The soul of racin’ is at Bristol (briefly)


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“Brevity is the soul of wit,” said our Bard, Shakespeare. He must have been thinking, proleptically, of Twitter. A few poets have nailed the soul in 140 characters or less (say, Emily Dickenson), but there’s something galling about brevity to the writer in me.

I’m not much one for short posts. There’s a mermaid on my tongue and an ocean in my ears and I just don’t have the longevity to measure her blue organum with thimbles. Blah blah blah, she blubbers in my ear, ad oceanum ad infinitum ad nauseum. And usually I just let ‘er rip. “It takes plenty of sea-roads to tell the Truth on,” Herman Melville once wrote, and I believe that too.

Sea-roads are as curvy as a mermaid’s bubbies, which should be good news here in the oval world of racin’. And if you’re gonna talk “Dick,” you better have plenty of blue tarmac to stretch your tale out on. And a helluva lot of salt to season your meat.

Brevity does well describe the attention span of this age. I mean, who reads books any more? Who reads anything at length on a computer screen? Something about words on a 17-inch flat screen shouts “hey, where are the chicks?”

Still, I prefer a fat post, brimming with detours and asides. “Improvement makes strait roads,” William Blake wrote, “but the crooked roads without Improvement are roads of Genius.” Untold riches are hidden up and down them thar moonshine hills, and I aim to mine all the silver I can with my tongue.

Besides, there are no straight roads in racin’; we go round and round and round propounding an up and down oval sound. Anyone who loves the backseat boogaloo knows the benefit of this, so why hurry the point?

Maybe we shorten our messages because the Internet has become such a gargantuan tubby, a cyber abysm or galaxy so deep and wide that there’s no way to swim it without papery gills that breathe in Tweets.

If the road to heaven is straight and narrow, Tweeters belong there; me, I prefer the long drifting swirling luxurious fall in to an obsolete magnitude; I run with the whales; I drone on and on and on.

Oh well.

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Obsolete as I am in my aesthetics, I’d like to think I’m somewhat teachable in the arts of abbreviation.

Take briefs, or as they’re called on mermaids, panties. Wasn’t it Dorothy Parker who said that brevity was the soul of lingerie? I do heartily and happily agree with that. “The nakedness of woman is the work of God,” also wrote Blake, but a mere inch of silk over some bottomflesh can pack an ocean’s depth of wonder.

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Which leads me to assert that brevity is the soul of racin.’ Race cars pack a thousand horses under their hoods, they tear from here to eternity and back so fast they’re still dripping with Heaven when they cross the finish line. Just for an instant do we sense the frightening power of speed, imagining ourselves hurling along holding on to the tailfeathers of an angel. “Zip” is the onomatopeia, here, a word passing by so fast in a blur that its gone almost before it arrives.

Brevity is a virtue when it comes to a racecar driver’s stature; drivers are small as a rule, just like horse jockeys. No fat Alberts or steroid-enhanced go-rillas in this class. Like Snow White’s dancin’ dwarfs, these little fellas strut out to their cars, hop in like bunnies, screw themselves into place, fire up their engines, unfold pterodactyl wings and launch right at the sun.

You might wonder how brevity can in any way describe a 500-mile Sprint Cup race, but consider that all those miles are usually packed into a tight, four banked oval. All those miles are consumed on straights which are no longer than a half mile long.

And Bristol Motor Speedway is the soul of ovals, for nowhere is that oval so brief, so manic, so wild.

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I watched a YouTube video the other day titled “Four Laps at Bristol” (it’s posted currently on the front page of NASCAR This Week as our Video of the Week). It was truly amazing in that the racing was always right in front of the camera; the pack took up the entire half-mile and more, constantly roaring past.

How different this is from superspeedway races like Daytona, where the pack is in front of you for only a roaring moment and then doesn’t show up again for a good minute or so. At Daytona’s monster track you get your doses of racin’ in walloping dollops; at Bristol it’s a steady unrelenting pour of a roar.

At Daytona, the contrast between the volume of the pack’s pass at 180 miles per hour and the relative silence of what precedes and follows it is immense. At Bristol, fans are in basically the same vantage as drivers, both in the mosh-pit of the roar for entire time.

Even though Daytona’s track is five times longer than Bristol, seating capacity at the two tracks is about the same. For fans, Bristol is much louder, since so many are packed around that tiny track. In fact, BMS is the largest ampitheater in the world — which says something about big things coming in tiny packages.

The track Bristol is so short, it is possible for a driver to go down several laps and fight his way back. On the other hand, green-flag pits though are bear at Bristol, because t’s practically impossible to get everything done in the pit in a single lap. This is so unlike the superspeedways where, once you get ahead, there’s nothing but air in front of you. Get down a lap at Daytona and there’s little hope of getting back.

Superspeedways like Daytona replicate the mood of the 1950s, when all the interstates got built, when cars were big and fat. Cadillac El Doradoes even had tit-cones on their bumpers, about the size of those heavy foam-cone brassieres of the age. Daytona has everything and more it sprawls for acres in every direction, it is a cathedral of racing. No wonder the Daytona 500 is called “The Big One.”

Bristol Motor Speedway was erected in the about the same age – 1961 – but its builders worked in the opposite direction, opting for the tight, intimate setting. The aesthetic was different, both retro and progressive, betting that its high, high-banked turns would earn the track an even greater name – “Thunder Valley.”

A race at Daytona is so spread out its like two midgets getting it on on a king size bed – it’s hard to figure out just where the action is. And a race at Bristol is like when a tall and short person go at it – when they’re nose to nose, someone’s toes are in it, and when they’re toes to toes, someone’s nose is in it.

The contrast between Daytona and Bristol is like holding a massive ’50’s white girdle up to an itty red thong.

Daytona is a 19th century novel of pure blue excess; Bristol is a dirty joke that knocks ’em dead.

If soul of racin’ is at Bristol, then maybe brevity ain’t so bad after all.

Even though it took the usual meander to figure that out.

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