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Dirt track nights 

Speed and glory on the red clay.

BOLDING: God is her copilot.
  • BOLDING: God is her copilot.

Until you see them run, you can't really appreciate or even guess at how fast they are. Sitting on their trailers as the sky over I-30 Speedway fills with dusk, the cars trucked in for the night's superstock race don't look like much: Reagan-era Buicks and Monte Carlos, stripped down to shells and fitted with racing seats and roll cages.  Some of them are freshly painted, but most look like they've been dropped off a cliff. Even after they fire their engines and burble out onto the red clay track, it's easy to think they must be some kind of joke — the intermission entertainment, there to fill the lull between heats of the sleek, expensive, purpose-built modifieds and sprint cars. Demolition derby, maybe, or at least the automotive version of rodeo clowns, brought to run a hayseed dream of a race, the fans howling with laughter as the participants slowly fall apart.

Then the green flag drops, and the night fills with sound.

Sharp, sweet exhaust smothers the air, and the cars charge down the straightaway, nothing but blur, past the packed grandstands, toward the killer turn at the end. Just when it looks like they'll all just keep going — through the fence and into the parking lot — they pitch into the curve hard, drivers kicking the front wheels into the skid. For a split second, they seem frozen there, radiators pointed dead at the infield as if aimed, all of them sideways and door-to-door, kicking clay. Then, at the exact second when you think they'll just keep sliding like that, over the rail in a smoking heap, you realize that it has all been a boxer's feint, a sweet summer affair between mass and acceleration and centrifugal force. The drivers straighten their wheels, the rear tires obey, and the cars float around the curve light as a flock of sparrows. The next second, they're magically through the hairpin and rushing down the far straightaway, past the pits, past the trailers that brought them, engines rising into a moan. Back when these cars were on the road, driven by schoolteachers and office workers and little old ladies, their owners had no idea of what they could become, or how fast they wanted to go.

Becky Bolding has run in the superstock class at I-30 Speedway for the last seven years. She started with a Camaro, but now she runs a 1986 Buick Regal — windowless, stripped back to the quick, painted bright red and covered with Bible verses. Written on the trunk is: “He died for me, I race for Him.”

Bolding said that she started out running in the “powderpuff” class, which is for women drivers only. Powderpuff only runs once a month, however, and that wasn't enough for her. “So I converted from powderpuff to racing with the guys and I haven't stopped since,” she said.

She's been doing well for herself. During the 2005 season, she was named I-30 Speedway's Sportsman of the Year. In 2006, she won the hobby stock (now known as superstock) championship. This year, she's reeled in a string of feature race wins.

Bolding said that even though she's a woman in a sport dominated by men, she still gets the respect of the other drivers.  “No man wants to be outrun by a girl,” she said with a chuckle, “But they respect me. They don't just beat and bang on me on purpose.”

Bolding got involved in racing through her husband, who has been a dirt track racer for 16 years. Her husband and a friend serve as her pit crew. In the superstock class, they're allowed to run up to 350-cubic-inch engines, but must keep parts like intakes, suspension, the cross member and other components factory stock. In the superstock class, races usually involve between 16 and 22 cars.

The night the Times visited the track, Bolding's number 3b car had to withdraw due to mechanical problems, but chances are you'll see her running strong again soon. She'd planned on racing only once a month this season, but so far she has been there ready to go every time the gates have opened.

Why does she do it? Bolding said there are a variety of reasons that keep her coming to the track — from God, to the fire in her belly for that moment when the green flag drops.

“We go to Grace Connection church, and we have a racing ministry,” she said. “We try to involve others at the track in our ministry. I guess it's an adrenaline rush, too. Once it's in your blood, it's in your blood. It doesn't disappear.”

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