Life At The Speedway Is A World Of Its Own
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This is where the true chaos and bedlam is.Where pick 'em ups are jacked to the heavens, where Public Displays of Affection are very public and very affectionate, where the sober and the drunken co-exist in a distinct kind of tailgating symbiosis.Here where parked vehicles(with Car DVD) are portable bleachers, the scent of venison grilled over an open flame mixed with the distinct odor of racing fuel makes for an exotic cocktail.

It's opening night at the speedway, the first day of spring, a fitting beginning to what is already an abrupt, loud, unpredictable season.

There's an explosion of noise as all manner of stock cars -- late model, super, charger, renegade -- flash by in warm-ups. (The roar is outdone only by Mother Nature's thunderous wash-out later in the evening.)

Somebody heard tell that pro wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin is in the pit tonight, but the rumor is quickly quashed: "Maaaan, he ain't down there," a voice of temperance retorts.

For if the champion of all that is rugged and cantankerous would set up shop anywhere, it would be here along the backstretch.

Certainly not across the way in the grandstands, where the spectators who arrived in Camrys, Aerostars and Beamers are encamped.

And not down inside the oval, filled with critics whose attention is transfixed on the strategies of speed and maneuvering.

"There's a little bit of everybody," says Edward Parker, who builds decks during the day and on warm Saturday nights mans the admission gate, where he meets church groups, lawyers, real estate agents, convenience store clerks and any manner of folk who claim no status.

This gate is its own entity, a collecting point where Abercrombie & Fitch meets camouflage jacket, Michelob Ultra meets Busch, Outkast meets ... well, Outkast isn't here to meet anybody.

A middle-aged woman with teased hair rolls up crooning Kid Rock, adding forceful inflection to make sure everyone around her knows that she "saw your picture today/sat down and cried todaaaaay-hey-ay-ay-yah."

Will she head to the grandstands? Or will she cast her lot on the backstretch, where others might be more willing to join in her song?

To immerse yourself in the more-carnal aspects of the speedway, you must drive your stake into the hallowed ground of the backstretch, where, Parker says, nothing is really weird because ... everything is a little weird.

It's here that everything is wrapped in a warm, familial sense of appropriateness, a consensus that this is the way things are done.

The burnt rubber and the burnt hot dogs; the walking advertisements for Tide detergent in the guise of NASCAR gear; the looming sign with a No. 3 that serves as a monument to racing's ultimate martyr.

Amid the roar and thunder, there is a place for everyone, and 'most everyone has been coming since God knows when.

Mark Price and his son, Graham, have been coming to the speedway for four years now. Graham is 4.

Graham is wearing his oversized headphones over his Dale Jarrett hat and his ears. It takes just enough edge off the intrusive shriek of mechanical muscle.

His dad explains the procedures for handling a pre-schooler whose interest in cars lapping a track for hours has waned. In the van is a Car DVD player, where Graham will often fall asleep watching "Looney Toons."

"He likes SpongeBob Squarepants," Mark says, "but I don't have that on DVD."

Graham lifts his headphones with a scowl.

"No, Dad, I like 88; that's Dale Jarrett's number," he says with a cherubic lisp and a "what-are-you-thinkin'?" inflection.

On days like this, SpongeBob takes a back seat ... if there were one in a stock car.

From the plywood platform mounted on his truck, Randy Scott and his 10-year-old "grandbaby," Jeffrey Brooks, can see everything:

+ The boiled peanut shells they've strewn -- like they always do -- onto the red-dirt ground around the truck.

+ The proliferation of shining-new Thermos cooler/grills bought especially for Opening Night.

+ The smiley face etched with lime green and fluorescent pink sidewalk chalk along a walkway, drawn in a tamer hour, before the roar and the smell of hot rubber took over.

Scott is a roofer by trade, so his 1979 powder/primer blue Ford truck is fixed with a metal frame above the truck bed to carry any manner of roofing paraphernalia.

Atop the platform is a plywood board supported by two 2x4 planks that rest on the metal fixture, an invention tailor made for just this ritual.

It's a tradition that began when he would travel down from the Cherokee, N.C., Indian reservation where he grew up.

Scott, who now lives in West Greenville, is only two years younger than the speedway, now in its 59th year, and he's been coming since as long as he can remember.

Even when, three decades ago, he was living in Moncks Corner and each Saturday would drive up to the speedway and back to the Lowcountry that same night.

Inside the truck, a Tony Stewart racing card is wedged into the passenger-side sun blinder, and on the back window is a No. 74 sticker. It's the number on the go-cart his grandbaby used to race in Dacusville before, as Scott says, he "wore the new off of it."

It is from this lofty perch that the pair can drink in all that is the speedway, both on the track and among their own.

To walk among the crowd is to become an exhibit for the people-watchers. But exactly who is on exhibit is not for sure; the gawkers atop their metal thrones in turn become exhibitions themselves.

The backstretch is terraced into three levels, like stadium seating made of dirt -- for cars.If installing an Android Car Stereo,that would be great!

Street Talk

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