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A Confession: My First Big Time Oval Race

I have a confession to make. Despite being a racing fan, especially Champ Cars, for as long as I can remember, I have never been to a big time oval race.

Until Nazareth.

I've been to many small local bullrings. Although, if you believed Jim McKay's hype on ABC's Wide World of Sports, I've already been to a big time oval event -- "Welcome to world famous Islip Speedway featuring the World Championship of Figure-8 racing." Ahh, those were the days. Other than that moment of glory, the most famous oval track I've been to is Oswego Speedway. In between there were ovals of different sizes with different surfaces.

I've been to major races before. Saw Formula One Grands Prix at Watkins Glen, Montreal, and Detroit. Went to CART events at Mid-Ohio, Meadowlands, and Toronto. Attended the SCCA Runoffs as well as a variety of major league sports car racing. Even went to the NASCAR Bud at the Glen. But, never an oval.

I have seen Champ Cars on an oval. Twice I went to Pole Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Back when it meant something. Back when I saw Rick Mears go out in the heat of the afternoon sun and run four of the most flawless laps you will ever witness and bump AJ Foyt off the pole. Then see nobody beat his time during Happy Hour. Now, I'd like to see any IRL fan convince me that today's qualifications could possibly have more excitement than that!

But never a race. So, what did I think of my first big time oval race? There are three things that stand out compared to a road course -- speed, visibility, and traffic.

Speed -- I remember my first impression at Indy. The unbelievable speed and power of the cars. Speed seems to mean something entirely different on an oval track. A road circuit takes the attitude that it needs to be conquered. The winding road is laid out, and the driver and car must try to beat it. Speed seems to be secondary in this pursuit. However, despite the intricacies of mastering an oval, these tracks appear to be there for the simply pleasure of driving fast. It's speed for the sheer sake of speed.

Visibility -- I've heard ad nauseam from oval fans, "Who wants to go to a road course when you can't see the whole track like you can on an oval." I always felt that trait was overrated. And I still do, though I can now see one advantage of it. Yes, I admit it's nice to follow a battle all the way around the track, but other than that, it really doesn't matter. After all, you can't possible keep your eyes on the whole track. Unless a spin occurred right in front of me, I missed it. I may as well have been standing on the front straight at Road America while a spin or pass was taking place in Canada Corner. You simple can't watch the whole track. And if you want to really see how a driver is driving, you can only really tell by watching the corner right in front of you. Just like a road course.

Traffic -- One thing an oval race has over a road circuit any day is traffic. Cars constantly streaming by in front of you, and drivers always trying to pass each other. It's almost sensory overload. A strung out follow the leader road race is more boring than the similar situation on an oval.

So what's my overall impression? Quite frankly, I loved it. Does this mean I will become an IRL fan? Let's not get carried away folks. I still enjoy road racing better. Despite the amazing speed and traffic on an oval, it's more interesting watching a driver handle a corner where he has to go deep, brake hard, downshift, nail that perfect apex, get back on the power at just the right time to minimize wheel spin, and watch the breathtaking acceleration out of the corners. All while he might be fighting off another competitor.

But that oval race sure was fun. When do they start selling tickets to next year's Nazareth event?

Copyright © 1999 by Russell Jaslow and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

 
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