Ladies and gentlemen, insert your earplugs.
You hear engines and smell exhaust before your tires even hit the red Georgia dirt at the entrance to the Oglethorpe Speedway Park. It’s the sound of intraspecific competition, a primal need for speed. It’s the scent of man and machine versus environment.
From her concession stand behind the bleacher seats, Savannah’s Kettle Corn co-founder Jenny Butler had never actually seen the races; she’d only heard and smelled them while peddling popcorn to the fans.
The sound and pitch of the engine varies depending on race — the gasoline-fueled thrums and snarls heard at the stock car races March 24 and 25 will be replaced by low roars, growls and diesel for this weekend’s Monster Truck Extreme Spring Nationals.
“There’s a common thread running through about 90 percent of race fans,” Butler claims. “They love their mama, they love their beer and they love their driver.”
The drivers seem to share those loves with their fans.
Around the corner at the Finish Line Pub, you can order any beer you want, so long as it is Bud or Yuengling. Surrounded by stars, stripes and checkered flags, bartender Diane Norris slings suds near a framed picture of her husband with the ‘79 Chevy Chevelle he used to race here at OSP. Their daughter vends nachos, burgers and hot dogs at the concession stand.
At OSP, everyone is part of the racing family.
One of the local race car drivers, 19-year-old Jordan “Dirt Angel” Feider, is going the distance with her own familial racing dynasty — her crew, boyfriend and family members all buzzed around her new car, “Glory 2 God.” Her granddaddy taught her how to race at age 8, after her brother showed no interest.
When asked about competing in a male-dominated sport, Feider shrugged. “It can be intimidating sometimes, but I don’t let it get to me.”
This year, Oglethorpe Speedway celebrates 66 years of racing fast and racing furious. The motorsports event calendar boasts everything from go-karts, sprint cars and modified racing, motorcycles, bicycles, tractor pulls and monster trucks.
“You either love racing or you don’t,” OSP general manager Darryl Courson said. The original plans for the speedway hang in his office, revealing a vision of a horse track with guest cottages, stables, pastures and a restaurant. When that dream fell flat, motorcycle racing and stock car championships debuted in Savannah in 1951.
This season, the purses are bigger, admission is cheaper and the ½-mile dirt track, one of the last in Georgia, will soon be shortened to ⅜-mile to attract more events and make for closer, better racing. Next season, Courson may schedule two monster truck weekends, one in the spring and one in the fall.
The monster trucks promise a spectacle that requires a different set of speedway skills. With monikers like King Krunch, Nitro Hornet and Sergeant Smash, these 4x4 trucks stand more than 12 feet tall on 5 ½-foot tires that grip, compress and spring-board both driver and steel cage upward of 100 feet off dirt ramps, clearing mounds of windowless cars, fiberglass cover flapping like a sheet of paper. (All this, courtesy of 1800 horsepower, a bulletproof transmission and nitrogen boosters.)
But not all the racing kingdom appreciates the finer points of the monster truck rally. They certainly don’t impress modified race car driver Kyle Strickler, “The High-Side Tickler. ”
“Monster trucks are basically just the WWE of motorsports,” Strickler said. He’d been forced to pull his No. 8 car in early off the first-place spot due to broken bolts and was, justifiably, in a mood to tell it like it is.
“Write this down: to finish first, first you must finish,” he dictated, shaking his head a little while cracking a Bud Light. “At least we got all this beer to drink.”
IF YOU GO
What: Monster Truck Extreme Spring Nationals
When: 8 p.m. March 31 and April 1; 2 p.m. April 2
Where: Oglethorpe Speedway Park, 200 Jesup Road, Pooler
Cost: $25 for VIP; $21 for adults; $14 for children 2-12
Info: 912-964-8200; ospracing.net