AIR BnB (Birmingham)
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 strict attention.
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 waves goodbye.
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 exciting.
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.
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