I was spending a little time on my Facebook page last night, commenting on my friends’ posts, sending happy birthday wishes, and answering friend requests, when a question popped up. “Do you know this person beyond Facebook?” I didn’t answer for fear that my answer would not allow me to add another friend to my ever growing list. It did, however, get me thinking about what other types of friends I have, and just how well I know them.
The first thought that came to mind was my race track friends. Now, if you are, or have ever been, a regular at a local auto racing speedway then you know exactly what I am talking about. Race track friends are those people you only see on the weekends during the running of a race. The most you may know about them is their name, usually just their first, perhaps where they live, just the name of the town not their address, and definitely the driver they choose to cheer for.
I was literally raised at a small asphalt oval located near the Jersey Shore called Wall Stadium. My father would load up me, my brothers, and some of the neighbors’ kids, into a station wagon almost every Saturday night to go to the track. Kids were free to get in so he would take as many as wanted to go.
And who didn’t want to go. Wall Stadium was a great place for kids. You got to see loud, brightly colored cars race around the speedway bouncing off of each other. The grandstands were just small enough that you could run up and down them all night with your friends, and still be in view of the adult who brought you. Then there was the treats. It was like going to a carnival every Saturday. Ice cream, hamburgers, hot dogs, and the funnel cakes covered in powdered sugar. If the person in front of you had one, and the wind blew just right, you went home white from the sugar, and black from the rubber coming off the race cars.
As I got older, and got my drivers license, I began attending not only the races at Wall Stadium, but also tracks like East Windsor Speedway, Flemington Speedway, and New Egypt Speedway. Observing proper local track grandstand etiquette I was always careful to not sit in one of the regulars’ seats on my first visit. However, once I attended a few weeks in a row my own squatter’s rights were established, and those around me would make sure no one would sit in my seats, even if I was running late.
There is just something about being at a race track that almost instantly turns people who have never met before into friends. Maybe it’s the fact that you both share a love for the same thing, auto racing. Maybe race fans are just more friendly people. Whatever it is, you can be sure within minutes of sitting in the grandstands at the track you will find yourself involved in a conversation of some type.
I am one of the fortunate few who made my way out of the grandstands, and on to a crew of a local race team. I then went on to be part of a team involved in the lower levels of NASCAR racing, which eventually led me to writing about the sport.
Along the way I have made many race track friends. From the family I sat next to at East Windsor Speedway every Friday night cheering on their brother, to the neighbor kid who rode in the back of that station wagon every week to Wall Stadium, who eventually became the Race Starter there, to the people I met in the pit areas of the many local tracks I have been to.
While I know very little about these people they are always quick to say hello, and offer assistance in any way they can. Whether that is saving my seat at the track, or loaning me a part for the car I was working on so my team wouldn’t have to miss the race.
I continue to see many of these people all these years later. Sadly, some of the tracks , and some of the people are no longer with us, but that same spirit is still alive and well. We wave to each other, shake hands, share stories, and talk about what we are up to now.
These are my race track friends, not to be confused with my Facebook friends, and I am glad I have gotten to know them, even in the smallest way.