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The Dust, Guts, and Wall

Giant tractor tires, painted white, stood guard at the dusty entrance to the Cajon Speedway parking lot. I was surprised to see the lot was nearly empty. We parked three rows back from the entrance gate, an easy walk. David hopped out and immediately started testing light levels and fussing with his digital camera. Barb, adjusting her sunglasses one last time and applying a final touch-up to her lipstick, prepared for her big debut at Cajon Speedway. Throwing her boa across her shoulder, she put one high heel out and yelled, "This is dirt!"

"Of course it's dirty," I said. "There's a lot of dust and debris..."

"No, it's not 'dirty,' it's dirt. The parking lot is dirt. If these heels are ruined, I'm having your ass," she joked. Barb's favorite role, besides that of any musical Disney cartoon, is that of the prima donna. This bitchiness is hilarious to her friends but would probably be misunderstood by outsiders. Others would have no way of knowing that she'd driven and paid for our tickets, serenading us all the while.

Getting out of the car, Barb asked David, "What do I do with this?" referring to her parking stub. David said, "Just put one on your dash and keep the other with you."

"Oh," she said in surprise, "do I give this stub to a parking attendant?"

"No, Barb. There's no valet service at Cajon Speedway," David replied coolly.

Once inside the gate, a fancy baseball cap with "Cajon Speedway" emblazoned on the front was shoved into our hands, and a smiling face said, "Cap Night. First 2000 people get a hat." Admittedly, I was more excited about the lids than my companions. Barb and David were grateful, but if it doesn't have feathers Barb won't put it on her head. I'm not sure there is such a thing, but David wondered about the thread count of his new chapeau.

I, on the other hand, yelled, "Wow! Cool, look at that. That's a great hat."

I removed my favorite Stihl chainsaws headpiece and replaced it with the brand-new Cajon Speedway cap. Surprisingly, it was of good quality, constructed from hefty material in a fetching red, white, and blue graphic arrangement. Giddiness came, not creeping, but in a crashing wave over me. Not for the hat. Not for the races. Not just for the opportunity to meet and talk to others like me, but for everything. I ran through the avenue behind the bleachers, where the candy, beer, and toy merchants were lined up. To the left were the main office and bathrooms; to the right, the stands stood tall overlooking the cyclone fence and wall that separate spectators from careening speed machines. A brown Crown Victoria with a stuffed cow and hand-painted numbers came crashing into the considerable concrete blockade just yards in front of me.

The ripping and booming of mechanical power plants was deafening.

"Isn't this awesome!" I screamed.

"What?" Barb asked.

"Awesome, isn't this awesome?" I yelled again, but it was no use. There was no way she could understand what I was saying. And the brown Crown Vic took another tire-screeching lap past us.

The three of us were intent on getting into the pits, which Barb called "The VIP Room." We didn't even know if there were pits, but dammit, we wanted in to whatever restricted area the track could offer. We walked around the grounds looking for forbidden places into which a press pass and a smile might grant us access. Making our way to the south side of the stadium, away from the bellowing open pipes on the oval track and back into normal noise levels, I spotted it -- the gate to the forbidden. The sign read, "No Entry into the Pits without Passes," so we stormed up to the security guard and demanded to be let in. He pointed us to the head office and said, "Gotta have a pass. Can't get in without a pass."

Rubber dust spit like a fine mist from the paved oval track in great clouds whenever a race car passed. We hadn't noticed that we were nearly covered in it until we got into the artificial light and air-conditioning of the front office. We brushed it from our arms and shirts as the manager watched us from behind the counter. "Can I help you folks?" Yes, you see, there's a lot of black dust out there, and we thought we'd come in for a quick shake off in your crisp, clean lobby. You don't mind, do you? If we were going to woo this man into giving us pit passes, this probably wasn't the best way to start.

"What's your names?" he asked, and then checked his roster.

"Oh, we're not on any list, you see..."

"If you're not on the list, you can't get pit passes," he interrupted. This was my cue to turn around and head for the door from which I entered, but Barb grabbed my shirt sleeve. She saw this as a challenge she could handle.

"But we're writers. He's writing a story about the speedway, and this is our photographer," she said as she pointed to David. Barb pressed on while I read a newspaper article tacked to the wall that bemoaned the uncertainty of the speedway's future.

The man behind the counter noticed I was reading about the lease with the county expiring, and he added, "Yep. Might not be here next year. This might be our last season.

"Sorry, folks. You should've called ahead or written us a letter. I can't do anything for you."

Again, I turned to leave and Barb yanked me back by my collar.

Barb has the gift of charm and conversational ease the way I have the gift of eating and breathing. Having zero people skills, I was thrilled when the manager said, "Okay. Okay. I'll let one of you go back, but that's it." Five minutes later we walked out of that office with three pit passes, a history of the track, and a season schedule.

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