Noise, Nerve and Heart at Riverhead Raceway

Modifieds at Riverhead Raceway
Modifieds at Riverhead Raceway, Photo: Denise Brunnhoelzl

The engines rumble in my chest.

Cars get into poll position before the green flag.

Drivers flex their race cars muscles, staking out dangerous territory.

The flag man arranges confusion into order, somehow.

Wild horses being corralled.

Finally all is set—power unleashed, raw and fearless.

Pure energy, dirty and smoky, smells of fuel and exhaust and rubber.

A wake of dust kicks up and flies in tornados toward the white bright lights which turn night into day.

The crowd snaps to life craning necks to follow the action. The people smells mix with the track smells. Beer mixed with fuel, sweat with rubber and fried food with burning brakes.

Small children cover their ears. The noise is: boom, boom, boom, deep and from the inside out. Small hands can’t shield it. It shakes everything. Body and mind become one with the noise and the speed and lights and colors as the cars flash by the grandstand.

The man to my right, over my shoulder. I can feel his energy, his excitement.

This is his sport. His head follows the action, the duel between leader and challengers. His head ducks and his shoulders sway with every move of the battle for first position. I admire him—he is absorbed, he is in the game, he is behind the wheel feeling the rush.

I begin to understand. The cars are far too powerful for the short oval track. They have to back off, throttle down or overshoot the banked curves and crash. There were many crashes. Each car has the speed and power to win, but only one will make it first to the checkered flag.

It’s nerve! Yes, it takes nerve!

I can’t hold back my revelation, I need to blurt it out and share this discovery. It’s not the car, it’s the nerve of the drivers, the courage to take the lead and hold the lead to the bitter end; 200 laps.

I turn and look over my shoulder and I shout to my fully absorbed neighbor, “It takes nerve!”

His eyes lock to my eyes; he transfers his cigarette from his right hand to his left—left hand already clutching a beer. He clenches his right hand into a tight fist and raises it forcefully and gives himself a snapping pound on his chest just above his heart. He nods to me.

Yes, my friend, his eyes proclaim, “It’s all about heart.”

Riverhead Raceway Indian
Riverhead Raceway Indian, Photo: Long Island Oddities

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