Nothing says Memorial Day like noise, dirt, speed, heat, and cold. So the announcer proclaimed as the 900-horsepower winged sprint cars were being pushed onto the one-third-mile clay oval before a massive holiday weekend crowd of racing enthusiasts gathered at the county fairgrounds grandstand.
It was sixty-seven degrees when the races began and forty-seven when we left. I was the guy “not from these here parts,” freezing in shorts and flip flops. The “Greatest Show on Dirt” began at 6:45 and still had two races to go when we left at 11:00.
I grew up going to the local dirt track with my parents back in Missouri. So, I love the noise, the danger, the power, and the competition. When I was a teenager, I remember the sheer fear of running from a racecar that left the track, headed for where I was standing at the edge of grandstand. The memory of seeing the bottom of the car as it was airborne is etched in my mind all of these years later. But I still like racing.
Saturday was a big race in the world of IRA Outlaw Sprint Cars, with a lot on the line for people who have racing in their blood. Unfortunately, one driver went for quite a ride, flipping end-over-end three times. His night ended in an ambulance ride, though, he was “okay.”
Racing is a blend of engineering genius, a unique skill set, nerve, competitiveness, evangelicalism, patriotism, beer, brats, burgers, smoke, dirt, noise, power, entertainment, brotherhood, and danger.
Saturday, we listened to the announcer read the “Racer’s Payer.” Then, we were treated to another prayer that somehow blended together everything about racing, making it feel spiritual, and causing me to feel strangely inspired about all of it. We sang the national anthem as the points leaders and pace car motored around the track with a young girl holding an American flag sitting on the back of the racecar. Several times throughout the night God was mentioned, prayer was encouraged, and our troops were honored “who sacrificed so much so we could be here tonight.”
The whole scene might sound odd to you, but I like it. It might be a little warped to mash-up some of the things that get melded together in racing culture, but they speak of the virtuous roots of our nation.
Memorial Day, like all of our national holidays has taken on an expanded meaning. While it grew out of commemorating those who died in The Civil War, then those who fought in other wars, then all of our loved ones who have died. Now, there are ceremonies, decorated gravesites, picnics, cookouts, family gatherings, the official kick-off to summer, and Sprint Car Races.
A mishmash? Yes. Uniquely American? Yes. Is there anything wrong with that? No.
Love the good things about our great nation. Remember the contribution of those who have preceded you in death. Embrace family and friends, and have some fun together. Hold on to all of the positive things in your heritage and celebrate them.
Happy Memorial Day!