The scent of America
Seth Barnes, CONTRIBUTOR
Ladies and gentlemen, I am going to tell you about
a spectacle of speed and power that will make you break into a frantic
sweat, make your heart race, and quite possibly send you reeling to the
ground drenched in your own tears of joy. I am going to tell you about
love, and the heights that the human spirit can ascend to. I am going
to tell you about the finest automotive machines ever crafted by human
hands. I’m going to tell you how I grew from boy into a man. And how I
grew from a man into a savage ape. And if all goes according to plan,
I’m going to give you a small taste of America’s greatest innovation:
unabated NASCAR racing.
Thirty-seven weekends a year, a band of warriors climb
into their iron chariots and risk their lives in pursuit of the Winston
Cup Championship. Are these mortal men, or are they Gods? Could there
be a world devoid of stock car racing? Would anybody in their right mind
choose to live in such a world? I think not.
Maybe you knew that a mere 130 miles west of Bowdoin
there exists a super speedway that attracts legions of crazed individuals
each weekend. Maybe you didn’t. The fact remains that in the tiny hamlet
of Loudon, New Hampshire, the Mecca known as the New Hampshire International
Speedway (NHIS) stands as a monument that draws the likes of kings, the
likes of paupers, the likes of race fans. I will speak earnestly with
you my friends, for I know of no other mode of operation.
On a warm fall weekend in early September I made a
journey to NHIS with six of my fellow comrades (seniors all of us, poised
to take on the new challenges of the Winston Cup as we had tackled and
overcome all that had met us in our illustrious Bowdoin careers) to watch
the Dura Lube 300.
The men who eventually left that raceway were enlightened
beings who swam in exhilaration and touched the face of a new God. They
were also primal beasts, bereft of any semblance of integrity, ethical
action, or the basic abilities of maintaining an acceptable level of personal
hygiene. Beasts who stalked a prey of grilled meats, sparkling transmissions,
and motor oil. How did this all happen?
We began our journey in a 27-foot extravaganza know
as The California Flyer. As motor homes go this piece of machinery was
a gem. Inside, she provided every imaginable amenity one could expect
from a motor home; outside, her smooth, sexy shape cut through the New
Hampshire air like a the slingshot pellets I played with as a boy. She
was captained by William Golding, the man who had arranged for the rental
of the R.V. Golding directed us to a shopping megaplex in Concord N.H.
where we loaded up with all the necessities for the weekend...namely pounds
of uncooked meat, charcoal, potato chips, playing cards, and macro brews.
Let me say a word about beer consumption at a NASCAR
race. Leave your German Oatmeal Stouts, and Honey Dew Drop Raspberry Porters
at home. Race officials enforce a strict code that calls for the ejection
of any mongrel who isn’t drinking a beer that is light in body and slight
on taste. Also, every beverage must have a thick Styrofoam blanket surrounding
it known as a “Coo-Zee” to keep it freezing delicious.
The belly of The Flyer filled to its brim, we came
upon the gates of the speedway, and got in line to find our campsite.
The scene outside was delirious with activity. Husbands hoisted wives
up on their shoulders and danced to country music. Bonfires raged and
roared, that were barely in control. People slapped each other on the
back, high fived, and smoked cigarettes like it was the last day on earth.
And this was just at the entrance.
As we snaked our way through the grounds fighting the
traffic, members of the NASCAR cult would enter The Flyer from time to
time to give us the warmest of welcomes. Most of these people were men
named Randy who sported WWF t-shirts, gold chains, and serpent tattoos
on either arm. Finally the wait was over and our campsite loomed on the
horizon. It’s name was ominous and telling: The Jungle.
The Jungle is on the outskirts of the campground at
NHIS. It is where they put fans who crave lawless destruction and excess.
It is not a place for the politically correct or morally righteous. Along
the main roadway of the campground, a group of men yelled at the passing
vehicles to “Light ‘em up” (obviously meaning they wanted the drivers
to spin their tires at a high rate of speed) and encouraged women to remove
their shirts and bare their naked breasts. We had entered the den of the
angry white male.
Because we were unable to fulfil either of these requests,
we parked our camper and disembarked timidly. Would we be swallowed by
this mass of testosterone and inappropriate remarks? What would our mothers
Luckily one of our troops called us into action. Wendell
Simonson III screamed, “We’re not any different. We’ve just got to connect
with these people! It’s like a tomato bush trying to grow in a corn field...it’s
not going to flower unless it reaches for the sun!”
Fine words Wendell, fine words my boy. In hours we
had met our neighbors and been accepted as part of the clan. One of my
friends, Christopher “Kitty” Hughes even got into a spirited game of horseshoes
that went well into the night, and only ended when his new friend Rocko
was struck in the jaw by an errant toss. We couldn’t believe our good
fortune. We, awkward college students from the suburbs were making nice
with the heartland of America. It was beautiful. Although I had to lay
down in The Flyer for a spell because of a digestive mishap I encountered
on my seventh hot dog, the party roared through the night.
