The Magic of Race Tracks
by Mike RueferDavenport, IA - I started off the other day heading to work and then I thought of race tracks. Not the racing or the drivers and cars, but race tracks. As much as the racing excites me, there is something about race tracks that intrigues me. A race track is like a beacon shining in the night sky, leading us to safety and leading me to racing. Without race tracks and I mean dirt tracks would there be racing? Without race tracks we would have to go in circles in a pasture or field. That’s interesting because isn’t that about how it all started.
If there are folks who can stare into the distant horizon and feel pleasantly with the wholeness of the beauty, I would be one of those who would just think I’m seeing trees, mountains and nature. Now on the other hand if I’m staring at a race track, a euphoric feeling ignites inside me. It’s like I’m seeing the greatest wonder of the world and with each race track is a new wonder.
It started for me as kid with the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds and Davenport Speedway. Even to this day I can drive by the fairgrounds, pull up by the race track and feel good. I’ll look at the track, see how she’s doing and then drive home. It’s like checking in with and talking to an old friend. Since I travel for work and have done so for most of my working career, I’ve done this all over the country.
A few years back I was working in Tampa Florida for the week. It was summer and hot like usual for Florida. My client had a project near East Bay Raceway so I asked if we could check it out. His response was why, they’re not racing? We went anyway and luckily for me the gate was open and I could see the track just as if I was there for the Winter Nationals. A few minutes went by and my client asked, “Ruefer , are you okay,” as I stared at the clay baking in the hot sun. You see for me that was a glorious few minutes while I looked at the track and imagining the cars turning laps, slinging mud and roaring around the corners. It’s a strange sensation but I can do that just about anywhere and it’s even more vivid if I’ve seen races there.
Just seeing pictures of tracks and reading about races and the tracks they’re held at constantly creates the bucket list of places I want to go to. It’s something I get from photos and the written word that I don’t get from the video and visual world. It’s like the picture and story still leaves plenty of room for my imagination and video does not. Maybe that why I’ve never been compelled to go to NASCAR races? I see them on TV, I hear the sounds and the talking heads tell me what they think I need to know. There is no imagination left for me, so I sit there like a zombie and listen to "Boogity, Boogity, Boogity."
The ghosts of past race tracks are scattered now around the county. Slowly one by one, our modern society closes in on the Grand Ladies and dirt becomes dust. The glory days of the weekend ritual where we went racing in most communities is dying. In today’s world there is just too much to do and I’m also a victim of that. The reality today is that there are fewer racers, fewer fans and thus the need for the same amount of race tracks is just not needed. The tracks that remain will be strong but some will continue to close. With closure the opportunity to re-open becomes more distant as drivers and fans go elsewhere or leave the sport all together.
This week I was excited to read the about the possible new future for Pennsboro Speedway in Pennsboro, West Virginia. Kevin Kovac has a story at DirtonDirt that covers the glorious past history of the track and potential for racing to resume sometime in the next few years. The story rekindled my own experience at the track as I ventured Wonderful West Virginia in the 1990’s. Back then my biggest bucket list track was Pennsboro Speedway. The race I had to see some day was the Dirt Track World Championship and I finally had my chance in 1994. It was rustic, rough, crude but it was Pennsboro. The race track I read about saw pictures of and dreamed of was all I imagined. Sure it was dusty and hot but I didn’t care. It became the experience of my race fan lifetime.
The potential for new racing at the Pennsboro Speedway with bridges and all is great for the future of the sport. It’s not that I will worry about getting back there during the re-opening years as my bucket list memory is set. The exciting thing for me is that all the younger fans and drivers of the sport can take part in something bigger than our self on some glorious Sunday afternoon in October, just like it used to be and should be.
I really believe that there is something magical at race tracks. I feel it and see it at all the events I go to. If and when Pennsboro Speedway comes back to life, our sport will see the Grand Wizard of Racing wave the wand over the West Virginia countryside bringing back the “Magic of Pennsboro” once again. When this happens, go see and feel it for yourself. Dig out a seat, climb a tree or do what you must to see the Legendary Lady turn her dust back to dirt once again.