June 10 (evening) - Evening of 6-10-00 - Charleston Speedway

I left Greenup at about 6:15 and made tracks for Charleston. I took the road out of town and about 6 miles down the road I came to a place with a bunch of cars in a grass and dirt lot right behind the white grandstands that flanked the track. This must be the place. I pulled in and realized that my car was about the only foreign car in the lot. I got out and could hear cars whipping around the track and the announcer crackling in the loudspeaker. "That's Eddie Wilson from Oskaloosa, Illinois in the number 27 Camaro......time is nineteen - o - four.....nice time for Eddie." They were still qualifying.

It was about 6:45 and the sun was still very high. I walked to the ticket booth with excitement. A little red building with some signs stuck to it...."Tickets sold here" - "Admission: Adults $10.00, Child 6-11 $3.00, Under 6 Free" - "Children under 11 must be accompanied by an adult" - and the only one that REALLY made me wonder - "No coolers over 14 inches - No Bottles". There was a cherub kid working the booth...I paid him 10 bucks and went in. A group of little girls, like 7 and 8 years old were guarding the narrow entrance through the chain linked fence, checking tickets and inspecting coolers for bottles...no joke....little girls not 10 years old!

"Hey, are you old enough to be doing that?" asked an old guy in front of me in the line as one of the little girls opened his cooler.
She looked him square in the eye....
"I'm old enough. Go on through." she motioned as she closed his cooler full of cans and less than 14 inches.

One of them checked my ticket and allowed me to pass. I walked under the bleachers and found a seat about 3/4 of the way up. As I walked up the stairs , just kind of looking around I figured that I really stuck out. If it wasn't the "Volkswagen - Driver's Wanted" T-shirt I was wearing it might have been the simple fact that it was tucked in, or it could have been the short hair and lack of tattoos. I should have worn the "Chevrolet - Heartbeat of America" T-shirt. I sat down next to a big guy in his mid thirties I'd say with two little boys. He had a chew in and had a can of beer in his hand that came out of the cooler (less than 14 inches, of course, between his legs.)

Qualifying worked something like this...... A car would come out and get one warm up lap, then once up to speed they'd cross the start finish line and begin their "hot lap", and after the "hot lap" they'd take a cool down lap and exit the track. What made this so interesting was the fact that there were always at least two cars on the track, sometimes three. Try to follow along here....A guy goes out to do his warm up lap while there is already another guy on the track in the middle of his hot lap and the third car that just finished its "hot lap" and is now on its warm down/exit lap. They had a huge number of cars to qualify....there were three different classes and combined, probably amounted to 100 cars.

The classes, three of them (in order of power and speed - slowest to fastest)-

1) Street Stock - Regular street cars modified with safety measures (roll cage, 5 point harness) and very minor performance enhancements (no muffler, fat tires, fancy wheels (sometimes). There were more of these cars than any other...probably because they're the easiest to prepare and cheapest. You know all of the Camaros and Firebirds I've been talking about? Well.....Every car in this class was a Camaro or Firebird built between 1968 and 1982.....with the exception of two Monte Carlos and a Nova.

2) Super Street - Regular street cars, again...mostly Camaros and Firebirds, but more highly modified engines...no mufflers of course, but quite a bit faster than the Street Stock although they looked very similar.

3) Super Modified - I have no clue what these cars started out as. I think many of them had purpose built racing chassis, but probably had highly modified Camaro engines, or whatever other big V8 they could shoe-horn under the hood. They had open front wheels (no fenders) and often ended up without rear fenders by the end of the race due to contact with other cars and wrecks.

I realized quickly...in the first 5 minutes, that I was ill prepared. Besides not having a cooler full of beer or any chewing tobacco at all, the sun was going to be down soon and I only had my sunglasses. So I went back through the gate after one of the little girls stamped my hand so I could get back in. I got my regular glasses and my earplugs. I had brought them on the trip just in case I was somewhere that was real loud and had to sleep...they came in quite handy. The Super Modified cars were especially loud, and they're so close, like 30 feet away, your ears just ache without them.

So I watched these cars qualify for a while....coming off of the fourth turn, the final turn of this very tight 1/4 mile oval track, it looked like they were going to slide right into the grandstands, but they'd swing the back end out and stomp on the gas. The engine would roar and straighten the car out for the front straight....and just before the first turn they'd swing the wheel and the back end would swing out again...letting up on the gas they'd enter the turn and exit the turn , straightening the car with a stomp of the gas pedal, rear wheels spinning. The fastest drivers were on the verge of losing control of their cars every second....right on the edge, where you have to be, pushing the car, if you want to win...oh yes, and these guys wanted to win.

