It’s always weird when an institution closes. Be it the neighborhood restaurant, or a store you’ve been going to all your life, or the school you and your friends and all your older siblings went to, it never feels quite right when a place like that closes. The same can be said for Rocky Mountain Raceways, which held its last Midnight Drags and Salt City Drift event last weekend. What makes this weirder for me is I have a love/hate relationship with it.
Well… had. I hated that it was always such a production to get in to. Getting my wristband was never an issue. Jordan or OP always made sure I was on the volunteer list for the drift events, and the ladies in the ticket office were always easy to work with. It was everyone else that made it a pain. Actually, it was pretty much just the people at the paddock gate. It was always fun having them tell me to go to tech, even though I told them several times that I wasn’t drag racing. Or them stopping me at the gate, and holding me there while other drivers went in, and keeping me there until they were good and ready to let me in. Such good, infuriating times that made me wish for the coming destruction to come sooner.
But once I got in, it was a different story. Inside is where all my friends would be. Old friends, new friends, friends who don’t quite know my name but know who I am. And they’d be everywhere: stands, drift paddock, and in the drag paddock. I would see guys I haven’t seen since the Utah Hondas days. It was great! I loved seeing everyone, and RMR was the place. But now it’s counting down its final days, and I’m getting sad thinking about it.
And it’s sad on a whole other level, because there is an epidemic of small ovals and drag strips across the country being torn down. The reasons are many, but the result is the same: a link to a bygone era of racing heritage and history is being demolished. Racing legends like Mario Andretti, Rick Mears, Tony Stewart, Al Unser (Big and Little), Alan Kulwicki, and so many more got their starts on tracks like RMR. With them still standing, we could get a glimpse into the early stages of the careers of these giants. But now we’ve got stories told by the people themselves on another free podcast. It’s like seeing your childhood home torn down, or the first place you ever worked becoming a parking lot: you’ll always have the memories, but something is still missing.
There’s a poem by Jim Harrison called “Larson’s Holstein Bull”. It’s my favorite poem, but that’s not saying too much because I don’t know a lot of poetry. I think it’s fitting in this instance.
Death waits inside us for a door to open.
Death is patient as a dead cat.
Death is a doorknob made of flesh.
Death is that angelic farm girl
gored by the bull on her way home
from school, crossing the pasture
for a shortcut. In the seventh grade
she couldn’t read or write. She wasn’t a virgin.
She was “simpleminded,” we all said.
It was May, a time of lilacs and shooting stars.
She’s lived in my memory for sixty years.
Death steals everything except our stories.
That last line has always stuck with me, because it’s one of the truest things I’ve ever heard. Places will close, and become something else. Buildings will be torn down, and new ones built in their place. People will leave us, as quickly as they joined us sometimes. Things will change, but we’ll always be able to look back on what was. For better or worse, we’ll always have the memories and the stories. And for the time being, we’ll have the people.
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