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 2011 Livonia 250: A Preview In Prose

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VincentGiac426
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PostSubject: 2011 Livonia 250: A Preview In Prose   Mon Mar 21, 2011 9:37 pm

When it first comes into view, the place looks a bit…well, out of place. After all, the town that it is located in is small, rustic, and warmly suburban, looking out of place itself against the hulking gray backdrops of Detroit and Dearborn. The structure that looms ever closer could probably pass for its town hall -- which it is in a way – if town halls were typically several times their normal size. But it should not be mistaken for a mere political capitol (because, let’s be honest, nothing exciting ever goes on in those places), but as a home, a birthplace, a residential gathering. Thousands upon thousands of people, on these very grounds, view this weekend, in effect, as a homecoming. As I pass through the gate, I feel proud in joining them. It reads but two words: Livonia Raceway.

The place was built at the end of 1990, when the motorsports division previously known as the CRA decided it was picking up enough steam to justify branching out to the United States of America for a few races. To make the first trip as convenient as possible, though, the organizers needed a track that was somewhat close to the Canadian border. With none in sight already, a group was hired to construct a brand-new facility. The result was a 1-mile oval with a banking layout unlike anything seen before. Turns 1 and two were banked at 15 degrees, while turns 3 and 4 towered above at 30 degrees. Its first race drew a crowd that was about 35% American and was a phenomenal success in terms of the actual racing. Ten different drivers swapped the lead over the course of the day, including Fred Ritcher, Ron Dalshun, and Mark Riberiio. Who, by the way, finished in that order as they took the checkered flag three-wide with smoke spitting off their cars. Coincidentally enough, the arrangement of their cars was red, white, and blue. Was that luck? Chance? God? Fate? Who knew? Or cared? Especially after the huge adrenaline high that tends to happen when you see smoke spitting off cars heading to the finish?

The CRA loved what they saw, as more American fans were starting to attend races, and rewarded Livonia with the season-opening event every year. Its winners’ trophy grew into one of the most sought-after prizes in what is now known as American Automobile Racing Organization (the sanctioning body still attests to this day that the “American” in the name refers to North America or the Americas, as opposed to simply the USA). The fans followed suit and drove to the Livonia 250 in…well, droves. The fact that the track was practically dropped right on the USA-Canadian border only gave it more of a cultural feel-good factor, and the race weekend itself almost became less of a race and more of a celebration of two united ethnicities. It actually got to the point that in the late ‘90s, the town of Livonia made it illegal for its citizens to hurl Canadian insults on race day.

But towards 2007, for whatever reason, attendance started to drop, and with the economy showing signs of weakness, AARO did the unthinkable and dropped Livonia from the schedule.

Now, four years later, the old speedway has made its return, much to the delight of everyone on both sides of the border. And it should be taken as a good sign that when I entered the facility for the second qualifying race, the stands were already fairly packed. Of course, being in the infield provided a decent view of this.

The first driver I spot is Grant Jacobs, the starry-eyed 19-year-old Floridian that drives the #40 Ford Taurus for veteran-turned-driver-owner Brad Simmons. With countless fans surrounding him, lathered in a coat of blue, silver, and peach, he and his horde could pass for the Reynolds Wrap Army. Rest assured, this plethora of new recruits comes from the fact that Grant himself has recently won some key battles. The kid made racing headlines for taking the victory in the demolition derby known as the McKinley 200, a race that every driver would give anything just to come out of unscathed, and followed it up by finishing sixth in points and then edging the defending champion, Herb Cilantro, for the win at the AAA Shootout at this track just last week.

“Just watch,” I hear a woman, dressed in the Comerica colors of Simmons’ #03, whisper behind me. “He’s totally gonna win it.”

Her friend, who I now see is wearing Keith Davis gear, retorts with “Oh, come on. McKinley was a fluke and you know it.”

“I guess the top 10 in his first year was a fluke too?”

“Uh…yes.”

That was all I heard. But the Simmons fan echoes the sentiments of many out here, because Jacobs, with his Shootout win, has already established himself as one of the dark horses to win the Livonia 250. Grant Jacobs: The Next American Hero! Boy, that has a nice ring to it. Or at least it could.

Fred Ritcher. Eight championships. 127 wins, including the aforementioned Livonia race. Drove the #13 Ford for literally his whole career. Called the King by more than a few out here. Very proud to be from Calgary.

He just walked out of the garage. The shadows inside it made his appearance seem all the more startling, like a guy on vacation in California who finds a gold nugget at night. For a moment he looks back at his car, the striking bright blue paint and the black-and-yellow stripes of Best Buy staring so intently back at him that they seem to make him squint, then checks the spoiler for some reason. When you’ve been around cars your whole life, specifically the same one for ten years, everything gets noticed. One has to wonder how he feels coming back to the same place where he dueled (or should that be tri-eled?) to the very end of that greatest of races, molded a milestone like Play-Doh with thousands of pairs of eyes looking down at him from the seats of this very same, small yet immmense, coliseum. He is an ancient gladiator, an aging guard of the prize that so many fresh faces now have in their sights. “The conditions should be real similar to ’91, with this being the old track and all.” I heard him say in an interview last week. “I doubt it'll help at all, but it's still nice to feel like you went back home when you've had so many great times there.” Whatever he's trying to say, is he right? Are experience and grit really dust in the wind as the years tick by, or is sand in the arena just sand? After all, he’s one of the few out here who knows every grain.

