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 AERS Finale 250 @ Darlington Presented by Logitech: A Preview In Prose

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PostSubject: AERS Finale 250 @ Darlington Presented by Logitech: A Preview In Prose   Mon Oct 25, 2010 11:18 pm

Walking in through the gates, the very sight is just intimidating. The open radius of a vast strip of asphalt, ever-winding, always connected in a vicious cycle, and surrounded by row upon row of concrete-and-metal shielding as if it actually needs to be contained, ostentates the immensity of the place like a vortex waiting to swallow you up.
The pavement itself, a wounded, immovable, stoic shade of dark grey, seems to jump out, catching you off guard with no hope of escape, and say in its thick deep-Southern drawl, “You think I’m easy to play now, sister, but I swear you’re in for a real tough ride.”
And then, contrastingly, there’s the quiet, serene aura of nostalgia all around, most prominently felt by all the die-hard gearheads that roll into the infield at 7 AM on Friday morning in their motorhomes, tranquilly setting up their metal scaffolds without a shirt on and erecting the Fred Ritcher and Palmer Flemmington flags with the banners of America and Canada right on top, anticipating the spectacle that is to come, in the midst of the calm before the storm, just taking it all in. It's like the moment of hesitation before a starter's gunshot.

And they’ve stepped into a battleground that is truly ancient, and hard as anything to conquer. Darlington Raceway is its name.

As we speak, haulers are rolling into this South Carolina shrine of speed in preparation for this weekend’s AERS Finale 250 presented by Logitech, the final race of the 2010 AARO Amp Energy Racing Series season. Ironically enough, Darlington’s culmination to the year is also a kind of initial event, as it will be the AERS’ first visit to the “Track Too Tough to Tame”, as they call it, since the first of two seasons of racing in 2009, when Arnold Columbi and Adam Zolorno took the checkered flag in positions one and two. Both, coincidentally, have since retired. That say anything?

The 1.4-mile track has a unique reputation even from above, having a unique egg shape. Drivers typically run wide open on the wide front straightaway, hammering hard and fast, yearning for every last breath of momentum and power they can possibly attain. Ironically, however, they’ll usually do this while cramped into the top two lanes, bracing themselves for the entry into Turns 1 and 2. Thanks to the fluid-and-physics magic of the braking system, speeds are quickly chopped down to 150 mph in this first set of corners, although it could rise to 160 if some drivers take a risk and try the outside lane, something not too common at this track. One of the distinct trouble spots here is the exit of Turn 2, as the car sometimes tends to gravitate right to the outside wall and towards a future of crippled metal – and crushed hope. Drivers need to be careful to avoid this and take care not to dig too deep onto the inside of the corner. After thundering in similar wide-open fashion through the reaches of the long back straight, heavier braking is required to slow to the preferred entry speed of 130 mph, or 140 on the top groove. Braking at the exit of turn 4 can be very hard to perfect, even for the most seasoned of these racers, the ones that most fans are bored to death from seeing in the top 10 every week, and this particular spot is the most likely place for them to scratch an infamous “Darlington stripe” onto the ever-aging, whitewashed wall.

But for all the drivers who practically live in the abyss of the bottom 35 (Brandon Gonzalez? Who the heck is that?) and thus never seem to get blinded by the spotlight of the chitter-chatter, cyber-twitter, super-sports-network racing media, this event marks a last chance for those who have been maimed by bad luck to show their true talent and fight for a berth in the main event, and the final opportunity to shed a ray of light onto a dark and disappointing year. Every one of those drivers is likely thinking this as well, but reading minds is all but impossible.
This opportunity comes in Friday’s qualifying heat race. So what should race fans expect? Aside from the risk-taking and daredevil driving that often turns last-chance events like these into some of the most splendid showdowns of the season, the odds say there’ll be a fairly close finish. In the Boston, Saskatchewan, and Livonia qualifiers, the top 5 finishers were separated by less than a second.
And as far as who will make the cut, there are a handful of drivers that will probably be more confident than others when the green flag drops. The most prominent of these is the second-year NLRS Racing, whose three cars all earned a starting spot in each of the three previous races on tracks between 1 and 2 miles, as Darlington is (with the lone exception of rookie Jeremy Johnson in the Boston qualifier). It should also be noted here that another rookie in this outfit, Casey Anderson, is quite hungry for intermediate-track redemption after a possible fuel mileage victory at Livonia Raceway, one of the AARO’s most hallowed grounds, was snatched away.
Another driver with a great chance to make the field is Talladega winner Shawn Glossum, who will sing the first notes of the Ford Falcon’s swan song in AERS (it’ll be replaced by the Taurus in 2011) when the qualifier begins. Not only has he successfully made the field for all three intermediate races through the qualifying heats, he has more experience at this track than most of the other drivers, as he was one of the 42 men racing in that ’09 event. Drivers like Daniel Micks, Mikeal Carter, Bo Van Pelt, and Chad Solarzano also have very good qualifying-race resumes at tracks similar to Darlington and shouldn’t be counted out by any means.

