Eatin' Dirt

I got my first taste of dirt track racing Tuesday night -- literally.


Dirt track action Tuesday night at Volusia Speedway Park. (Mike Snyder - washingtonpost.com)


On the advice of a fan I met at Hooters earlier in the week, I made the drive west to Volusia Speedway Park, near Barberville, Fla.,about 15 miles from Daytona Beach. There was no mistaking the place when I found it. The bright lights shown through the biggest man-mad cloud of dust I'd ever laid eyes on.

Grandstand seats were $30 to watch super late models and northern D.I.R.T. models race on the half-mile clay oval; pit access cost $5 more. Inside, I discovered that this is where the hard-core citizens of "NASCAR Nation" really congregate.

I was a little late in arriving, 9 p.m., and hadn't had dinner. So, I grabbed a chili-dog first thing and learned my first dirt track lesson: A little dirt don't hurt. The grit gets everywhere, and permeates anything permeable. But to tell you the truth, I couldn't taste it.

You'll never get any closer to racing than this, unless you're racing yourself. I stood by Turn 1, and got plunked in the head by the occasional clod of dirt. At one point, a driver lost control coming off Turn 4 and slid down the short frontstretch against the wall and chain link fence that separate the track from the fans. There was a beautiful shower of sparks and the car wound up with its back end resting on top of the wall in front of me.

OK, I'll admit it. I jumped back out of natural fear. No one else flinched.

The fans picked me out right away as an out-of-towner. "You must be from up north," said Gary Jones of Palm Coast, Fla., after looking me over. "Yeah," I said. "How can you tell?" "Those shorts. You must be freezing your ass off, " he said, laughing his off.


Gary Jones, left, of Palm Coast, Fla., and Cole Seaver of Daytona Beach watch super late models run at Volusia Speedway Park. (Mike Snyder - washingtonpost.com)


Gary was more appropriately dressed for the weather. He told me that the cold snap in Daytona was the worst in 40 years. The biggest concern was for the strawberry crop, he said.

Gary coached me up on the racing. I caught a couple hours' worth of 10-lap sprints, with the top 3 drivers advancing to the next round of races. It was rare when a sprint didn't have a caution, with the drivers doing (mostly) controlled skids around each turn. Even though they were racing on dirt, as the night wore on, so did the rubber onto the track. A shiny black groove appeared in the middle of each turn.

I took a walk through the garage area later. The crews were banging out sheet metal, turning wrenches furiously, to get ready for their next turn.

Some of the drivers I saw looked barely old enough to have a driver's licence. These are the stars of tomorrow, paying their dues, getting in touch with stock-car racing's roots. There were some older guys, too, still in it for the thrill.

Kenny Wallace was here racing. Some other Cup drivers are known as being big dirt track enthusiasts, most notably Kenny Schrader and Tony Stewart, who bought the Eldora race track in Rossburg, Ohio, in 2004.

I met a fan from Centerville, Indiana, near Tony's hometown of Columbus. John Smith (his real name, he swears) won't pick a favorite driver, though. He just loves to watch racing. John drove 1,000 miles to take in the action during Speedweek -- the dirt track racing more than anything else. He says Daytona Speedweeks feature the best dirt track action in the nation at Volusia and nearby New Smyrna Speedway.

John won't even be here for the 500. He plans to take in the Gatorade Duels tomorrow, then drive back to Indiana on Friday to watch the Busch and Cup races with his family.

John calls himself a "big race chaser." He'll drive anywhere to catch the dirt track action. He considers Winchester Speedway, a half-mile track in Indiana, his "home track." He says it's the oldest half-mile track still in existence, except for the Indianapolis Raceway Park.

When I return, I'll definitely have to catch the action at Old Dominion Speedway, near Manassas, Va. I called my wife to tell her, and I swear I could hear her rolling her eyes.

By Mike Snyder |  February 15, 2006; 2:53 PM ET  | Category:  Daytona Scene
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Snyder! Was just thinking about you the other day. Hope you are well & enjoying Daytona.

Posted by: Eileen | February 15, 2006 03:28 PM

Try school bus figure 8 racing. Not that's wild.

Posted by: exit105 | February 15, 2006 03:52 PM

You really need to go to PA to catch some of the greatest dirt trackin' in the Northeast....try Williams Grove speedway...especially when the World of Outlaws is there...it's awesome!

Not biased but my Dad used to race there.

