Dad and I are firmly positioned at opposite ends of most ideological spectrums, so conversation tends to be a minefield at best, but NASCAR races have given us something to talk about and something to do that we both like.
My father and I generally don’t have a lot to bond over, but NASCAR races have given us something to talk about and something to do that we both like.
Dad and I are firmly positioned at opposite ends of most ideological spectrums, so conversation tends to be a minefield at best. But we persevere, and over the years we’ve honed a short list of safe topics for consistently polite, blood-pressure-regulating conversation: the weather, traffic, his dogs, my cats, and the comedic merits of whichever YouTube video he emailed me most recently.
Yet, even these innocuous subjects can be fraught with peril. A discussion about the weather may start off pleasant enough, but it can slide into an argument about the existence of global warming faster than you can say “polar vortex.” Observations about the increasing amount of traffic congestion in the Philadelphia area might inexplicably lead to the well-worn debate about why a single woman like myself may or may not need to own a gun. Questions about a particular YouTube video can lead to the sheepish confession that I hadn’t seen it and may have deleted it.
We can only talk about our pets for so long.
Then last year I had a brilliant idea. After a lifetime of watching countless NASCAR races on television with my dad, I insisted that he finally take me to a race.
A cautious beginning
When my sister and I were young, our parents occasionally took us to one of the local dirt tracks in New Jersey and Pennsylvania to watch the “midgets” race. The loud little race cars had four-cylinder engines and kicked up a lot of dust on summer nights at the tracks in New Egypt, East Windsor and Grandview. Many well-known NASCAR drivers got their start racing midgets.
I didn’t need to see the Daytona 500 in Florida or even the Pennsylvania 400 in the Poconos. Races at big-time tracks were too expensive, too crowded, too far away, and overall just too much. So last fall, we went to the awkwardly named Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at the Martinsville Speedway in Virginia, not too far from where my dad lives. It’s an affordable, accessible and generally low-key NASCAR race that still draws the top drivers.
I went with some trepidation. While I’ve spent many weekends with Dad, either at my house or his house, other family members and friends often join us. I wondered how an entire day one-on-one would go.
It turned out to be a lot of fun, I have to admit, well worth the seven-hour drive down to his house and two nights sleeping on a leaky air mattress. The effort our relationship takes doesn’t leave room for many relaxed moments, so any genuine lightheartedness that occurs without wine flowing is a gift.
Not that my standards are high. Looking for a place to park near an exit so we could make a quick getaway after the race, Dad saw the perfect spot at the top of a fairly steep hill. I giggled when he told me to hold on and threw his pickup truck into gear.
Shifting into high gear
Once inside the gates, we scaled the stands to our seats near the top without either of us having a heart attack. Then we immediately laughed in the face of that cardiac triumph by getting hot dogs and cheese fries for lunch. Then we sat back to wait for a few non-life-threatening car crashes.
In the meantime, Dad showed me where to plug my headset into the scanner he rented so we could hear the announcer above the roar of the cars as well as different drivers talking to their pit crews. I took a selfie of the two of us and texted it to my sister. We cheered when Dale Earnhart, Jr., won the race, his first victory ever at Martinsville.
As we cruised out of the parking area and headed back to Dad’s house, I peppered him with questions about what exactly can and can’t be done under a caution flag. It got us almost all the way through the nearly two-hour drive. Had it taken any longer, I would’ve dug deep and asked his opinion about the current rules for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. But on second thought, I’m glad I didn’t, because Dad might have gotten a little too wound up about that controversial subject. No need to push my luck.
Dad obviously had a good time, too. He promptly got season tickets and bought his own scanner and headsets. So we’ll be heading to Martinsville for the same race again this fall. Looks like it’s going to be our annual thing. I think I like that.