The Rumble and the Whine


Editor's Notebook, October 2004



T.W. Theodore

Motor sport, in all its diversity, is an ever-changing kaleidoscope of sights and sounds. I've always been a road course kind of guy, but I've come to appreciate the great variety within our sport. I love half-mile dirt tracks on Saturday night. I've never been to the Pikes Peak hill climb or seen a hit-to-pass race, but given an opportunity I'd be there.


Recently, Susan, my wife who until ten years ago knew nothing about motor sports, took me to my first super speedway events. She has become a great fan of oval track racing and we went to see the Craftsman Trucks on Saturday night and the IRL race on Sunday afternoon at the two mile, high banked California Speedway in Fontana. What an experience!


a throaty rumble and the lights...

The two events were very different from each other. The thirty-six trucks raced essentially in a pack that only slowly elongated itself over the course of 100 laps. They raced in lanes, going two and three wide through the turns, looking like the freeway on amphetamines. The big block engines gave off a throaty rumble and the lights of the track (it was a night race) made the trucks sparkle.


Two women drivers, both featured here at Thunder Valley Racing, were in the field. It was really good to hear the traditional command, slightly modified into "Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines". Always before, when I've heard the command with a woman in the field, it had sounded like "Lady and ---- Gentlemen, start your engines", noting the anomaly but preserving the tradition. At the truck race, the command was a simple acknowledgement that women were racing alongside the men.


Deborah Renshaw and Kelly Sutton started in the middle of the pack, moved up, moved back, held their lines and raced well against the men around them. No big deal until Sutton hit the wall on the last lap. No big deal there, either. Most people were watching the battle at the front, but I was watching the 29 car and the 02 car. There was good racing all along the line.


the whine of high compression power plants...

Sunday afternoon we watched the IndyCars on the same track. The throaty rumble of the big block engines was replaced by the whine of twenty-one high compression power plants. Standing close to the track and looking up towards turn four as the leaders came through, you got a feeling of fighter jets banking for a strafing run at the starters stand. They did go two and three wide through the turns, but seemed to dance on the edge as they did it. Get a little high and back off to save the car or make time seem to stop as you hold your line and try to pass on the back straight. Great racing.


There used to be a woman who did this sort of thing. Three women in fact. Janet Guthrie, then Lyn St. James, then Sarah Fisher. Sarah, the most popular driver in the IRL the past three years, was unable to put a sponsorship package together for this year (go figure) and has recently made her debut in the NASCAR Winston West Series. Lack of sponsorship, even with a proven driver and great fan appeal, has always doomed women drivers. (Thus it has always been, and thus, damn it, it must not always be. But that's another story.)


So, thanks to Susan I've expanded my racing horizons once again. I'd been to Indy, of course, but the two-and-a-half-mile, fairly flat oval is very different from a two-mile, high banked speed creator like Fontana. And, now, Susan owes me a race weekend at our home track at Laguna Seca, a sedate eleven-turn road course with periodic bursts of terror built in.

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