Nascar: Not what you think (Part 3)
If the track is the majesty and the fans are the sound, the cars themselves are clearly the fury. Each car is a rolling advertisement for various products. Amp and National Guard? Gotta be Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car. DuPont? Here comes Jeff Gordon. That car with the giant M&M’s candy on the hood? Even if you’re not sure of the number, the ad would tell you that Kyle Busch is headed towards the back stretch. When you think about it, NASCAR winds up being one long advertisement for at least 43 different products. If you’re at the race track and sitting close, the only time you’ll be able to adequately see those ads is during driver introductions and cautions.
Nothing prepares you for that sound. It’s a sound at a decibel level unlike anything you’ll ever hear. It’s not at the command to “start your engines,” which is loud enough. It’s not even as they lap the track behind the pace car, which is more than loud enough. It’s the sound as the pace car moves out of the way and the green flag drops: the sound of every cylinder inside 43 cars hammering out the end of the world. It’s the sound of 750 horsepower engines sounding like war is being waged. It’s almost beyond deafening, that sound of mechanical tornadic activity.
As that first green flag drops, you’re not sure what you should do with your hands–hold on to your seat or plug your ears.
They say at the Lowes Motor Speedway it takes about three laps for cars to hit their top speed. All it takes is one lap to realize these cats mean business. I sat in the seventh row for my first race. Never in my life had I experienced anything like that first lap.
At a race track , unlike just about every other professional sport, the cheap seats are the ones located closest to the field of play. The further back or higher up you are, the easier it is to see all four turns and the opposite side of the track. The biggest advantage is the ability to follow each driver. The closer you are, the more impossible the task. By the second lap it was all a blur. The Lowes logo was a blue and gray streak. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Memorial Day camouflage paint scheme was a lighting fast smear. Reading the numbers on these cars as they whip past you at speeds exceeding 180 miles per hour mere inches apart from each other? Not on your life. If the speed doesn’t get you, the only thing left is . . the volume.
This Yankee is used to the volume at concerts and the decibel level at Madison Square Garden during hockey games. To this day I haven’t heard anything as consistently loud as being trackside at a race. The only thing I can adequately compare it to is a series of very low frequency gun shots each time a set of cars races by. If you’re not expecting it, it’s enough to take a few years off of you.
Case in point was the Banking 500 last October. I had walked out of the concession area just as the latest caution had come to an end. I’d have to guess that one lap had already been completed. As I was walking alongside the catch fence, I was unaware as to where the cars were, my attention more to the section I’m sitting in. Big mistake. Not only did the sudden sound add a few additional grays to my hair, either the sound or the breeze (or maybe both) blew the hat right off my head. Between looking startled and chasing my ball cap, I came to the conclusion that myself and graceful aren’t on speaking terms.
The people in the stand may have seen me, but I guarantee you–they never heard me.