The man who piloted the camper next to us became one
of our closest pals. His name was Jim and he spoke in a broken dialect
peppered with F-bombs. He himself actually worked on a pit crew at a smaller
racetrack in New York, and educated us in on the ins and outs of racing.
Never have I met a man so full of good cheer and self depreciating humor.
On one occasion he even filled us in on how to tip over an occupied porta
potty. Although Jim was not the world’s most handsome man (he was missing
all but three teeth on his upper gum line), he certainly had a pipeline
to the heart of womankind. He demonstrated this to us first with a story
about his escapades with a certain striper from Providence, and then with
suggestive catcalls to several women who passed by. How they resisted
his advances is a mystery to this day.
The night ended with us going to a massive rock concert
sponsored by Winston. Above the stage, an awestriking banner screamed
“Welcome Home! Nobody leaves a stranger!”
On stage a massive man with a shaved head screamed
to the chorus of outrageous guitar rhythms. And at the end of every song,
he screamed at the assembled multitude “You Suck!!!”. The audience roared
in approval. We did suck!
The band wrapped up the night with its signature tune,
“If You Play Another Country Song I’m Gonna Have To Kick Your Ass” and
we all headed back to the campsite. We set our alarms extra early, allowing
us time to wake up, go for a jog, and collect recyclables around the campsite.
As we nestled into bed, into our Flyer, my friend Jack Glynn summed it
up perfectly, muttering “America Rules, Dude.” as he drifted off. We were
at the height of ecstasy, but already we were losing our powers of rational
As we awoke on the morning of the race, our outlook
on the world had changed drastically. Samuel “Eye Wash Boy” Margolis tried
to sneak into the bathroom to take a shower. No such luck buster. He was
met with resistance by several members of our entourage who felt that
showering was for “sissies” or “softies.”
No member of the Flyer team was going to embarrass
the rest of the group by sporting a freshly washed shock of hair, or smelling
clean and beautiful. Somebody gathered all the toothbrushes in the camper
and threw them in a pile outside; soon they were ablaze in a glorious
plume of orange destruction.
Even though it was only 10:00 we huddled around the
grill and cooked strips of raw meat, drooling and grunting like demented
wolves, drunk with anticipation at the thought of tearing the prey into
unrecognizable pieces. Alexander “Keats” Ellis ran into a nearby wood
with a hunk of cooked animal meat. What happened there is between him
and the pair New Hampshire State Troopers who were forced to confront
the ghastly scene. For the rest of us, the hour of the race was approaching.
A cornerstone of the NASCAR experience is grounded
in the fact that each race fan has one driver that they root for throughout
the season, throughout their lives, maybe even after death. For us, this
driver is a man named Ricky Rudd, a veteran of the circuit who is lauded
for his dignity and bravery on the track. Several times Rudd has been
flipped over on the track, - sent in a spiral of flames against the outer
embankment. Each time he has emerged even more determined and focused.
As we walked to the gates of the facility we linked
arms with other devotees of the noble #28 car. Each member of the sect
was draped from head to toe in a wild array of Ricky Rudd paraphernalia...I’ll
tell you right now my friends that blanketing yourself in the race colors
of your favorite driver is indescribable. It is as close as I have come
to unabashed love; Rudd is not only a hero, he is a father figure to millions.
Inside the track, we made our way to our seats, each
pair of eyes fixed on our beloved Rudd as he started his engine and began
to speed around the track. The race was underway. I can hardly recall
what happened in the next three hours. I guess the reason for this was
the intensity of the engines, and the fact that we had ascended to a place
where individual thought gave way to one collective mind that rose above
the speedway and contemplated all that was good and true.On one of many
trips to the restroom I spotted a middle-aged man sobbing next to the
snack bar. He was sporting a dizzying kaleidoscope of race gear supporting
Jeff Burton, the driver who eventually won the race.
The race was nearly over, and although Rudd appeared
to have secured a top ten finish, victory was not the name of the day.
I was somewhat disappointed, but still giddy about the enlightenment I
had obtained. Little did I know that upon my return to Bowdoin several
members of The Flyer contingent would be forced to take a leave of absence
from the college because of NASCAR related difficulties.
One member decided to stop going to the dining hall.
Instead he fed himself only from the animals that he was able to catch
and kill with his own hands. He became sick after ingesting rotten squirrel
meat. One member told his girlfriend that he had decided to stop speaking
English, and would instead communicate in a series of monkey-like grunts
and whistles. She ended the relationship. And in the most tragic case,
one member was unable to live outside the walls of NHIS. He decided he
was Ricky Rudd himself, and interrupted countless lectures with questions
about engine temperature and steering columns.
We had gone too far. But despite our losses I will
remember for the rest of my days, what the man by the snack bar said to
me. Tears running down his face, beer belly trembling, thick black beard
dirtied with a bright orange sauce, he grabbed me by the forearm, looked
me in the eyes, and gasped, “These are the best damn nachos I’ve ever
had. God bless this place. God bless us all!!”
at its finest. (Sam Margolis/Bowdoin Orient)