Friday, July 07, 2017

to the finish

On Wednesday night I headed up to Hagerstown, MD with my friend Brian for a meeting (the sixth of ten nights) of the Pennsylvania Sprint CarSpeedweek. Don’t know what you know about racing, but the 410 sprint cars are what they run in the World of Outlaws – 410 cubic inch, 6.7 liter engine, 900 horsepower/9000 rpm, triple-winged, open cockpit cars that turn 15-18 second ½ mile laps on dirt. Huge dual wings on the top, big wing on the front. Well, just look at the opening picture – that’s easier.

When I was young we often enough went out west of Omaha (at least west at the time) to Sunset Speedway for Sunday night late model modified racing. These were the days when everyone seems to be driving a modified Camaro, and the period when Bob Kosiski and family dominated the circuits in Nebraska. It probably cost us $5 to get in, $1 for a soda, and I’m pretty sure my Mom would drop us off and pick us up after racing in her Pontiac Executive. Those summer nights were my first exposure to racing and they carried me through Bill Elliot in the 80s and early 90s, Mark Martin in the 90s and early 2000s, and Michael Schumacher from the mid-90s to the mid-00s. Truthfully, I’ll watch just about anybody race anything – circles or circuits. Over the last eight months I’ve taken to following Kyle Larson (#42 Target car / Chip Ganassi owned) after the Brian scored us some pit lane tickets for his team at last year’s autumn race at Richmond International Speedway. Larson finished second that night and qualified for his first Chase. Larson, from California, looks about 16 years-old, and seems to really shine on restarts – I think he went from about eighth to second in Richmond on a green/white/checkered restart at the end. He’s leading the NASCAR standings right now.

(If you want to know about his restarts, here at the final two laps from the race we were at in Richmond last year. Larson is the red #42 Target car that opens the two-lap shootout way on the outside behind the white car, and then runs on the outside all the way to the finish two laps later.)

This brings us to Hagerstown. Kyle Larson started in sprint cars out West and apparently at 24 years-old he feels the need to race every night, if possible. They ran NASCAR in Daytona last Saturday night and they’ll be in Kentucky this Saturday night, but he still up racing sprints in Pennsylvania on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights (they were rained out last night). It’s purely happenstance that we ended up on Hagerstown because of last year’s race and the fact that Brian now follows Kyle Larson on Twitter so we knew he’d be up there. (By the way, Kasey Kahne and Dave Blaney of NASCAR were also running Speedweek.) Larson had won six straight sprint car features, three in the Midwest and three in Speedweek, so there was some excitement to see if the streak would continue*. Just for some math-y background, the fastest lap during the free practice was 15.3 seconds for the ½-mile lap. In qualifying, the fastest ran in the low 15.8s. Each heat is over in about 3 minutes, the feature in about 10-11 minutes. It’s loud, it’s fast, there’s loads of counter-steering in turns, and lots of acceleration over the 900-foot straightaways. Larson didn’t qualify well and ended up pretty deep in the pack for his heat, but he moved to the feature, where he started 18th out of 24 cars. He finished 11th,with local Lance Dewease killing it from 10th to win – that dude can drive. As I pointed out to Brian before heading up, there’s nothing like dirt track racing and this was the first time I’d seen the sprint cars live. Great stuff. By the end of the night I was ready to plan for next year’s events – with an RV and racing all week. I’m sure I can save up five days of leave and traipse around southeast Pennsylvania drinking beer and watching them turn laps.

If you’re wondering, “where did they eat?” the answer is that we ate a Nick’s Airport Inn. Classic. I mean classic – restaurant AND lounge. We choose the lounge where we probably should have been drinking bourbon with the half-dozen locals at the bar, but stuck with beer and Millionaire burgers (sans foie gras). By the way, one of the two or three best burgers I’ve ever had.

*Each meeting has about 30-36 cars that run timed qualifying laps, 4 x 9-car heats (10 laps) with the top five through the A feature, a B feature (12 laps) that has the #6-#9 cars from the heats and puts the top four back into the A feature, and the final 24-car A feature (30 laps). There is some inverting within the starting positions for the heats and features, but we don’t need to talk about that now.

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