Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Beast and Beauty of Belleville. Report from the middle of America, Part 2

Rare photo of a midget in mid air.  This one by Michael Harders  is of Keith Hutton who did not survive.
           Photographs don't give you the sudden silence, the intake of air when the car is in the air, the powerful hope that it will all be OK.  That the kid will come out of it waving and smiling.  

             And the photos of the cars on the track racing wheel to wheel are so tame compared to the spectacle, the barely controlled violence, the graceful curves of the cars forced to turn left, the left inside wheel a foot off the ground, waving playfully to the infield. 

             Even the videos don't begin to make the spectacle come alive.  The little cars seem so safe and so distant in the rectangle of your screen. Video makes you look down the tube where the camera points when it's all happening everywhere at once.  Video doesn't give you the rumble in the ground, the heat and passion of the beasts and the naked danger of the wheels that act like gears, flinging the cars into the sky if they touch.  

             Let's give words a chance:

            The sun is down, there’s a full moon rising over Rocky Pond, and 25 cars go by the front stands behind the pace car in rows four wide, and the fans are standing, cheering. Now the cars are two by two and the pace call pulls off. Fireworks boom in the night sky, the green flag waves and the cars explode with fury.  It’s a swarm of Super Size Killer Bees on Wheels; trying to keep your eye on any one car is almost impossible.  Chaos, thunder, clouds of smoke, and one car, Bobby East, starting fourth, slingshots up high and takes the lead going into the first turn. They come through the turn one again, arms working, spewing up rooster tails of dirt, inside front wheels off the ground, waving back and forth helplessly.  You know how they say in road racing, you have to commit to a turn.  Here you are always in a turn.  You are always committed.  Always out there on the edge.  And always on the throttle. Cars are diving high, low, and they are all flat out, sliding, inches from each other, a fury and a catastrophe about to happen. There is more passing in the first two laps than in a season of Formula One.  Two laps go by before you have time to take a breath.
Ron Gregory, right side up.

         Lap 28, Ron Gregory, 21, (good looking blonde kid from Noblesville, Indiana, 2002 Midget Rookie of the year, got his first USAC National Midget Car feature victory last week in Indianapolis,) is running mid pack when Car #2 got out of shape in front of him and Gregory had nowhere to go.  They touch wheels and Gregory’s  yellow car vaults into the air, ten feet over the rail, end over end and disappears.  

         Amazingly the car landed on its wheels in the soft grass at the bottom of the ten foot high banking before rolling one more time and stopping against a chain link fence. And Gregory said, “what a hell of a ride.” 

           It was Bobby East’s night.  Where the other cars were scrabbling around the turns, he was smooth and too fast to catch.  East who won Friday night too, was as smooth and relaxed on the podium (on the right with
Shawna, Miss National Midget Racing) as he was on the track.  His $12,500 check was signed by the ‘Fair Amusement Committee.’  

Stephanie and her proud Dad at Belleville 2004

            That was the night 16 year old Stephanie Mockler (who won the Ford Focus Feature the week before at the Indianapolis Speedrome, making her youngest woman ever to win a USAC race) gave as good as she got, read the short Ford Focus track like an open book and stayed calm while other drivers were going nuts all around her.  She finished third and you thought she could be the next Maria Andretti.  A long shot, sure. But if you want a fresh look at what racing is really about, and see the stars before they get too big to get next to, go on down to your local friendly Midget race real soon. Better yet, go to Belleville.


Anonymous said...

wonderful piece. sounds this F1 fan be in BElleville in 2011.

Farm Girl said...

Nice set of articles! The Highbanks is the best place in the world to watch dirt track racing. Just for the record though . . . it's ROCKY Pond.