A Night at the Fair

(First ran 8-28-12; it’s county fair time again)

Nothing says late summer quite as much as the county fair.

Frequently, the vehicular variety at Midwestern county fairs is limited to the color and cab configurations of the F-Series or Silverado pickups parked near the livestock, or the number of silver-and-white Impalas and Camrys in the parking lot.  Still, that doesn’t mean exciting vehicular activities do not exist at the fair.

The county where I live had a fair recently.  From my experience, the organized entertainment at county fairs generally is limited to country-western singers well past their peak, and demolition derbies.  However, this year there was a change of flavor–the Figure 8 race.

The announcer asked the audience a rhetorical question: What is a Figure 8 race?  He claimed that the Figure 0 has been taken by NASCAR, and that drag racing uses the Figure 1.  Thus is a Figure 8 race exactly what its name implies: Racing  on an “8” shaped track, with the goal of being the first to finish so many laps without having your ride obliterated by the competition.  Ten was the magic number of laps required here.

When I saw this Crown Victoria at the front gate, I was quite curious about what to expect.  Sadly, it sat by the 4H building all night. From what I have gleaned, Figure 8 racing started right after World War II; Indianapolis claims to have the oldest Figure 8 track still in use, but ABC-TV’s 1960s-era Wide World of Sports program occasionally featured Figure 8 races from Islip, New York.

As the fan of lowbrow entertainment I am, I was compelled to watch the festivities.  So, what cars were competing?

Front-wheel drive compacts: Chevrolet Cavaliers, Pontiac Sunbirds, Cavaliers, Ford Escorts, Cavaliers, an old Toyota Celica, Cavaliers, and a Buick Century, and a few more Cavaliers.  There were 67 vehicles in all.  I suspect General Motors made the Cavalier and its ilk expressly for Figure 8 racing.  They are stout little cars given the kind of treatment they receive.  One had a rear wheel shoved under its body, perpendicular to the way it began, yet went another entire round, literally dragging its tail.  A second one, flipped onto its roof amidst the chaos, was turned over and started immediately.

Granted, for a few seconds it smoked like Cheech and Chong, but made it to the finals.

There were about twelve rounds in all, with the top two finishers qualifying for the championship.  After each round, the obvious losers had their carcasses hauled off by a bobcat.

Sadly, this horny Dodge Dynasty never made it to the party.  Later, I learned from an event organizer that there was a maximum allowable wheelbase that the Dynasty exceeded.  A V6 in the lineup would have been exciting.

But wait!  There was a V6 in the lineup, as evidenced by the deeper sound of an open exhaust system.  It was the sole Buick Century in the race, and was simply too speedy for my Blackberry to capture.  It made it to the finals after blazing its way around the track in two earlier rounds.  It was undoubtedly the fastest car of the night.

Yet it was not to be: After its engine died and remained unwilling to restart in the championship round, it became an also-ran.  So what was the winner for the night?  A Chevrolet Cavalier.  What a shocker.

For me, going to a Figure 8 race is similar to eating Rocky Mountain Oysters or attending a high school reunion – something you do exactly once.  Now had it been a Joie Chitwood type show…well, that’s a different story.