The announcer let you know who was doing what, how they were stacking up....he'd call their names, hometowns, qualifying times and a special thanks from the driver to their crew or sponsors or mom, or girlfriend or whoever. Their car numbers were also announced as they qualified. The numbers often consisted of letters and numbers, or triple digit numbers....there are just so many cars who race in these events numbers are too easily repeated to just use just a one digit number.

"Alright ladies and gentlemen, here we got Bill Jameson in the number "4-sale" car givin' it a go. This car IS for sale. He's looking fer $900.00 fer the trailer and $1100.00 fer the car. You could be racin' next weekend fer two grand."

Ticket booth... no cooler over 14 inches!

The spectators, well, spectatin'

A Super Modified car during qualifying.

Super Modified 'Dash for Cash'.

A driver getting a free ride and tow back to the paddock area.

The beginning of a Super Stock race.

A Super Modified in one of the later races.

14 year old Street Stock "Dash for Cash" Winner, Jeremy Fox.

Super Stock cars coming to the checkered flag.

Robin Hood in his Camaro.

Bill finished his "hot lap."
"Nice run fer Bill.....nineteen-thirty-seven ---- one-nine-three-seven. That puts him at number five" (that's 19 seconds point three seven seconds - fifth fastes qualifier).
Then the next guy would have finished his warm up lap and be starting his hot lap by this time...
"Okay, Here we got Dale Evans from Hoyleton, Illinois in the double ot car (00). Dale was ar dash fer cash winner last weekend in street sock...he's got a quick one tonight. Dale'd like to thank Tammy and Ron at Johnson's towing fer helpin' 'im out with the car..and a special hello to Brandy." Brandy was a few rows in front of me apparently....she stood up and yelled at that announcement with a wave to Dale out on the track. "Okay......that's a seventeen - twenty - two fer Dale...second quick, he's second quick." Meaning he's the second fastest qualifier.

The next guy finished his qualifying lap....."Seventeen - forty three for Danny Severs...a nice run. Danny's from Matoon, Illinois in the Whitey's Lounge, Armstrong Paving, Buddy's Pipes and Mufflers number 77r Camaro. Special thanks to mom and dad and Uncle Gene for all their support with this racin' car."

Qualifying went on for probably another 45 minutes. It was great fun listening to the announcer.

The sun was still out for the first few races.

The fastest 8 or 10 qualifiers in each class got to race a "Dash For Cash".

"Street stock dash fer cash qualifiers to the chute please." the announcer blasted. The cars rolled out onto the track and got lined up. These dashes for cash were a short 5 laps....the cash prize? Twenty five dollars goes to the winner....these guys are obviously not in it for the money. At the Citgo station I filled up at they actually had a pump that sold racing fuel....about $8.00 a gallon. I think only the super modified cars use that sort of fuel though.

From the way these guys raced you'd think they were racing for 25 million dollars. They race because they love it, not for the money of course. One interesting fact is that you don't have to be a licensed driver to race these cars. There were several 14 and 15 year olds racing. The 14 year old actually won the Street Stock dash for cash....Jeremy Fox in the green number 00 Camaro.

The real races began....First a few heats of Street Stock. They had about 5 heats of 10 cars each. The top 4 or so cars from each heat would get to compete in the "feature" race later in the evening.

"Super Street heat one, to the chute please, Super Street heat one." the announcer blared.
"Billy Watkins, Please report to yer car immediately, Billy Watkins, yer crew is looking fer ya. Please report to yer car." he announced.
I speculated as to where Billy might have been......behind the bathrooms with his girlfriend maybe?
"Are you gonna win fer me Billy Baby?"
"A course baby, a' course...I always drive fer you baby. You know that. I gotta go baby, they're callin' me."

During these races you see the main flagman (actually two men) on a little deck hanging precariously over the start finish line. They're communicating on headsets with the scorer's booth, above them on the roof of the bleachers, and the officials on the track. I use the word official loosely...they were actually 4 guys. One on a three wheeler. He was a tough looking biker guy with a long beard and no shirt on, only the blaze orange vest that all the officials wore. Another guy, on a 4-wheeler, rode primarily to and from the pit area getting the cars lined up properly in the chute. Another guy was in an International Scout truck with the top cut off of it, beat up and rusty, with huge tires on it. The last guy drove a jacked up Jeep, covered in mud with huge tires on it...big enough to ramp right over the dirt berms around the track to arrive on the scene of accidents (of which there were many) the Jeep driver would regularly get up on just two wheels speeding to such a crash site.....these vehicles acted as pace cars, chase cars, whatever the moment called for throughout the evening. A tow truck would come out from time to time to drag a car back to the pits....driver's rode along hanging out the windows of their cars.

