I’ve been searching far and wide in an attempt to find anything and everything out of the ordinary that could possibly involve four wheels, an engine and an individual insane enough to pilot it, all in effort to bring you the so-called, ‘diversity and change’ I recently ranted about in my hellacious excuse of a ‘return to Speedhunters’ editorial.
And believe it or not, completely to my own surprise, it seems I may have actually published a rant so pessimistic and self-righteous that the days following were filled with nothing but an overload of insecurities and uncertainties as to whether or not even I could fulfill an agenda of such arrogance.
So to solidify the fact that my wings would spread as far as my own proposed width would announce, the past few weeks have been flooded with nothing other than scouring the depths of Google in search of regional adventure and the extraordinarily unknown within this niche of a local automotive community. And since doing so, it hasn’t taken but a week for me to witness lawn mower racing, monster truck car crushing exhibitions, burnout competitions and so much more, all in the comfort of my own backyard.
Even now, setting my eye on monstrous mud-bogging machines, cars of the prohibition and kilo-smuggling camions has started to seem entirely attainable. I think it’s officially safe to say that if it has four wheels, an engine and will more than likely make you slap at your keyboard like a prepubescent teen who’s just been introduced to the internet, I’m starting to believe I’ll actually be fortunate enough to cover it.
Yet throughout all this information from the powers of Google being blasted through my brain of what’s entirely feasible in my very own region, there’s one prospect that I haven’t been able to take my mind off of – and that’s dirt track racing.
You know, those wicked, high-horsepower machines crafted out of nothing but one-off cylinder heads and over-exaggerated fiberglass body panels, built solely for the purpose of turning left and shredding sideways on a dirt oval faster than Takumi down Mt. Akina.
Because it just so happens that I was able to find a venue about an hour north of my gentrified Atlanta home. It goes by the name of Dixie Speedway, and it hosts this type of event every Saturday night.
Can you imagine the carnage? That northern Georgia country, dirt track racin’, moonshine sippin’ petrol-fueled insanity?
So I pulled the trigger. Saturday night it was. I started heading to the track in my busted-ass Civic despite the predicted showers, and the closer I got more I could feel the anticipation taking over my blood pressure.
My surroundings quickly became blatantly apparent as I pulled up to a red light on a country road with a ‘Super Late Model’ class car being trailered to my left, plastered with a massive sticker reading, ‘Because fishin’ aint’ fastanuff’. Immediately, my brain began overflowing with the upmost of creative literary concepts on how I would compose the calamity and downright nonsense I was moments away from encountering – exactly as I was expecting.
Yet that’s precisely where that story ends. Because what I walked into was actually the furthest possible situation from what my cynical mind could ever have crafted.The Best Show On Dirt
Dixie Speedway, the 3/8-mile dirt track located in Woodstock, Georgia, renowned for hosting one of the greatest dirt shows in the country, was not a venue dug off in the backwoods as a host to bluest of collars. It was a home for a community that was not only thriving, but has been doing so for the past 50 years. It’s the kind of place where everybody knows everybody. Where the announcer preaches and prays over the loudspeaker before the national anthem, and where Bobby’s uncle’s son had just turned 14, and was behind the wheel for his first race. And it didn’t take very long for me to figure that out.
You see, I’ve attended out of the ordinary events off in the country like this before. The kind where no matter how hard I try to dress-down to fit in, I still stick out like a sore thumb. It’s almost as if the locals can smell the city on me, every time. And upon my initial entry through the Dixie Speedway front gates, the situation was no different as I could literally feel the countless sets of eyes staring me down even with the slightest movement of capturing a frame with my fancy pants space phone.
Then off in the distance I heard two men at the ticketing gate discretely speaking about what could only have been myself. “That boy there, he out here takin’ pictures? What newspaper he with?” “Beats me” the other gentleman replied. So rather than continuing to prance around and stare back like a douchebag, I decided to go introduce myself. And that’s exactly the point where I realized what the hell was going on, and why I was receiving so many questionable stares.
