I’ve never been much of a car guy despite growing up in New Hampshire where every house has at least five vehicles parked on the front lawn. But for whatever reason last summer I took my kids to see amateur auto racing at the track down the street from my childhood home.
Best eight dollars I ever spent.
I have never witnessed so much destruction and mayhem for so little money. It is one thing to see a car take flight on YouTube and it’s another experience entirely to have it happen 50 feet from where you’re standing with only a chain link fence to protect you. For the price of eight dollars I saw things on a track that would make the cast of the TV show Jackass say, “These people are fucking crazy.”
The highlight of the evening’s entertainment was something called The Spectator Race. Now I know what you’re thinking – that can’t possibly be what it sounds like but no, you heard correctly and it’s exactly what it sounds like. The announcer gets on the microphone and says, “If you’ve got a car, a helmet, and are willing to sign a waiver, come on down.” I heard this and thought “What kind of lunatic would take part in this madness?”
There was no shortage of willing participants among the crowd. People were just about rushing the stage to join in the fun. For several of them it was a literal hold my beer moment.
The great thing about this race, outside of the obvious, is it’s easy to pick out the car to watch, the guy who came to play. In the race I saw it was the beat-up Lexus with “MURDER” spray painted on the door. I took one look at that guy and thought “That’s my guy. Watch him—he’s either going to win or be involved in a catastrophic crash.” He did both.
This is helpful to focus on just one driver because normally you have to scan the whole track. Crashes can happen anywhere at any time and you don’t want to miss them. I told this to a friend of mine afterwards and he said “Can’t you just watch the instant replay on the JumboTron?” I said, “I don’t think you understand the nature of this place. I was sitting on a two by four propped up between two cinderblocks. There’s no JumboTron. This place is as redneck as eating squirrel meat. It’s in the middle of the New Hampshire woods and the only reason you know it exists at all is because you can hear the engines from ten miles away.”
Now, I can tell, I’ve got you excited and you want to see amateur auto racing at Hudson Speedway. If you go, I have some fashion tips. Imagine a sign that reads “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem. Welcome to Hudson Speedway, entertainment mecca for New Hampshire’s shirtless and shoeless.”
Now if you are one of those formal types who insists on wearing a shirt, Mr. Rockefeller, I suggest you wear the one you wear when you do yard work or clean a sewer. In case I’m not being clear, it’s not possible to dress down enough for this place. If you scan the audience, you might mistake them for refugees from a flood.
I’ve done some dumping on New Hampshire here. I’ve painted it as a redneck, backwards state. It is. But there’s a certain level of lawlessness to my home state that I actually adore. New Hampshire has always been the black sheep of the wholesome New England family. You have nice states like Vermont which sells maple syrup and hand-woven yoga mats. New Hampshire’s entire economy is based on selling cheap booze, guns, and fireworks at the Massachusetts border. The state is like your smuggler uncle who is a lot of fun.
I think we all know the reasoning behind this lifestyle because New Hampshire plasters it on everything they can – “Live Free or Die.” Not a lot of negotiating room between those two extremes. I once saw a man exercising his Live Free Or Die rights on a New Hampshire road. He was driving a motorcycle without a helmet, texting. I’ve seen that twice now, two different guys.
But going to Hudson Speedway that night was a throwback to an earlier era for me where we were free to do really stupid things. It’s a world a million miles away from insurance, lawyers, and your kid’s peanut allergy. Your gluten-free diet becomes irrelevant after you see a guy take a turn at 90 miles per hour. You come away from the experience thinking “From now on I’m going to live on the edge and eat a little gluten.”
This was a relief for me because I live in Marblehead, land of rules. WE LOVE RULES IN MARBLEHEAD. In Marblehead there is a correct car to drive and an dress code so strict we might as well be wearing uniforms. And I can safely say that no Marblehead resident has ever participated in The Spectator Race.
But I’m sitting there in the audience at Hudson Speedway and I’m thinking, “These aren’t bad people. They just don’t have a lot of money.” And they’re free. They’re free of responsibility, free to laugh and do insane things on a race track and they don’t give a flying goddamn what you think about it.