To Grand Forks, ND
Grand Forks, North Dakota is an interesting town. It has some nice, old signage. I am discovering many Midwestern towns have nice signage. Good signage makes it easier to pick out where to sleep and where to eat. Who has the coolest sign? Sure, it might be a superficial way to choose, much better I google the town and study reviews and find out what other people have to say or scour my AAA guide and choose based on price and ratings and other junk that allows us to quantify the unknown in advance. But where is the fun in that? After all it is only one bed, it is only one meal. I value esthetics so I might as well support them in my own way. Besides places with cool signs are rarely, if ever, franchises. All of the money I spend there stays in the community nothing goes out in franchise fees. I am also guessing that a locally owned food place is less likely to have disgruntled youthful employees who hate feeling they are part of some impersonal machine and might try to express their unique individuality while preparing my food.
In Grand Forks there is a restaurant called the Bronze Boot. It has a great sign in the shape of a giant boot. When lit up at night the lights on the spurs look like they are spinning. The Bronze Boot is a traditional, Midwestern "fancy" restaurant. Inside it is nicely appointed with booths and tables and a few high-backed, private booths. It is nice enough to make anyone think they are in a nice restaurant, but not so overdone that a farmer from 50 miles out is going to feel uncomfortable when he brings his girl into the city to impress her. They serve meat, mostly, and will be happy to burn your filet mignon to a crisp if you so desire. If you ask for medium rare, they describe the result to verify this is what you really want. Some of the meat they offer is fish and poultry, but I suspect they didn't sell too much poultry until the last decade or so. From the cholesterol-laden plates I saw, this is still a red meat restaurant in a red meat town. They served the basics: red meat, potatoes baked or fried, and a token salad... if you ask. Inga, my heavily accented German waitress approved my choice of the ribeye commenting that it was her favorite.
When I left the restaurant, I was confronted by a great noise from across the road. Engines. Powerful engines at high RPM roaring great masses of noise into the early evening. This required investigation. I crossed the road to find myself at the pit entrance of the Grand Forks Motor Speedway, a quarter mile dirt track where they race stock cars and sprint cars.
Do you remember when you were in High School? Remember the football field? How about the track that went around it? Remember the sadistic gym teacher who insisted you run around it saying running in circles was somehow good for you? Whether it was healthful or was to build character or was to accustom us to a lifetime of running in futile circles, they never explained... I digress. Anyhow, imagine that track around the football field with six or eight cars racing around it at 60 miles per hour. Uh huh, madness ensues. The dirt track at Grand Forks is like that. A steeply inclined track around a small infield. A few cars at a time making a huge noise for 8 laps and then another group of cars immediately following.
But I'm ahead of myself. I was in the back at the pit entrance not in front by the grandstands when this was being explained to me. It was also explained that it cost $20 for a pit pass or $15 to get into the grandstands. I waffled a little bit and decided to go for the pit pass. How many opportunities does one get like this? I went back to my truck and grabbed my camera and recording equipment. Cars going "Vroom, vroom," what a great noise to capture. I headed back to the pits. I had my whole getup on: Microphones clipped to my cap, headphones, wires hanging off of me, satchel filled with camera junk. Mel, the fellow who was explaining the fees and the racing to me at the gate ran into me again. His son races the sprint cars--I think that's what they're called. He showed me the vehicle his sun drives. These cars are an engine with four wheels attached, a seat for the driver and a roll cage to keep the driver safe. There is only one gear, forward. They are little monsters, goodness!
Mel, seeing my camera gear and such and realizing this was my first race of this type decided I would get better pictures from the infield. (That's the center part of the track the cars are circling about.) He called over this other fellow.
"Frank! They got you in the infield?"
"Yep, on my way over."
"Well, toss this guy in the cab with you, he's never been to one of these before."
"Who's to say!" He turned to me, "You never been to a stock car race before? Where you been?"
"Not in North Dakota, that's for sure!"
"Well, I never drove this truck before, hop on in."
Frank has been helping out at the track for 18 years. He comes down from Canada and has a trailer out in the back lot where he stays when he's down for a race weekend. What exactly his function is I am not sure. Only that he recommended I not stand in the bed of the truck, "Cause if they need me I'm gonna take off just like that."
The pre-race ceremonies consisted of a Ford Bronco circling the track counterclockwise carrying both the Canadian and United States flags. Everyone stood and hats were doffed while "Oh Canada" was played followed by "The Star Spangled Banner" on the PA. Now it was time to race. The first heat of eight cars, all neatly packed drove onto the track and began circling. After circling for a few times, the signal was given and they roared off.
You might think eight laps isn't much of a race, but it turns out a whole lot can happen in two miles. Leading cars can end up in the back. Rear cars can end up in the lead. It seems as some point every car is sideways during the turns at the ends and there isn't much of a straightaway before the next left turn. Before you know it the race is over. The cars all drive neatly off of the track and immediately the next heat of cars rolls on again tightly packed. Within two or three minutes the next race has begun and the racket starts again.
But tonight's races were not to be completed in full. Before the races had begun I heard people talking about a thunder storm 40 minutes away. They were expecting to get rained out, but staying on just in case. Not more than a half-dozen races had been completed before the a sprinkle of rain wetted the track. Immediately the races were called off. In a matter of a few minutes of not much of a rain at all the track became wet and so slick that the first infield vehicle that tried to cross the steeply inclined dirt--now mud--track had to make two attempts to cross. Frank made sure he had a good running start before he hit the track, even then we slid around a bit before we reached the exit.
It was the last race of the season. Because it had been rained out so quickly, everyone was entitled to a refund. The line to the refund window was a queue of perhaps 300 people. There was just one girl trying to cope with the crowd. There was a fellow standing on a ladder telling people that they can mail in their tickets and the refund will be mailed to them. I asked him the address might be. He saw my pit pass and said, "Oh, you don't need to mail one in, the refund window for pit passes is over there." He pointed to a window with three people in front of it. Immediately I realized that the extra five dollars I spend on the pit pass which was about to be refunded to me was worth every penny.