It turns out the man on the right, Cecil, is 72 years old. He’s been working at Dixie every Saturday night since the track opened in 1968. Call me crazy, but I’d bet my bottom dollar on that fact that he’d have been working the front gates had the venue opened any earlier too. And Jerry, on the left, has been attending Dixie every Saturday since 1992, and follows the series religiously.
Religiously in the sense that he receives four weeks and five personal days off from his occupation as a truck driver every year, and when he’s not using them at Dixie, he’s traveling around to every other venue he can find.
Jerry has witnessed dirt track racing all across America. California, Texas, the Carolinas – you name it. He knows all the fans, all the drivers, and all the staff at each little hole-in-the-wall track, and still, to this day will proudly state that Dixie is the absolute bee’s knees when it comes to dirt track racing. This is his life, and he loves every dirt whippin’ second of it.
Although the heartfelt emotions were beginning the purge, it wasn’t all cream pies and cupcakes. There was still a good group of people who refused to allow me to take their picture, preferring to congregate and stare rather than acknowledge my attempt at an introduction. I think I was even scolded for shooting the undercarriage of a car, and was strong-armed into deleting the images at one point in the evening.
And that’s perfectly okay. Because once I put myself in their shoes, I recognized that even I most likely wouldn’t have been as welcoming as Jerry and Cecil. So I went about my way as I continued to try and wrap my head around this lifestyle that was so utterly foreign to me.Turn Left!
Aside from the culture, and perhaps most important to you, I’m pleased to announce that the racing itself was as bat-shit insane as I could’ve ever expected. Though competition-wise, a little much to take in all at once for a newcomer.
The format itself was pretty simple, as it was compiled out of your general qualifying, heat races and knock out races. Where it got confusing was on the matter of classes. There’s Super Late Model, Late Model, Limited, Cruiser, Econo, Pony, Crate, Super Bomber, Steel Head and maybe a few other variations, if I even got that right.
Rightfully, each class has its own specifications, but some lines appear to be pretty vague. Where four cars may all fit all under one classification at Dixie Motor Speedway, the qualifications may be different at another. Either way, I was there to educate myself on a segment of racing that I had never experienced, and that’s exactly what I was going to do.
So from beginning to end, it was all an entirely new experience. For starters, the dirt track is packed down by a few local tow trucks circling the oval for a solid 45 minutes until the conditions are absolutely prime. Even despite the rain earlier in the day, the event was still able to take place as the dirt is packed so firmly, it ends up feeling like asphalt, rather than a mushy mud-like substance that you would expect.
Each class then lines up in its prospective order for qualifying, just as they would in any other event, at which time I took my place underneath the starting officials stand to get as close as I could to the action.
Now, I’ve been trackside for quite a few events in my day, but the feeling of experiencing these machines whipping by my face was like no other. Rather than in something like Formula D where you’re overwhelmed by billows of smoky toxins in your lungs and rubber confetti raining down on your skin, you’re faced with what feels to be gusts of gale force winds from the fiberglass panels pushing the air around the track in the sentiment of a simulated tornado.
The sound alone of the engines roaring is far from the whine of a frankenstein’d four cylinder with a potentially explosive amount of boost, but more relatable to the sound of the heavens above effortlessly being ripped to shreds as each and every build repetitively enters each turn sideways, upwards of 100mph. And the crashes – the crashes send a shiver down your spine.
Yet the entire time, I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘What would Daijiro do’. How would he adapt to this fashion? Would he lose it into the side rail off the bat? Or would his participation be revolutionary? The sport has been around for decades, but has it always been accessible to everyone? Or is everyone simply unaware? Certainly, these are questions I’m dying to dig a bit further into.
Because just like that, it was all over. I got my culture shock. I got my experience. And I stepped into the unknown just like I had proposed and walked away with a little Georgia clay on my boots and a touch of Miller Highlife on my breath. Though I still felt a bit empty handed, as I didn’t learn as much about the sport as I would have hoped – or did I? I suppose that will only come with time as I continue to attempt to educate myself on a wicked form of competition that is far from uncovered, but literally thriving in my own backyard.
Thank you, Dixie. Until next time.