Shut Up And Drive
June 13, 2012 § 2 Comments
I went to Pocono Raceway this past Sunday for the NASCAR race! Jill went up with her co-workers and was kind enough to invite me on the trip. I’ve never been to a NASCAR race before, although I went to a race in Kentucky with Britt a few years ago that was just as awesome. I have to say, my favorite part of this past Sunday’s experience was the very beginning of the race. The noise level took me completely by surprise. When the engines revved and the cars started out of the pit row, I had to yell to be heard by Jill. And we were 40 rows back in the grandstand! I loved my time, I really did. A lot of people made fun of me for enjoying the race so much. Their disdain didn’t make sense until I realized that NASCAR probably suffers from the same problem as hockey: it’s SO much better to actually be there in person. If I’d had to learn about hockey just from watching it on TV, I’d never have become such a fan. The same goes for this race at Pocono. You lose something when you’re sitting at home on your couch in the air-conditioning (if you are lucky enough to have AC). But actually being there at the track, hearing the National Anthem and watching the jets during the flyover was intense. Sitting in the bleachers with Jill, we put ice cubes on our arms and our necks to counter the sun beating down on us. I marveled at how incredibly fast the cars were speeding by me. You lose that on the TV screen. All those camera angles, flashes to graphs and charts, commercial breaks, mid-race interviews, and non-stop announcers’ talking… It cuts right through the heart of the race. Actually being there, I could feel the stands reverberating with the growling of the engines. The cars flew by me so fast that it was difficult to understand someone was inside, willing to drive those speeds.
And I love to drive, I always have. I’ve always been the person who volunteers to drive on a long road trip, or who thinks nothing of hopping in my car after work on a Friday and driving down to the New Jersey beach by myself. Funnily enough, a lot of my favorite books have car chase scenes in it; they take place on long rippling roads in dusty, dry Southern France, or through mountains and deserts in Greece where the decisions made while driving turn the driver’s ability almost into a character itself. Not the car, though. The car is a tool, and like all tools it works best if it is the best, but in the end the skill of the driver controls the car. I think I’ve always been in love with the idea of driving, not just as a means to an end, but as a time apart from the world. You’re enclosed in a car and the world is trapped outside. The wind blows in through an open window, but the wind is not the world. There is a remoteness found inside. As I write this, it reminds me of the feeling I get when I step into a church on a weekday afternoon, or a Saturday morning for Confession. The world is bustling around outside, never stopping, ever running, but here in the car or in the church, there is a slowing of time. A sense that I have finally found a relief from motion, a spot where sitting still is completely acceptable. No wonder I think all my best thoughts in the car.
This is a long line of musing from a simple NASCAR race, but there you have it. I was astonished by those drivers. Theirs is not the easygoing Sunday drive, or the long smooth interstate road trip. Why do they do it? For the victory? For the burnout at the end with the scent of scorched rubber and the fans shouting their name? The backflip from a car, a spill of champagne, and a trophy? They cut and weave, speed up and ease off, holding 200 miles per hour of control in their hands. They cut through the pack with the wind screaming past and maybe they do it because they have to know: Will their control and their skill be enough, not only to see them safe, but give them the victory?