Ok, the joke is all the drivers do is turn left, but tell that to my son
who wants me to explain downforce, which, I think, is what keeps the
cars from lifting off when driving at 200 mph. We’re going to Talladega!
This is a gift for all I’ve put my son through.
The night before the race, it’s prom in Alabama and all the seniors are
at PF Chang’s. We are at PF Chang’s, waiting amidst the disappointing
and precoital cologne for a table. My wife orders a martini from the bar
with a chunk of ginger in it. She doesn’t like it, ignores it, but I
think, give me a shot. Two years before, I would have paid it very
Arriving at the rented apartment, I had expected the host to welcome us,
give us a tour, check us out. This was our first one of these. Instead,
the key is not so cleverly hidden in the mailbox. Inside looks like the
night before a sophomore might move in, everything futon. I keep waiting
for the owner to show, gloat, check ids, though my wife assured me it’s
not how this works. The trust here is incredible.
In the morning, my wife drops us off at the track, will meet friends for
a day in the city. She has never in her life expressed hatred for
NASCAR, though many have and she’d have the right to from back in the
bedroom with the engines growling on the tv. My own feelings are
ambiguous, channeled direct through my son’s body into mine. My wife
The atmosphere pre-race is like some Deep South Constantinoplean bazaar.
They are selling car tires and jewelry, tattoos and turkey legs. There
is Joey Logano’s crew chief giving a talk about viscosity on a stage.
There is Austin Dillon signing ball caps. Logano is filthy rich and half
my age and appears regularly on Disney Plus. Dillon is more likely to
wreck than win, according to my son.
I’m anxious, so we find our seats. We are fans number 53 and 54 at a
speedway that holds 110,000. The track is so big we can’t see the other
side of it. It has its own hotter weather.
When the cars start, it’s like someone has turned on a garbage disposal
in my chest. All the men and boys take off their shirts and take out
their vapes. The woman behind us, unbidden, starts applying sunblock to
my son’s neck. This is it!
We take a bathroom break at lap 100. This goof in the concourse wants to
know if there’s any beer in my backpack. I tell him, apropos of very
little, “I’m here with my son,” and he says he won’t start any shit
since I’m with family. There is no beer in my backpack. Even when I was
drinking, there was no beer in my backpack.
Eighty-eight laps later, Kurt Bush is the winner. His brother Kyle is
universally hated but this we are okay with. We begin the half hour walk
to the highway where we will be picked up. The trash is in piles and
airborne. The fans are sweaty and sloppy like the track has blown its
nose. My son retells the story of the race and makes it seem more
Meanwhile my wife is circling on highway 78 until they reopen the exit.
It’s getting dark and the fluorescents are going out and the cops are
leaving and my phone is dying. Out of the dark appears the ghost of
Richard Petty, who is not dead, but needs a ride. We point in the other
direction. My son is scared. I think how beautiful to get back to that
shitty apartment and have three cold club sodas.
There’s like this irony to being a liberal at a NASCAR race which is
only minimally interesting and I’m trying to resist. There’s slightly
more drama if I say, bear in mind, I used to drink too much.