I experienced dirt track racing for the first time on Sunday night and I learned a few very important lessons.

I should probably tell you how this all came to pass.

I get a call on Sunday evening from my buddy (and neighbor) Brad, who is the loudest living Georgian. His vocal volume has nothing to do with this story. I just always like to identify him that way.

So Brad’s been in Atlanta all day and calls me saying “I’m gonna be in Rome at 7:55, do you wanna go to the dirt track with me when I get back?”

First of all, that’s an oddly specific time to tell someone. Secondly, I had never been to the dirt track before. I have lots of friends who have been and I heard it was a good time but all this time living in Rome I’ve just never gone.

Apparently this was a good night to go because, according to Brad, it was a championship race night and the featured race would include some pretty big names and they were racing for $10,000.

At first I was very hesitant. I told Brad I’d think about it, which for me means it’s probably not gonna happen. Then I called him back and asked my usual set of questions when somebody invites me somewhere.

Me: Who all’s gonna be there?

Brad: Lots of people will be there but we’re not going to sit in the bleachers, we’re sitting in my truck in the tailgate section.

Me: What does one wear to the dirt track?

Brad: Clothes you don’t care about ‘cause they’ll get dirty.

Me: OK, I guess I’ll take a shower before you get here.

Brad: No. Don’t take a shower. Trust me, you’ll be wasting water because you’re gonna have to shower as soon as you get back.

Now, normally when someone invites me somewhere and they caution AGAINST showering before I go, that’s usually a red flag for me. But you know what? I’m a spontaneous kinda guy. I decided to take a chance.

And I’m so glad I did.

Brad picks me up and we head toward the Rome International Speedway off Chulio Road. We stop at a gas station to pick up snacks and beverages and we drive on to our destination.

There were tons of cars in the parking lot, but we drove past all that and made our way to where you can pull your vehicle to one of many spots around the track. Everyone had backed up to the fence around the track and it seemed like a great place to be. We were closer to the track than the bleachers.

The races had already started and as soon as I got out of the truck and hopped onto the tailgate I could feel the rumbling of all the engines coming toward us.

Y’all, the first thing you notice is how unbelievably loud it is. All these cars racing around the half-mile track at breakneck speed makes an incredibly loud noise. And it’s awesome.

And then there’s the dust and dirt. I don’t know if this is the case with the bleacher seats but since we were backed up to the edge of the track, each time the cars would come around our turn, a huge gust of wind would rush past, bringing dust and dirt and grime.

I was having a blast. Brad loves this stuff so he was explaining everything to me and I could see all around us that the other folks watching were having a good time too.

After just a few minutes Brad pointed to my shirt and said, “Now you see why I told you to wear stuff you didn’t care about?” There were red clay stains all over my clothes.

And at one point I noticed a wet, dirty substance on my arms and realized it was motor oil that flew off the track toward us.

There were some great races, and of course the featured race was pretty cool. Some of the best drivers competed for the $10,000 prize. The driver who won, Jonathan Davenport, had also won the night before at Dixie Speedway. It was really cool to see the skill that goes into maneuvering these cars around the track at such a high rate of speed.

If you’ve never been to the Rome International Speedway, give it a shot. I promise it’s a really cool experience that you may end up really enjoying. It’s fast and exciting and loud.

But here are a few pointers from a first-timer perspective:

1. Depending on your preference, you can either choose to sit in the bleachers or tailgate near the track. I personally liked the tailgating because you get to have your cooler right next to you and you’re closer to the action.

2. You’ll probably get dirty. You may get REALLY dirty. When I got home I realized my clothes were filthy and my face and arms were covered in oil and dirt. But that’s a part of the fun. Even my ears and nose had dirt in them.

3. If you do decide to tailgate, you may want to bring a camping chair. I saw a lot of folks with their chairs set up in the bed of their trucks and that seemed like a comfortable way to watch the action.

4. Lots of kids were there and many of the younger ones were wearing those headphones that block out sound. It gets really loud, so that’s probably a good idea if you have little ones.

5. Bring your sunglasses. You may not need them but, depending on where you sit, you may have dirt and dust flying in your face every few minutes, so a pair of sunglasses could be a lifesaver.

6. Get you a Brad. Find someone who’s pumped about dirt track racing to take you to your first race and tell you all about the ins and outs of the sport. It makes the experience that much more fun.

See y’all at the Speedway!

Severo Avila is Features Editor for the Rome News-Tribune.

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