It’s nearing 30 degrees outside and it’s only 9 am as we park our rental car in a dusty lot near Phoenix’s Nascar race track. Even from miles away I can feel the excited pulse of beer in blood streams. But I am already calculating how many hours I have left until we make it back to the car: approximately 7.
The lots are all identical. Giant numbers are held up on spindly metal posts, and spectators take pictures of the number near their car with their cell phones, not trusting that after the drinks, grease, and noise pollution to come, they will remember where to go. The dirt we walk on has dried into the kind of dust that coats everything exposed, and causes mini tornados along the ground when the breeze blows.
A couple miles closer, and the vehicles turn into camper vans and RVs, for those who need more than just a race, but a weekend experience. The sound of beer cans cracking open echoes throughout the lots as tail gate parties begin, and barbecues get fired up.
“Let’s get this fuckin’ show on the road” campers hurl at each other playfully.
Within the gates the pits sit in the centre of the track, full of a million identical tires, with shirtless middle aged men stopping to look at each grouping anyways. Back in the general stadium area shoulders slippery from sweat slide past your own as 80,000 people move like cattle from food truck to drink stand, food truck to drink stand.
Heat radiates off the track and the crowd roars as drivers are told to start their engines. Our legs stick and burn on the metal bleachers. In front of me to the left is an overly obese man and woman, taking the span of four seats, instead of two, holding a tray of chilli cheese fries. The woman directly in front of me is in her 40s with skin that has weathered the sun for more than one race. On her left arm is a large tattoo of a checkered flag surrounded by flames. Her tank top, hat, earrings, and watch are all merchandise of her favourite driver: Kasey Kahne, #88.
My boyfriend Greg eats away at a roasted turkey leg the size of my forearm, tells me “it’s for the experience.” He’s not the only caveman, every few seats tendons are being pulled from teeth as meat is ripped from the giant bone. Smells of grease, stale alcohol, sweat, and burnt rubber amalgamate in the stands into something so thick, it becomes on a slick on your skin.
Sound is muted by earplugs, and deafening engines become dull rhythms as the cars circle the track, becoming louder and then quieter. Greg has headphones on, tuned into his FanVision device, listening to the drivers receiving strategies for the upcoming lap. I take out an ear plug to strike up conversation but my eardrum vibrates from the roar. He immediately notices my attempt at talking and smiles but points to his screen indicating he’s busy listening. I roll my eyes.
Kasey Kahne’s number one fan sitting in front of us pulls out a camera with a long lens, pointing and shooting every time he rounds the closest corner.
“GO KASEY GO, COME ON” she screams repeatedly, as if he can hear her.
I try to follow Dannika Patrick’s black and green Go Daddy car, the only female driver, out of feelings of solidarity. Secretly I hope for a big crash (for the excitement, not the risk of drivers being hurt). Dannika spins out with a few flames directly into her pit, and the drama is over before it hardly started. Us women have suffered a blow in the race.
After 312 laps, the lucky winner does victory burn outs, causing spectators to cough and sputter as they cheer. I have also won, because in the days to come Greg will come shopping with me at outlet malls in return and tell me if the bright orange in the blouse I am trying on is a good colour for me.
We walk back to the car and its grace of quiet and air conditioning, passing thousands picking up another hot dog and 20 dollar snow cone for the road.
Greg is grinning to himself, all of his boyhood dreams come true. The smile is contagious. Despite counting down the hours up until that last moment, I am glad to have shared in something he wanted. Our love has seen its share of turmoil, but introducing each other to worlds previously unknown is not one of the causes. In fact its kept us close in our first year together.
Later I shower the grime off my skin, and feel myself becoming human again. The day was enough for my senses for a lifetime, but I know that when Greg asks me to step into an interest of his again, I will without hesitation. It is just what we do.