Thunder Berks Are Go

Dear Internet,

You may have some sort of an idea of what it is I do to earn my daily crust. Probably not a very precise idea because, even if I weren't as cagey as I am on the matter and I explained it all with a luxury of details, by the third sentence all your ears would be able to process is the sounds* the adults make in those Peanuts TV specials and just go back to your previously formulated notion my income is derived by, in some nebulous way, wrenching morsels of bread from the starving lips of the working classes.

So, to shed a sliver of light on what it is I do, and why I was under radio silence for a week, I'll illustrate by telling you the tale of my most recent assignment. The basics have been covered here before, so I'll spare you.

What I'll tell you is what this sort of show is like.

This sort of thing is a motorsports trade show and it is huge. Huge, in this case, is defined as being the size of two football (whichever version your own cultural paradigm flashes reflexively thereto) stadia. Crammed thereinto are thousands of manufacturers and distributors and attendees meandering about wondering what they ought buy to go faster. You may well imagine the Hellish racket going on. Machines that make transmissions and engines, machines that make machines, transmissions and engines, assorted other mechanical componentry are all whirring away at approximately a zillion dB for three days.

Fortunately the actual race cars have been moved outside to the forecourt. Last year it was raining and some genius decided to stick them indoors and by the time the third car had started up and revved its engine there was so much smoke that anyone would have been forgiven for thinking they had accidentally wandered into one of those hyper-sulfur coal burning Chinese electric plants the Kyoto protocol so conveniently ignores.

On the upside, it is a perfectly legal high.

Anyway, the racing world, like all human endeavors, has a rigid caste system. At the very summit of the ziggurat are the F1 guys, whose pores emit low-denomination coins. You can spot them by their unambiguously Euro-trash mien. Cartier sunglasses. Those overlong shoes with curled-up square toes. Shirts with patterns previously associated with heterophobic sleepwear. That sort of thing.

They are followed by the LeMans type who are (or affect) Euro old money, Indy car guys who are zillionaires who dress the same way they always did because they can't be bothered to get out of jeans, and Vintage Racecar sorts of guys who are usually American old money and would be off racing sailboats if this hadn't popped into their heads.

Next down are the NASCAR folks, and these all look like middle-management executives with distinctly Southern accents rattling off Wall Street buzzwords. They are followed by the rally car contingent who are, frankly, in utter leave of their senses. (Anyone who thinks it's great fun to hurtle a subcompact with a trillion horsepower through unpaved roads and snowed conifer forests at 150mph would have to be.)

Following them we have the dirt track racers, who are like the NASCAR guys sans polish and the autocrossers who are like the rally guys with the Sanity Button fully pressed and the rent-a-racers, who are like the F1 guys only married and wildly frugal.

Nearing the bottom are the drag racers, divided into the, er, more peculiarly groomed (curly mullets and tattoos abound, in an inverse relationship to digits and incisors) not-quite-urban sorts and the Asian (or Asian-wannabe) with facial piercings that make you wonder if dueling with pneumatic nail guns is the next societal phenomenon to be chronicled by Chuck Palahniuk and a general appearance of someone whose other hobby is stealing cars.

At the very base of this motorized Giza are the "tractor pullers" whose passions lead them to create farm vehicles with enough power to reverse the earth's rotation. Stop and think of it.

Of course, this being the biggest splash in the world of racing, a veritable United Nations of attendees cross my sights. The biggest difference being that, in sharp contradistinction to the real United Nations, these guys -- and they are 99.9999999% guys -- actually accomplish things.

On the racing insanity spectrum, the extreme at the far end is populated by Brazilians (usually with Italian surnames), Argentines (invariably with Italian surnames) and Italians. Then come the French (including French Canadians), the Brits, the Germans, the Aussies, the Spaniards, Americans, Kiwis and Anglo-Canadians. When you interact with these groups on a regular basis over many years, certain generalizations pop up. You can count on the Aussies asking you one or two questions (Can you make this? How much?) and then demanding you drink with them. The Germans will bring reams of data, charts, metallurgy reports, graphs and then demand you adhere to their specifications exactly. The Italians will bring twice as much data as the Germans and then demand you get "close enough" and then they discuss food. The French will haggle. The Americans will tell you endless stories, including a few entertaining ones. The Brits will tell you all the stuff they cobbled together "out in the shed" to compensate** for the failures they experienced when they were racing those British cars loosely screwed together by effort-shy socialists in the late-1970s. (In contrast, the French have never bothered cobbling anything together. When their cars, loosely screwed together by semi-communists, failed, they just took an extra week off with pay.)

This all requires enforced jollity on one's part, a hugely draining experience. When the Argentines, Italians and Australians rejoice/bemoan their new gummints, you are to make sympathetic sounds. When the Brit starts talking about some obscure car that somehow managed to be assembled between strikes, you nod sagely. You scoff at what they scoff, you cheer at what they cheer.

"Whither thou sneerest" is the motto. And it's VERY wearing.


* Mwahwahwahaahhwwha

** In fact, there is a thriving and lucrative industry in the UK of taking those very cars apart and, for a not-small sum, reassembling them properly.


Badger said…
Okay, well all I heard was "mwahwahwahaahhwwha Chuck Palahniuk mwahwahwahaahhwwha".
Joke said…
Sometimes even I underestimate my own manliness.

shula said…
wot badger said.

I still have no idea what you do.

Something to do with trucks?
Poppy Buxom said…
I think--and I admit I skimmed--it has something to do with sucking up to clients.
Agree with Shula, still have no idea what you do. But you need to know that I am probably the most NASCAR obsessed girl on the planet.
Kim said…
what Badger said.

But I would deeply deeply love to be a rally car driver. I'd have to drive as my navigation skills are woeful. I'd be all turning the map upside down and saying things like 'up here turn right', which I fully understand would probably result in us colliding at maximum speed with a tree.

I knew you did trade shows/events. I didn't appreciate the scale or the field in which you do so.

Have you heard about the Sydney boat show that's held every year in Darling Harbour? Apparently more boats are sold per second at that trade show than anywhere else in the world. Or some such nonsense.

This makes your penchant for restoring old cars a little bit more understandable.

Chef loves Nascar. Tries to tell me it is all very technical. I'm like - oh yeah. Like how much coke to put in the rum or whether to add ice.
Joke said…
What people need to know about NASCAR (and F1) is that they are not really racing, but a high-speed variant of show business. In NASCAR the stars are the drivers, in F1 the stars are the cars; i.e. in NASCAR people will cheer for, say, Jeff Gordon no matter what he is driving and in F1 will cheer for Ferrari, regardless who the driver is.

NASCAR is suprisingly technical, given the archaic rules -- which are, quite openly, driven by marketing considerations -- under which their cars operate.

In any event, the whole damned event was tiring in the extreme.


P.S. Every night culminated with dinner with potential clients; which usually ended around 1am. On the last night, the fire alarm went off at 2:30am.

Then again at 4am.

Then again at 5:15am.

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