. Two days of Tommy Hunt and the vineyard vanguard delivered badass racing. Somebody told me that Bud Kaeding has the ability to reach deep for the big races and after a year of lackluster results wasn't that the truth. The buzz was about Kyle and Rico but if you saw the battle between Bud and the Demon on Friday night you saw exactly what the hell we do. Kaeding; Christ that's a whole other book. I caught something other than racing up there and I hid out in Lake County trying to get healthy. I got real paranoid that someone was out to get me and laid for days in a sweat-drenched fever. My accountant was texting wanting to know what the hell was going on, what are these receipts from Utah, some Nevada casino and exactly what are you doing in Napa? My American Express hit a personal best, the wife wanted to know if I was going to be home for dinner and my sense of reality was starting to bike.
In the middle of this mess D-Rod, who I hadn't seen for years, suddenly showed up. He and Full Throttle loaded me up and we blasted out to Phoenix desert to get healthy. What a lifesaver, that dry desert air, vivid blue streaked sunsets and the Canyon Speedway cowboys got me all settled back down on four wheels. Kevin has been making some improvements and Friday night was wicked fast. Bryan Clauson picked up where he left off and Saturday night it took rubber and Chase Stockton drove the glory train. Just like Calistoga, Canyon is unique in it's own way. R.J., Magic Mike, Pelkey, Charles and the rest of those outlaws have got something indescribable and indefinably cool going on there. I probably shouldn't be saying anything. It's like a mysto break...
Now I'm back in LA and I hear there's another race this weekend. I'm patching things up with the wife and my kid has a riding exhibition on Saturday. I realize I have get to bed earlier than I have been and be a little steadier in every sense. Perhaps I'll just shoot out there Saturday evening, lay low, say hi to few old friends and get home early. Tonight we're sitting around as a family watching the Voice and it's quiet and peaceful as a fog shrouded Oxnard berry patch. But something lurks in the background; quiet and rhythmic like a motor idling in a shed somewhere. I want normalcy, I want clean racing and I want that comforting sense of civility. But I'm remembering Bonneville and that look in the Demon's eye. I want normal, but deep down hidden away from everybody and everything I want something else. I want sprint car apocalypse.