Staging Lanes

October 24, 2007
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Staging Lanes

“Since you’re with the club, that’ll be fifteen dollars for your running ticket.” As I lope away from the entrance, the beast in front struggling for a cool breeze, the chrome face pegged at 200, I wish I hadn’t sat idle in line for so long after the strenuous journey. I rest my hand on one of the spokes as I make my way down the main stretch. A humid gust of wind passes by, carrying the unmistakable smell of molten rubber and the inconstant song of the caged animals that lie ahead. I have arrived.

As I rumble along, in no particular hurry, I roll into the grass, pleased to see the usual members of the local Chicagoland Buick Club. It is a warm sunny day at Great Lakes Dragway in Union Grove, Wisconsin. I greet my fellow club members, but quickly take my car to tech while the line is short. There, I lean anxiously on the fender, awaiting the decision of the tech director whether my car is fit to run or not. He checks me off, signaling that I am good to go. I return to the pits, grateful I managed to get past tech, as I cross that off my mental list.

There is nothing like trying to deal with a problem when you are about to go into sensory overload. As I sit in the pits, having found a possible problem in the ignition system, I attempt to wrench away under the hood as cars, with cacophony noise exiting their exhaust at a volume that would put a Boeing 747 to shame, pass by me less than five feet away. After much tinkering, I decide not to run the car, as if I were to lose part of the ignition on the track, I also will have put myself out of a way back home. The decision is followed with much regret, as I was looking forward to this as my first chance to run the car since rebuilding a new engine and trans. On the bright side of things, I will truly get to experience a day at the track, without the worries of parts failure or other trouble.

I leisurely stroll over to the stands, taking a post a few feet behind the burnout box, just next to the staging lanes. For anyone who has never been to a drag race, which unfortunately seems to be almost everyone, it is quite the experience. A well known local racer driving a saturn yellow 1965 Chevy Nova with by my estimates, a bit over 1000 horsepower, pulls up in the staging lane. A flashy paint job, complete with red flames and pinstripes like small roads on the side of the car add to its unique character. Seconds later, chaos ensues. In an attempt to heat up the tires and increase his traction, the driver holds the brakes and runs the gas, spinning the rear tires. Standing but a few yards from the yellow beast, my senses are overwhelmed. The roaring 130+ decibel exhaust, smoke and bits of tire flying through the air, the overwhelming smell of burnt rubber, and by far, the most memorable being the feeling of the ground shaking beneath me as one foot wide tires bring a thousand horsepower to the undeserving pavement. The Nova rolls up to the line as a new mustang with silver metallic paint pulls up beside him, an almost frightened look on the young drivers face. Both drivers look down the track, quietly anticipating the inevitable. I stand on the sideline, my heart beating as I stare into the blur of heat rising off the frying asphalt, probably as nervous and anxious as the drivers themselves. The lights on the tree fall and yet again, my senses are bombarded. The nova pulls its front wheels a foot clear off the ground, pulling away as the mustang is left in a cloud of smoke, struggling hopelessly to keep up. “One day,” I say to myself, smiling, as the Nova pulls away.

The rest of the day follows with similarly inspiring sights. My fellow Buick club members have their fair share of fun too, as one even managed to make it halfway down the track riding on it’s back two wheels alone, leading to wild cheers from the crowd gathered in the stands. The day ended perfectly with hot dogs from the club and a bit of a laugh as a brand new navy blue Dodge Neon managed to blowup his motor after using a little too much nitrous, leaving what seemed like everything but the kitchen sink lying in his wake on the track. The club members and I couldn’t keep from snickering as the owner pushed his car back down the return lane, cursing all the way to the pits.

Some might see it as a waste of time, effort and energy, but only those who have sat on that staging line, waiting for the light, truly understand what the sport is all about. If only more would go out on a limb and come down to the track might they too know the experience that I have come to love. As the sun sets on southern Wisconsin, one can only help but think, “I’ll be back.”

"This will certify that the above work is completely original."

Jonathan Samuel





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