The "Trophy Girl of the Week" would award trophies to the race winners. After a race the winner would skid to a stop in the infield to accept his trophy, wave to the crowd and have his picture taken next to his car.

The big feature race was a 50 mile race for the street stock cars.
"At lap 25 we're gonna bring the yellow flag out so the crews can come out and fuel up the cars." the announcer stated before things got rolling..."this I've got to see." I said to myself.
Sure enough...at lap 25 the yellow flag came out....others had been out up to that point as a result of overzealous drivers ending up off of the track or banging into other cars and creating a bottleneck.
"Watch 'em now, watch 'em in turn three an' four...their crews are allowed to fuel 'em up, but they can't work on the cars. Watch'em folks, don't let 'em cheat."
Nobody likes a cheater I guess. Dads, brothers, uncles, sisters, whoever.... came running out onto the dirt track with gas cans and filled up their brother's or son's or grandson's cars.
"Watch 'em folks." the announcer repeated.

Before long, and quite amazingly, all of the cars pulled away without incident and continued the race.

The Super Street race was next...fewer laps, but just as entertaining......
"What a race we got here folks!!! Comin' 'round the turn....OH, NO! The second place car....that's Ronny Braintree! His hood come up on 'im."

Ronny Braintree's hood came unhooked and opened up, blocking his view. He quickly pulled to the infield and climbed out of the window of the car. At about the same time there was a spin which brought out a yellow flag. So Ronny had a chance to fix his hood and get back into the race without losing too much ground. People from the stands cheered to him as they realized that he was trying to fix his car and get back in the race.
The announcer chimed in....
"Hurry up Ronny! You still got time, fix that hood."
Ronny Struggled with the hood.
"Come on Ronny!" sounded the announcer.
Ronny finally gave up closing the hood, he had been jumping on it, pushing it down, nothing seemed to work, so he just ripped the whole hood off, threw it on the ground, got back in the car and took off.....didn't even lose a lap thanks to the yellow flag.The crowd really roared when he pulled back onto the track.
"How 'bout a hand for Ronny Braintree folks!!! All the ways from Boskydel, Illinois in the number 555 Camaro."

A guy named Robin Hood ended up winning that race. You can see in the picture, the differential between first and second place. Robin Hood is in the red and white number 10 Camaro closest to the camera with a red and black Camaro just behind him...it was close racing. I figure with a name like Robin Hood that guy might actually have a racing career ahead of him.

I had been talking to the guy sitting next to me with the two boys. He was explaining things to me....because quite frankly, I wasn't getting everything.

"Yee-ah, well," he drew, "There gonna run the super street feature nixt, then they'll run the super modified feature. This 50 lapper for the street stock's unusual. It's a big deal fer these guys 'cause they're races are usually jist 10 er 15 laps, so they're real happy 'bout gittin' fidy laps. They're only racin' fer $25.00, but they have agood time." he added.
He went on..."Yeea, my daddy brought me here when I was a boy, now I'm bringin' my boys....right boys?" he bounced the younger one..probably 4 or 5 on his knee.
"Daddy I want a race car!" the little one trumpeted.
"Well," his dad stared out to the track, "maybe we'll git you one one a these days."

He was a nice guy. They ended up leaving before the night's racing was finished and so did I. At about 12:30am the Super Street feature was finished and I thought that was it.......

"Super Modified feature racers to the chute please." blared the loud speaker.

I figured I had seen enough racing for one evening....my eyes were watering as a result of the dust and I was tired. I headed out and back to the campground. I finally rolled in at about 1:15 in the morning and sacked out. I still have another day at the car show tomorrow.

It was a great day...and the evening was especially fun. If you want a real cultural experience go out to one of those places on a Saturday night. I talked to a lot of people in the stands that night. They loved it because they knew the people on the track, they'd seen some of these guys a few times every Summer for 15 or 20 years.....other drivers were cheered for other reasons...like the 14 year old kid...everybody wanted him to win, and when he did he jumped onto the roof of his car, took off his helmet and waved....the crowed roared. Everyone likes a winner....especially a young underdog who started from the back of the pack. This is who we are.


The vehicle