Giving Thanks at the Church of Speed
On a pristine Sunday morning in the desert, souped-up Detroit craftsmanship rockets down the drag strip. In this Church of Speed, racers dance on the fine line of redemption and disaster and an extra thousandth of a second can provide a desperately needed miracle.
At the Street Car Super Nationals IX at The Strip in Las Vegas, Camaros, Mustangs, Firebirds, Novas, Chargers, and the like shine like the temples of DIY excellence. Their proud owners behind the wheel ready to boogie down the 1320. Each of these beauties represents thousands upon thousands of hours (and dollars) of labor and love and frustration in order to be perfect for eight seconds of bad-assery. Sometimes, the driver gets out of the car at the top end with that rush, that high of winning. But many times, the pass ends with a sense of “What just happened?” The clichéd 15-cent part, a bad light, or just flat-out operator error ends the day far too soon.
Why do this? Why spend literally years working on a car when a weekend of sweat and hardship can end in less than ten seconds?
“We’re too dumb not to do it, I guess.”
That’s John Hall from Enumclaw, Washington. He grew up watching his dad and uncles race on drag strips all over the Pacific Northwest. His “real” job is tow truck operator and mechanic at a local oil change place. Like nearly every racer who has ever gotten behind the wheel of a car, in Hall’s case, a ’68 Camaro that gleams like a new penny, he calls his expensive hobby an addiction.
“No matter how bad the race goes, I’ve never wanted to stop. Not for a second. I’ve had to stop because of money, but I’ve never stopped because I lost. If I did that, I would’ve quit a long time ago.
“And probably had a ton of money to show for it!”
In this atmosphere of competition, drivers look for every advantage they can, but jump at the chance to help a fellow racer. At least once an hour, the PA announcer calls out a driver’s need, where they are, and the necessary part. And usually, within 15 minutes, a car has new bearings, a new tire, and a new chance at glory.
When the racing’s over for the day, drivers like John wander the pit area, looking at the other cars and looking for friends, both old and new. It’s time to trade stories about their on-track exploits and enjoy some cold ones.
In the Church of Speed, the drag strip is the temple, the cars are the vessels, but it’s the people - always the people - who draw the masses to worship.