Tyler Deefer apparently rode his bike here from the hotel. Typical him, I suppose. The Ontario native once lost 50 pounds between seasons, earning him the nickname “The Other Subway Guy.” This year, he pilots a #46 Lincoln for Powerhouse Motorsports. I can finally make out his sponsor once he steps away from the giant bottle he was in front of. It reads, in bold blue cursive, NESQUIK.

He finished sixth in the first qualifier, more than good enough to get him into the show, so naturally he’s in a good mood for this promotional photo shoot. In a few shots, the milk he’s supposed to drink even spills right out of his mouth because he can’t stop smiling. After he finally holds it in long enough for a few good takes, I ask him something a good amount of his fans want to know.

“Is it weird driving a luxury car out there?”

“Nah, man,” he responds. “Just gives me more motivation not to ding it up.” Then he’s gone.

After some more aimless wandering; I realize I have to get to the stands. They’re literally right about to give the command for the drivers in qualifying race number 2. Due to some press obligations that I skipped over reading as if it was an Internet terms-of-use agreement, I couldn’t attend the first one.

I get to my seat just as the pace car gets to turn 4. Then they wave the green.

Bruce Wilkinson starts on the pole but quickly falls back to eighth. In the first quarter of the race, the crowd does a collective gasp of fear when Jennifer Smith almost turns Greg Sauer into the #00 Ford of Tyson Lautenschlager. I then hear a disgruntled man in my row mumble something about how women can’t drive. Something tells me that if she’d heard that, this would be the last race he ever saw.

By halfway, Daniel Micks is up to second, with Smith behind him and Greg Sauer in fourth. Wilkinson is down to 21st. And who is fighting for the transfer spot? I know that just from looking at the shirts of two drunk fans who have started shoving each other in the aisles. They wear the liveries of Mike Johnson and Brian Wilson.

This is what I heard from them:

“He’s passing him! Better fork over that 15 bucks now—“
“Don’t talk to me.”
“I’m just sayin’—“
“I said shut up.”
“Okay, fine, I don’t need to talk—“
“What does that mean!”
“It means my guy can speak for himself since he’s better than yours—“
“Oh, that is f***ing it!”

And then the brawl started. The duo were escorted out by track officials.

Later, on what the scoring tower says is lap 30, Kimo Talofa gets turned by Siam Rossini and takes the back half of the field with him. It takes around nine laps to clear the track, and when Jen Smith leads on the restart, she takes off and zooms to a pretty easy win. Feminist Driver 2, Disgruntled Fan 0. Also, Bill Sabo beats Bruce Wilkinson by a hair for the last transfer spot. Poor guy.

I jump to pit road (figuratively speaking, of course), and although I wasn’t looking at the running order, I can tell whether a given driver is in or out merely from a glance at their countenance. Mike Johnson is about ready to throw his helmet. Allen Reeds gets mobbed by his crew, evoking memories of '98 when he won the 250. Carson Crompton just sits on the pit wall and doesn’t speak. Keith Davis is jumping up and down like he just won the thing.

But of course, the real honor of that goes to Jen Smith, who is currently lighting up her tires at the start/finish line. With her fans practically shaking the curved protective catchfence in an attempt to share this joyous moment with their brave heroine, the car looks like it’s about to be swept away by a wave of purple, crashing onto the shores of Victory Beach.

And then the wave hit.

The feral tide of nostalgia drew me in, and as the celebration played out before my eyes, a reborn reawakening of all racing has ever meant to these two grand countries, lying side by side like two spouses at the beach, I saw Fred Ritcher again, almost crying after exiting that white Pepsi car, I saw David Stone in his Lee Valley suit, I saw Mikeal Carter shake hands with Fred, I saw Kenny Gerrelds do his victory lap.

I saw everything that I and the rest of the world had ever been blind to since the sad day Livonia Raceway closed its doors. With their reopening, these floodgates were open. The past and the present, two momentous oceans that usually behave as oil and water do, could not have converged more perfectly at this, the mouth of all rivers of dreams.

Forget the fans coming in. Forget the pace laps. Forget the green flag.

This is how I know Livonia is back.

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Last edited by AAROdynamic426 on Thu Apr 21, 2011 1:47 am; edited 5 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: 2011 Livonia 250: A Preview In Prose   Mon Mar 21, 2011 10:21 pm

Beautiful. Sad

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PostSubject: Re: 2011 Livonia 250: A Preview In Prose   Mon Mar 21, 2011 11:03 pm

Speechless

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