Many of my friends go to car races often. A couple of them could be considered big fans of the sport. I’m a pretty big fan of baseball, football, hockey, basketball, and even golf. I bowl in a league at least once a week. I even pay some attention to soccer and tennis, but other than the Indy 500, I have little interest in car racing. Even when my youngest brother told me he was going to quit the sport it was news to me that he was even racing and if you ask, I’ll have to tell you I have no idea what kind of cars he was racing or what kind of racing he was doing or even if he ever won a race.
In my entire life, I’ve been to only two car races. When I was eight years old my father took my little brother, Richard (the oldest of my three brothers), and me to a stock car race. At first, it was exciting, being in a place I’d never been before, in the middle of a huge crowd, watching something I might have seen before, but only on television.
The stands were only partly filled when we arrived. Cars were scattered around the place, mostly on the area inside the track, but none of them were racing.
“When are the races going to start,” I asked.
“In a little bit,” my father said. “You’ll know when.”
I didn’t really know when, but gradually the stands filled, and the dull roar of the crowd grew. I could see a few cars moving into place on the track. The people around me started standing so that I was able to see less and less of what was going on.
“Did the race start yet, Daddy?” Richard asked.
“It’s will, in just a minute.” my dad said.
You could tell something was about to happen because the crowd got terribly quiet and the gunning of an engine here and there below us became almost frighteningly noticeable. Whether it was the waving of a flag or the sound of a gun I don’t remember, but suddenly the engines roared, and the crowd came to life. My dad had lifted my little brother onto his shoulders. Richie was up there pointing, saying babbling away, but I couldn’t hear any of it. Everyone was still standing. they were bending, stretching up on their toes, trying to see the cars as they started moving around the track. Being not much more than 40 inches tall that was about all I could see – legs, rear ends, and the back of heads. The track announcer was describing what was going on, but since I was new to the sport, it didn’t mean much to me. I got a glimpse of a couple cars moving, but it wasn’t until the cars were going around the second or third time that the people around me started sitting down and I was finally able to see the cars flying around the track. They looked like toy race cars because I couldn’t see the drivers until they reached the curve and I was able to see their heads bouncing around behind the windshield.
I was trying to figure out which car was winning when the crowd suddenly screamed and groaned. My dad pointed to the two cars that had crashed on the turn farthest away from us. Then another car crashed into them and a piece of metal slid across the track. The cars slowed, and the crowd cheered as all three drivers jumped out of their cars. About a dozen men surrounded the three cars to cautiously push them off the track. Then the race started again. Considering I was eight years old and had no idea who was racing or what was at stake, it didn’t take long before it got boring. They just kept going around and around that track. I had no idea who was first, second, third, or last. Every now and then the track announcer would describe a car or call out a number I could look for and that helped, but mostly he used the names of the drivers to tell which car was in the lead and which car was trying to pass another. I tried to follow the action, but it was too much for me to understand.
If it wasn’t for the crashes I might have fallen asleep. I didn’t want to see any of the drivers got hurt, but there was something exciting about seeing two cars slam into each other. Sometimes metal went flying or a tire rolled across the track, but that’s not what made the crash exciting. It was the suddenness of it, followed by the tension as we waited to see the driver jump out of the car and wave to the crowd or give the thumbs up before either running over to the medical tent or helping the crew get his car off the track.
I have a couple friends who are big NASCAR fans and see a race or two every year. When they talk about the most recent race they saw in person or on TV, I sometimes think of that eight-year-old watching that stock car race. I had no idea where it was. I’d always thought of it as just a race track, but when I read this article I remembered the huge columns I’d noticed behind us. I hadn’t thought about those columns till now. After all, when people talk about a race I remember seeing the cars going around the track and sometimes crashing. I’ve seen quite a few Bears games at Soldier Field. The first time I saw the Bears play there I remember the place seemed familiar to me, but I wrote that off as anything other than having watched so many Bears games on TV. Now, I think it might have been because I’d been there before, but people usually think of Soldier Field as the home of the Bears, not a place for stock car races.
As I sit here typing this I can see the cars going by below and over my left shoulder as I look at the size of the crowd there are those massive columns that for an eight-year-old were there, and noticeable, but insignificant. All in all, it’s a good memory because I don’t remember anyone winning, nor do I remember ever leaving. In a sense, I will always be there in the middle of a roaring crowd watching a stock car race at Soldier Field.