Monday, August 14, 2006

Real Racing at Knoxville

I used to be a regular patron of Rocky Mountain Raceway Park, near Boulder, Co, where one could see Midgets, Modifieds, Late Models, Sprint Cars, Winged Sprints, and anything else that races on dirt. Unfortunately, RMRP was closed last year, due to "moving in next to the airport" mentality. The new neighbors couldn't stand the noise, so the local government shut it down. I have been going through withdrawal ever since.

The Knoxville Nationals is the Superbowl of sprint car racing, the Superbowl being the Daytona 500 of professional football. For those who aren't familiar with the winged sprint cars, these are 850 hp engines in an 1100 pound car. Needless to say, with that great a power to weight ratio, these cars are fast. Combine that speed with a 1/2 mile dirt track and a lot of downforce, and you have real racing. I have mentioned before on this blog that there should be some kind of national television coverage, and those who watched the Nationals Saturday night on Speed know why. It is very entertaining and exciting racing. These cars are nearly constantly in a slide as they tear around the short track. It is also dangerous--first impressions will tell you "these guys are crazy."
James King, a second generation winged sprint racer and an up and a rising star, lost his life due to head injuries suffered in an accident during the Wednesday night preliminaries. It is a tragedy whenever one of our heroic racers die, even with the safety technology being as advanced as it is. Most of us realize that racing is a dangerous sport on any level--that is part of the thrill of racing--but none of us want to see fatalities. For many of us, the thrill is to see the drivers get out of a tough situation, and avoid a crash. Every death or debilitating injury, such as those suffered by Christiano Dematta, Ernie Irvin, or Jerry Nedeau, is a tremendous loss to the entire sport.
Every driver knows that his or her life is on the line whenever he or she is on the track. It is not a thought foremost in the mind, but one that is relegated deep in the subconscious. But every racecar driver has a strong personal initiative to win, so taking chances is the foremost element in racing.
Thus we see the extremely high level of emotions in racing, resulting in fist fights and on-track retaliation. Perhaps King's death was formost in the minds of the Knoxville Nationals participants as the opportunities to qualify for the final "A" main dwindled. During the "C" main, from which only the top two finishers would advance, Brian Brown, Danny "The Dude" Lasoski's nephew, spun Lasoski while he was trying to pass him. Keep in mind that these cars are going 140 plus miles per hour around a half mile track, and are very light open wheels, so any contact is extremely dangerous. Lasoski, skilled driver that he is, stayed in the race, however, and retaliated against his nephew during the caution. After the race, tempers among the family members exploded. George Lasoski, Danny's father and Brian Brown's grandfather, got into a shouting and shoving match with his son, in a tussle that very nearly came to blows. Thus was the level of intensity that prevailed Saturday night.

Still, the racing was extrordinary. There is nothing like watching these cars race, with lap times of less than eight seconds, and every racer on the move. So high is the intensity that thirty laps can seem like three-hundred. It is the best open wheel racing you could ever see, or, if not the best technical racing, at least the most exciting and entertaining. If you haven't seen a winged sprints race, treat yourself to one. Support your local dirt track, because, believe me, you will miss it when it's gone.

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