A Fan’s View: Why We Love It

What do you love about dirt racing?

A simple question that takes more thought than you may realize.

I read Dustin Jarrett and Whitney Thomas’s articles, which were very well written, and I took a step back and thought about one thing. What if a person, who is not real familiar with dirt racing read those two articles?

Ben Shelton Dustin Jarrett

Dustin Jarrett (left) and Ben Shelton.

They might look at Dustin’s article and think, “Holy cow, 60 races a year!”

When reading Whitney’s article, they might think, “Man she must really love her husband.”

My wife was not from a racing background and it took some time to get her to understand why I have loved it all my life.

If you think about it, we all look nuts! Whether it be that driver that needs to finish 3rd instead of 4th just to get gas to drive back home or the racing wife that is trying to sell just one more t-shirt out of her husband’s vendor trailer. Or maybe it’s us race fans that have to dance with the constraint of time off work versus our monthly budget. Now, these are extreme scenarios and may not always be true but they may be more prevalent than you realize.

So when you think about all the time, money, and at times, sacrifices that we spend on racing there must be reasons that keep us coming back for more. There must be reasons why we love it!

There are so many things, so where do I begin?

One of the best parts is the emotion involved in this sport. Whether you’re a fan rooting for your favorite driver, or a wife rooting for your husband or that small team battling for a spot into a crown jewel, there are so many great moments in racing. It’s different in dirt track racing than other sports because we have usually followed a person from their roots to their big win or title.

Billy Moyer (21) and Ricky Thornton Jr. (33). (Mike Ruefer photo)

Billy Moyer (21) and Ricky Thornton Jr. (33). (Mike Ruefer photo)

It’s great when you get to watch that driver, who raced at your local track, winning track championships and sometimes even winning a crown jewel event. It makes us as race fans feel accomplished and keeps us coming back for more.

There are also those great little things that people outside our sport may not quite get, but it sure does raise some eyebrows, when they hear two dirt diehards talking to each other.

How great is it that we have drivers that identify with names such as Chub Frank, Jeep VanWormer, and Booper Bare? I’ll never forget the look my wife gave me when she first heard conversations using those kinds of names. It is so common to us dirt track people that we don’t even think about it.

I feel sad that the days of NASCAR are gone from when they had guys like Buckshot Jones, Lake Speed, and Dick Trickle as drivers.

Speaking of names, how about nicknames?

Scrub, Kid Rocket, Bloomer, Superman, The Newport Nightmare, The Real Deal, Mac Daddy, The Wild Child, The Kentucky Colonel, The Bluegrass Bandit, Cat Daddy, Spiderman, and The King. The list could go on and on.

It may not be something we think much about but I think it’s a pretty cool piece of the pie we should embrace. I think it just adds a fun dynamic to our race day experience, when you hear the PA announcer passionately wailing out the nickname of your favorite driver as they cross the line to start their qualifying lap.

One of the best things about our sport is the accessibility to the drivers. In our sport you can walk right up next to your favorite diver and shake his hand. When was the last time you saw a fan on the field next to Tom Brady after a Super Bowl?

Earl Baltes

Bernice and the late, Earl Baltes.

There’s not a small window with a slot to hand items through for autographs. There’s no PR person policing a waiting line a mile long, and there’s no special credential to get into the pits. For a few extra dollars you can have unlimited access to entire pit area. Hell, most of us have even had a beer or two with our favorite driver.

When it comes to the drivers, you have to think of the different characters that we have seen over the years. Remember the days of John Gill and Mike Duvall wearing those cowboy hats? How about the days of Earl Baltes at Eldora telling drivers it’s his way or the highway? Of course Earl may have used a little more colorful language than I did there.

How about the different PA announcers over the years?

I always look forward to James Essex announcing “Chickamauga Georgia” when Dale McDowell hits the track. I’ll always remember Rick Eshelman calling a heated battle during a heat racing using the phrase, “Slammed the door on him like a book salesman,” which made my mom and I instantly look at each other as we started laughing. Then there are those truly great calls like when Dustin Jarrett announced that pizza was down to a dollar a slice towards the end of the night at Millstream Speedway. (Sorry DJ, I couldn’t resist)

Then there are those little things that you can’t explain because you just have to be there to experience it. I know one of my favorite moments is always that first race of the year when you walk through the pits and you get that first whiff of racing fumes. That’s when I know race season has finally arrived!

How about that feeling of being dirty all night?

Your clothes are filthy, the top of your preferred beverage is covered in dirt, and those nachos you bought during the first heat now have a light-brown, tinted cheese. Later that night, you finally get in the shower at 12 a.m. after a long night of racing. Moments later you hit the bed, which could only be described as a Serta covered in clouds. There is no other feeling like it, and you can’t wait to do it all again next weekend.

Racing has a funny way of giving back to us too in ways that we may not realize. I was lucky enough to be raised at the race track. My family was racing long before I was born and luckily my parents were huge fans. I honestly think racing has had a great effect on my family and how close we are. Not to say we wouldn’t be close without racing, but it definitely has helped over the years. It has always been the one consistent thing between all our lives.

We all may love dirt racing for different reasons, but the important thing is that we all love it. There are plenty of things to criticize, and there are plenty of things we can fix in our sport. There will always be things we need to change and improve. The biggest and best corporations in the world have things that they will continuously change and improve. We are no different.

But at the end of the day let’s focus on what we love about dirt racing. It may be hard to explain to others sometimes who may not get it but that’s ok. It’s as simple as saying “you have to be there to witness the spectacle.”

I know I have missed close to a million other reasons why we love dirt racing, but I don’t think Mr. Shelton would appreciate a ten page article either. So I ask the drivers, the crews, the families and most importantly, my fellow fans, a single question.

Why do you love dirt racing?

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