But, clearly, the top story coming into this event is that after it’s all over, all the vicious immensity and stoic shades and yearning for every last breath and yadda yadda yadda have all run their course, one man is going to confidently leave the mighty Darlington battleground in its own still-settling dust as the Amp Energy Racing Series’ champion for 2010. This season’s fight, after 17 rounds of triumph and heartbreak, is down to three warriors.

A modest, homegrown Tennessean, Herb Cilantro, is the first of these men as he leads the points race. Drives the #42 Chevy for 426 Motorsports, a team that, like, him, is finishing its second year in the sport come Sunday. The guy apparently spent his childhood helping his father run an alternative-medicine practice where the need for a healthy, natural diet was often preached. After getting into racing and paying his dues in the peak-and-valley tornado alley known as Bristol Motor Speedway, 426 came to him explaining that they were going to take a chance on this AARO stuff and they wouldn’t mind putting him behind the wheel. The fact that they’d just inked a sponsorship deal with NaturalCures.com, a website with the goal of bettering people’s health without drugs or surgery, was the preservative-free icing on the organic cake. He won two races in his first year and has matched that total this season, one that, regardless of whether he takes home the big trophy or not, will be a year to remember. He took the points lead after a win at Boston’s quad-oval, and anyone in the garage area will be as quick as a Micro Machine in a Hot Wheels launcher to tell you that he’s been the most consistent man out there since.
When this writer gets a glimpse of him for the first time, he is signing autographs for two young boys, probably brothers. One is wearing a light blue T-shirt that looks way too big for him, with a photo of Cilantro’s car inked into the back. The second has donned a Jalen Scransen cap from last year (it has the outdated Quaker State colors on it), a scanner decked out in the Amp colors, and a shirt reading “ROSS LOWREY, YOU SON OF A B****.” Perhaps he roots for Nick Kozoro as well. I pick up some sound bites as the duo meets Herb.
Boy 1: “Oh my God. Herb Cilantro, is it really you?”
Herb: “Uh, yeah. Y’all do have a garage pass, don’t ya?”
Boy 2: “Yeah, he does. I mean, um, we do. We both do…”
Boy 1: “Can you sign it? C…c…can ya?”
Herb: “Course I can.” (Signs the pass.) “But y’all gotta try to chill. I ain’t Superman, I’m just a driver.”
Boy 2: “Yeah, obviously you’re not…”
Boy 1: (Lightly smacks Boy 2’s head.) “But he’s still a good racer, RIGHT?”
Herb: “Hey now, don’t you get into fightin’. You came here to see fast cars go ‘round a track and have fun doin’ it. Don’t ruin that. Just enjoy the show. Now I wish I could talk longer, but I gotta go set stuff up with the team.” (Leaves, waving them goodbye.)
Boy 1: (Calling out.) “OK, thanks. Thanks so much…you honestly just made my day…”
Boy 2: (Whispering to Boy 1.) “I still think he’s a jerk.”
Boy 1: “Yeah, ‘cause saying you’re not Superman and being, like, the humblest guy we’ve ever met, yeah, that’s the definition of a jerk…” (Rolls eyes.)
Boy 2: “But Scransen deserves the title way more than that hick-face.”
Boy 1: “Oh, now you’re being racist? Huh?”
Then they’re gone. The rest of their argument will be known only to whoever they pass next.
So can Herb stay on top for one more event? Well, in the three last intermediate races, his results are 1st, 37th, and 10th. The worst of these came at Saskatchewan Stadium, an opulent, laid-back, maxed-out Circus Maximus of asphalt that drives very differently than this rugged, hungry Southern beast. While this proves he isn’t infallible, the chances of him protecting his lead with a good finish are still quite likely.

