Sunday, February 8, 2015

Wind 'em up again

The thunder was never going to stay away. Somehow you knew that.

Somehow you knew there were too many blaring Saturday nights out there past the runways, too much Moose Myers and Tom Wible and a zillion flat-footing others. Fifty years is a goodly space of days for anything, much less 3/8 of a mile of pretty much flat greasy asphalt, and so when Baer Field Speedway went quiet two days before the Fourth of July last summer, you knew it wouldn't stay that way. You knew all that sound and fury wasn't going to just dissipate into the ether, that after five decades it had seeped into the very ground and was simply lying dormant, like springtime in February.

Which, come to think of it, was kind of what we got the other day when Dave Muzzillo of Angola,  
president of the International Championship Auto Racing Top Speed Modified Tour, was introduced as the now 52-year-old track’s new promoter.

And if that counts as the best of news for local race  fans -- and the drivers who spent their Saturday nights under Baer Field's smoky lights -- there was also a feeling of inevitability to it.

To be sure, keeping a local bullring like BFS upright is a hard dollar in 2015, with chronically high fuel costs and an economy that, while back on its feet and moving forward again, is fundamentally different than the economy of our fathers and grandfathers. And so anytime a local racetrack can make a go of it, it's a victory.

But in Baer Field's case, a victory you sensed would eventually come.

It's an article of faith that what you see on Sunday afternoons at Daytona or Bristol or Darlington was born on hundreds of Saturday nights in hundreds of places, all those bright globes of light and sound scattered through the rural darkness of middle America. That's not quite as true now as it used to be, but it's still true enough. And that makes places like Baer Field and Eldora and Winchester and Angola places that are still worth the investment.

 For as much as high-end racing has gone corporate, there still must be grassroots to sustain it, and few places have deeper ones than Baer Field. Across five decades, a dozen Daytona 500 winners and eight NASCAR Cup champions have raced there. Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser once held the track record. Fellow 500 winners Al Unser Sr., Gordon Johncock and Johnny Rutherford turned a wheel there.

 The thunder, sunk deep.

And now, come April, it will rise again. The lights will blaze. The  tire smoke will drape its veil of haze around them. The P.A. announcer will shout, the green will drop and a pile of Detroit muscle will loudly clear its throat.

Nothing will ever sound more eloquent.


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