ESCANABA - I am not a stock car racing aficionado. Far from it actually.
Other than the occasional NASCAR race, I don't even watch it on television, and even then it's only for a few laps here and there.
And the closest I'll ever get to being behind the wheel of a stock car is a video game.
So when I was assigned to cover the return of stock car racing to Escanaba Saturday night after nine years, I was skeptical to say the least. Not exactly the way I planned to spend my evening. On a scale of 1 to 10, my knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, any kind of motor sports is probably a 2. And that's being generous.
Let's just say I know enough about racing to get me by in a casual conversation on the topic and leave it at that.
But apparently I'm in the minority. Judging from the huge crowd which packed the grandstand at the U.P. State Fairgrounds Saturday, I'm here to tell you racing fans are thrilled to have the sport they love back in the area, even if it's only temporarily.
And that's good news for all of the people behind the effort to bring stock car racing back on a full-time basis. The interest is there, but the big question is will the money needed to build a state-of-the-art blacktop facility be there?
If not, it certainly won't be for lack of trying as Delta County and fair board officials pursue all possible funding and grant opportunities.
The quandary for me was what would I write about? Anyone who attended could tell you the winners, but I knew I would need to do more for my stories. Thankfully for me, there are passionate race fans and many drivers willing to share their knowledge on the subject. You can tell from talking to them how much it would mean to bring racing back to the community. What it would mean to local businesses, not to mention giving people another reason to visit the area.
Even though I may not understand why stock car racing is such a big draw for those who love the sport, I couldn't help but think some aspects of the action Saturday night were at least a little interesting.
First of all, the drivers had a wild time handling their cars on the slippery track, thanks to on-and-off rain showers all week.
On more than one occasion, a car would spin out and get stuck in the mud piled up on the sides of the 1/8 mile clay oval.
The different types of vehicles racing was something I didn't expect. The micro sprints seemed really fast, and the tough trucks, while not as quick, were extremely powerful, which is a good thing when you're dealing with muddy conditions.
But the one thing that struck me the most was the enthusiasm of the fans. These people enjoy their racing as much as I love a good high school, college or pro football game, if not more.
I sincerely hope the efforts of everyone involved in returning stock car racing to Escanaba succeed.