Posted by: Dimples | February 15, 2006 03:59 PM

Hi Mike, you're really doing a terrific job! Please tell Bunny at Hooters that I asked about her, thanks. I just heard that Dick Cheney is poised to become the first VP to compete in the Great American Race, he's riding shotgun with Jeff Gordon. Is there any truth to that? Also, are there any quail coveys around the Lake Lloyd area?
I would highly recommend a trip to Old Dominion. I was there for the first time last year and had a great time. The track is very rich in stock car history, for example, "The King" recorded one of his many victories there. And by the way, if your wife won't go, I will.

Posted by: Pole Smoker | February 15, 2006 04:06 PM

Mike, now that you've some dirt track racing, I suggest you be sure to catch a World of Outlaws (WoO) race at Williams Grove in PA. Basically engines with a wing on them reaching speeds well in excess of 100mph.

But you haven't proven your love of dirt track racing until you take in the WoO at the Devils Bowl in Mesquite, TX (east of Dallas). Good ol' boys!

Posted by: CSH | February 15, 2006 05:55 PM

Where is the best place to watch the Race? Any advice?

Posted by: Behavin | February 15, 2006 06:44 PM

Posted by: | February 15, 2006 08:51 PM

Okay, you're new to racing - we all had to start somewhere. Basically I've enjoyed your posts. However: The Eldora Raceway that Tony Stewart bought is at Rossburg, Ohio, some distance west of Sydney, Ohio - not Indiana. (I tried to rent a room in Syndey for a relative's funeral during race week. Ended up in a roach motel with a gennie Carroll Shelby Cobra parked outside.)

The half-mile Indianapolis track is most like the Indianapolis Raceway Park (IRP),listed by NASCAR as .686 miles. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is described as a 2.5 mile "rectangle".

Two suggestions: a) the Internet is your friend - use it b)keep up the good work. We readers out here enjoy it!

Posted by: Eber | February 15, 2006 09:02 PM

Thanks for the many posts. I'm looking forward to catching more dirt track racing as soon as I can.

Eber: Thanks for keeping me honest. I thought I had everything fact-checked, but I guess I slipped. I'm blogging as fast as I can. I'll try to correct any errors.

Behavin: Don't I know your sister, Misbehavin? heh, heh. If you're in the D.C. area, someone earlier today recommended to me Greavey's (off Rte. 50 in Va.), Mr. Day's (in Arlington/Clarendon) or any Hooters. If you're in Daytona, well, you'll figure it out.

thanks again, everyone.

Cheers!

Posted by: Mike | February 15, 2006 11:48 PM

Mike, Hooters?
We miss you back here at the site!

Posted by: JessD. | February 16, 2006 07:53 AM

Eileen! Good to hear from you. I come to Daytona just for the toast.

Posted by: Mike | February 16, 2006 08:29 AM

Oh man, good times. Can I give you my e-mail here?

Posted by: Eileen | February 16, 2006 12:41 PM

Mike you were fortunate indeed that night. Not only did you see a great stectator sport from a fans perspective but you also saw the best Dirt Track Racer in the World win.

Posted by: Rick | February 16, 2006 12:56 PM

Glad to see you eat a bit of dirt. Try Lincoln Speedway in New Oxford, PA (1 1/2 hours north of here near Hanover), Williams Grove, PA, Hagerstown, MD. You havent seen/eaten dirt until you see a sprint car (winged or not) A main. 24 cars making 800hp each, no trans, diret drive. Lincoln is Saturday afternoons thru April, then Sat nights thru the fall. Great racing, relatively cheap, good food, good seats, lots of dirt to eat.

Posted by: | February 17, 2006 02:05 PM

Sorry Eileen, I just saw your comment. You or anyone else who wants to e-mail can catch me at mike.snyder@washingtonpost.com

Cheers!

Posted by: Mike | February 17, 2006 03:37 PM

If you want to see some good dirt track racing come to Lenoir City Tennessee. Atomic Motor Speedway..

Posted by: Jennifer Lewis | March 21, 2006 07:57 PM

Dirt track racing of all types is hit or miss.

One night you may see a track with two or three gooves, and good close racing, and the next night there may not be a single pass all night.

The bravest drivers in dirt racing are the 'bomber' class drivers at Golden Isles raceway in Brunswick, GA, area. These fools are driving junkers at nearly 100 mph on a 5/8s dirt track. It's exciting.

Posted by: Dale | April 2, 2006 08:17 PM

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