Jalen Scransen. Pureblood Canadian, born in Owen Sound. Second in the points chase, 93 markers back from the lead. Drives the #26 Chevy for Ovota Motorsports with backing from Web domain provider GoDaddy.com. Number of wins he’s racked up thanks to that backing: one. Number of commercials he’s stripped down for: thankfully, zero. At 34 years old he may very well be in his prime, and one bad move by Mr. Tennessee could certify that.
Everyone knows it, too. Everyone. The first time he steps out of his private souped-up motorhomepartybuswhatever, all the fans, the ones drenched head to toe in the multipromotional Ovota/GoDaddy/AARO/Ask.com shirts and hats, each costing countless amounts of both currency and line-waiting time, just stare. No shouts of “Go Jalen!” or “You can do it!”…they just stare collectively as if he’s some kind of god flying past them with his almighty power. Or a beggar limping along the street that engenders the I-feel-so-bad-for-him type of sorrow in everyone that cares enough about the world to look at him. He is, after all, 93 markers back. That's one heck of a tree to try and chop down in just one Carolina outing. Do they stare in awe? In doubt? In an uncertain mix of both? Reading minds is all but impossible. And so is predicting the future, but it doesn’t hurt to look at past results.
Ironically, Jalen took the checkered flag at that same Saskatchewan event that Herb massively faltered in, so that could be a portent of things to come on Sunday…or at least a best-case scenario for the 26 team. His Boston and Livonia efforts earned him 6th- and 9th- place finishes, respectively, so after doing the math his average finish is 5.3 in comparison to Herb’s 16. Take out the Saskatchewan variable, though, and it’s 6.5 to 7.5. Ah, the numbers game. Such a fickle ritual.

Aaron Fisher never has much to say, not even on this most potent and judging of weekends where just the right blend of fortune and fortitude could render him not just valiant, but immortal, in the eyes of millions upon millions of people. Some of which, as evidenced by the fairly long line at the foot of his souvenir hauler, would do anything for that to happen. When the haulers unload he just succinctly leans on the side of the garage wall in silence. Perhaps it’s due to a sort of reverse wistfulness, a general this-is-my-time sense of possible future accomplishment, the one they try to sell you in all those football movies when the middle-aged coach or the down-on-his-luck quarterback somehow sneaks onto the field the morning before the Giant Championship Bowl Super Game Extravaganza featuring the Moralville Underdogs versus the Eviltown Much-Better-Players and lightly grazes the astroturf, knowing what’s about to take place and realizing that this could be the day everything changes. Perhaps.
Or perhaps he's more let down than anything. Perhaps. Because contrary to the wisdom of Hollywood screenwriters, the happy ending, at least for Aaron here, isn’t one that everyone in the audience can see coming even in the obligatorily caliginous moment of the plot, sometime before the resolution, when all seems lost. In fact, the fact that the driver and owner (!) of the #90 DuPont Chevrolet is in third place in the standings and 151 points behind Cilantro coming into this race (!!!) suggests that that moment, even as this adventure nears its climax, is all but here. But the key words there are all but, as he still has a mathematical chance at the prize and plans to make the most of it. From what the projections say, he’ll have to win, lead the most laps, and be sure that both the 42 and the 26 finish forty-something to take home the title. Past speedway finishes? Boston: 34th. Saskatchewan: 18th. Livonia: 17th. Hooray for the Moralville Underdogs!

Having absorbed more than my share of that humid, oppressing nostalgic aura, I make my way to the press box. Practice is about to start.

And that immensity is instantly ostentated ten times more once I view the place from up here. Yessir, my friends, we’re all in for a tough drive.

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Last edited by AAROdynamic426 on Mon Jun 06, 2011 10:46 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: AERS Finale 250 @ Darlington Presented by Logitech: A Preview In Prose   Tue Oct 26, 2010 4:19 pm

This is probably one of the most motivational previews I've ever seen of a series, maybe even the most.

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PostSubject: Re: AERS Finale 250 @ Darlington Presented by Logitech: A Preview In Prose   Wed Oct 27, 2010 6:21 pm

Man, you came up with this all on your own, amazing. How long didn't it take you?

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