It was noisy in the Bartholomew County 4-H Fairgrounds Community Building on Saturday, to the level that you couldn’t hear honoree Dave Norris as he accepted the Home Town Hero award during the 15th Old Timers Reunion.
Norris, who was the co-founder of the event, was trying to tell a story. Unfortunately, so was everyone else in the building, which was jam-packed with people and vintage race cars that included two of the cars that started in the last row of the 1950 Indianapolis 500.
Jerry Castor, the other event co-founder and kind of the master of ceremonies, kept plowing forward as did Norris.
There was no “Shush,” or “pipe down” or even a “Shaddup.”
Those in racing, whether as owners, drivers, mechanics or fans, are used to loud noise.
The city of Columbus in general, not so much.
Noise, probably more than anything, drove stock car racing away from the city 30 years ago, if the tales being spun between the race cars were true.
Oh, sure, there was a certain sector of the public that likened race car drivers to a motorcycle gang on four wheels. Norris, a former local driver who now lives just north of Tampa, Fla., said that way, way back in the day, a certain element might have existed when it came to boozing a bit too much and then heading to the track. But those types were long ago driven out of the sport.
While local racers and track owners could control their environment when it came to behavior, the same couldn’t be said of the noise. Come on now, you’re not going to silence Niagara Falls.
For years, television has struggled with ways to bring racing to the fans. They have cameras in the cars and they’ve wired the drivers and the race teams. They’ve got cameras now that run as fast as the cars on a wire over top of the track. They’ve got up-close-and-personal interviews and driver introductions that would make Ray Lewis blush.
What they don’t have is an accurate representation of racing’s roar.
Go ahead, turn your television way up when you get one of those Fox Sports prompts to feel the power. What you get is loud television noise. Switch channels to SpongeBob SquarePants and turn your television all the way up. Same thing.
If you want to convert a non-racing fan into a racing fanatic, take him or her to the track. Then sit back and watch as the wall of noise crashes into the newbie body.
It will be at that moment that goosebumps will rise and a new fan will be born, or the person will go running for the exits, cursing you for a Tony Stewart-induced migraine.
Non-racing fans who live in an area that has a track suffer from one big headache. Non-racing fans who live in an area that has proposed a track treat it with more contempt than the introduction of a landfill.
Then there is the other side. Those who love racing think of it as one of those cubes that produces the sound of running water so you can sleep like a baby. Pure heaven with horsepower.
On Saturday, the Community Building was filled with those who could re-create the full-throttle blast of an engine in their mind just looking at the parked race cars. They talked about the days driving or watching at the two tracks that were in town, or the one just outside of town off State Road 7 just east of Clifty Creek that was run by Bill McCoy.
There were drivers such as Butch Wilkerson and Bobby Baker. Guys who still believe that Columbus would support a race track if there was community support.
Norris doubts that the people in Columbus would let that happen. He said after racing had dried up in town, that a public hearing was held to consider a new track. He remembered one particular guy who spoke.
“He said, ‘When I open my window, I want to hear the crickets,’” Norris said with a smile. “Of course, then you have all the environmentalists and the financials.”
The crickets eventually won out, so those who love stock car racing have to travel to Bloomington or North Vernon for their fix.
For now, racing fans in Columbus need to travel, or to turn their TV way, way up. And once a year, they meet at the fairgrounds for a special reunion, and a chance to hear the roar, in their mind.
Jay Heater is the Republic sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 379-5632.