Midway through a race at Stateline Speedway, the normally noisy grandstands fall quiet. The roar of engines drops away, too, as drivers stop when each realizes a small yellow car, No. 51, has rolled and crashed into a sidewall at the far turn.
The hush remains as an ambulance and two tow trucks rush onto the track.
But before rescuers are out of their vehicles, a figure emerges from under the car, climbs on top of its upturned chassis and pumps his arms in the air. The crowd bursts into the loudest cheers of what already has been a decibel-intensive evening.
It’s all in a night’s entertainment at Stateline Speedway outside Post Falls. Engines whine as the pack speeds past the grandstand. Tires squeal around the end turns. With enough regularity to keep fans attentive, cars spin out, escape inward or careen into the outfield in an abundance of near misses and the occasional crash.
On this recent Wednesday night, the crowd includes a group of four young women putting dibs on their favorite cars and keeping score with a point system they devised over numerous visits.
To their right, a father explains the finer points of racing to his two sons.
In front, two grandparents make themselves comfortable on a blanket while helping two parents keep track of three young brothers and their toddler sister.
Herds of preteens roam the stands, while several of the littlest fans play in the giant sandbox at the top of the grandstand. Some have even brought their own toy trucks.
The cars in the Road Runner, Fever Four and Bump-to-Pass classes that race at Wednesday Night Fever provide plenty of entertainment on what has become a popular – and affordable – night for families.
The first two classes are defined by the types of cars that race in them. The crowd-pleasing Bump-to-Pass event, while not actually requiring bumping, includes a variety of vehicles whose drivers are willing to make racing a contact sport.
This last group also includes the densest population of stuffed animals riding along. Kermit the Frog clings desperately to car No. 82, a tiger is more securely attached to No. 28, and a monkey swings in the open window of No. 99. No. 53 has a large purple rabbit on its roof that waves its paw as the car picks up speed. Even more active is the pudgy penguin-duck attached to No. 98, whose orange feet flap more furiously the faster the car goes.
One would think these freeloaders would increase wind resistance, but the drivers, evidently, are willing to sacrifice a few seconds of speed to a modicum of style.
You don’t need to know anything about stock car racing to enjoy Wednesday Night Fever. But when the kids start asking to enter the family sedan in next week’s races, a little background information may be useful.
“There’s nothing stock about a stock car,” says veteran driver Pat Norris, a regular at Stateline.
Racers must address a set of fairly complicated rules about how their cars can be modified, including numerous safety modifications that enable drivers to walk away from crashes like No. 51’s. A significant investment in a muffler is apparently unnecessary, but the cost of tires and gasoline alone is sufficient to make a dent in the kids’ college funds.
Midway through the race schedule, drivers bring their cars in front of the grandstands. A kind of trick-or-treating occurs during intermission, as drivers hand out candy to kids through a safety fence.
On a recent night, two brothers amass a haul of such magnitude that they’re still sorting and assessing their goodies when racing resumes. When their younger brother comes by, holding just three suckers, they generously raid their stash to boost his.
Meanwhile, the second-loudest cheers of the evening accompany No. 51’s return to the track. The most attentive of the four young women is quick to put her dibs on that one.
“They’ve pounded that car together,” exclaims the announcer, barely audible over the cheering crowd. But the car looks more like it had been pried apart to make room for the driver again.
Toward the end of the schedule, the heats get bigger, the races get longer and engine noise is more sustained as the cars spread out. The grandparents in front sacrifice their blanket to the three boys, who snuggle under it and consume their candy as the evening cools. Their little sister has fallen asleep in her mother’s lap, as have many fans her age, unperturbed by the noise.
But some are still alert. As the racing concludes, the young women play peek-a-boo with a toddler gazing at them from over her mother’s shoulder.