McMullen: Getting rocked by a night at the races
On the last day of the Missouri State Fair, the vendors who had occupied the various buildings on the grounds were in the late stages of packing up and moving out by 5:30 p.m. All around me the 2010 fair was dying — but at the State Fair Speedway the action was just getting started.
I had zero intention of watching the combination Winged Outlaw Warriors/Lucas Oil Midwest Latemodel Racing Association event that was dominating the soundscape of the fairgrounds, but Sedalia Democrat Publisher Dave Phillips had a different idea.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Looking for Fairwatch stuff,” I replied.
“You could probably find some good Fairwatch stuff at the races.”
“Yeah, but I have to pay to get in there.”
“No you don’t.”
He pulled a stapled stack of tickets out of his pocket, pulled one off and handed it to me.
I guess I’m covering the races.
Now I’ll freely admit that I don’t really understand why anyone would want to go and see a series of left turns. But if I only wrote stories about things I truly and deeply cared about, I would hardly write any stories at all.
Soon after I sat down, I spoke with Loy Homan, owner of Loman Auto Sales in Sedalia, former race car driver and current fan of the sport even though he harbors fond memories of how things used to be.
“This place used to be packed — standing room only,” he said, referring to the half empty Pepsi Grandstand that stood behind us, “It ain’t nothing like it used to be.”
I realized something very quickly — if you’re planning on coming to an event like this for the first time and you intend to sit near the front, you need to bring eye protection. The wind that these vehicles blow up when they rush past is sharp and dirty and by the end of the night I was covered in a layer of dirt.
There are signs that sit in front of shows all over the country that proclaim something like “The first three rows will get wet,” but this particular show would have to have a sign that says “The first three rows may get covered in dirt.”
I also got hit with a few small rocks, but I guess maybe all that is part of the experience. Maybe the front row was a bad idea. No wonder everyone is up in the nosebleeds or standing on top of a trailer in the pit area.
Traditional lines of thought would dictate that action like this only gets better when you get closer to it, but I’m not sure that is the case here.
The “MLRA B Main Number 1” started off with 15 cars, with the intention of bringing it down to six finalists for the championship race — but mechanical problems were making them drop like flies and they nearly reached the point where the traditional means of narrowing it down to six cars were unnecessary. At least seven out of the 15 who started eventually dropped out into the pits.
You know, I think someone might be sitting up in the grandstand and chucking rocks at me because I even took one in the back.
It was intermission time and before I knew it, two ramps, a band of fire performers and a man with a T-shirt cannon all appeared on the track. Someone is going to jump and they might just be on fire while doing it.
“Cowboy” Kenny Bartram along with Terri Russel and Willy Watts started doing crazy motorcycle jumps, but Watts had to wrap it up early and let the other two keep the show going because of a flat back tire.
Each cannon shot was loaded with a shirt bound like a sleeping bag and a stuffed AFLAC duck. They were launching stuffed ducks at the audience and they only got about half of the distance of the shirts. They ran out of ducks long before they ran out of shirts.
And the audience was going absolutely nuts for it. They were making so much noise that you would swear that this is what they paid for and that the racing was merely a bonus. About 90 percent of the people in the grandstand were standing up and wiggling their fingers wildly in the hopes of drawing the attention of the man with the cannon.
People love free stuff, but they clearly love it even more when you launch it at them.
They rushed quickly to the impact zone of each launched item and after a few seconds of wild arm fighting and pushing and shoving, one hand triumphantly held up the prize.
The freestyle motorcycle jumps were pretty entertaining. Bartram even started doing full rotations before he reached the other ramp. One fire performer, seemingly feeling upstaged and hoping to contribute to the part of the show that everyone was actually watching, was shooting a stream of fire from his mouth a few seconds after the motorcycles left the first ramp — but he didn’t really have enough firepower, as it were, to really impress.
The American flag waved slowly, the moon was full and the night was setting in — these people wanted to see the championship races. They wanted to know who would go home as the king of the “Historic Half Mile.”
I’ve only got one thing to say about the championship races that I witnessed: I don’t know how the caution doesn’t drive people crazy. The MLRA championship race had to start three times before they got a starting lap that could actually be recorded. These vehicles, dismissed by Homan as being made out of nothing more than “some tubing and some sheet metal” were going crazy, driven by people driven by desire.
I’d like to congratulate the night’s MLRA winner Kelly Boen and the WOW winner Austin Alumbaugh.
I still don’t understand the draw, but I guess that’s all right. Good race, everybody.
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