Seduction of a Tree Hugger (to Racing)

Here's an interesting twist to fighting the eco-nuts:

"If you can't beat'em [ eco-nuts ], convert'em"

Drive fast, turn left: Seduction of a tree hugger

Special to The Observer

I arrived in Charlotte after 20 years in the Northwest. I climbed the
mountains, kayaked the rivers, hiked the trails and hugged the trees.

Then I moved to Charlotte. Hello trouble.

Who would have guessed I could stumble into an ethical conflict this
quickly? More to the point, who would have guessed they would find me in
the pits at a NASCAR Winston Cup race? It was pure seduction.

I came to Charlotte to work as managing editor of a Web site. It turns out
that my company is a major sponsor of a NASCAR team. North Carolina folks
being friendly and all, the first thing they did was get me a pit pass.
They wanted to introduce me to the sport. I was just an innocent baby.

All I could think of at the time was that it would be a long, noisy,
unpleasant day. I used to spend my Sundays on quiet walks through the woods
and foothills of the Cascade mountains. Sometimes I would fish one of the
rivers and listen to the birds sing. That was my previous incarnation,
before I heard 40 engines at the start of the race.

It's not just the noise. It's all of that concentrated power, so fast and
so close together. Like the LA freeways gone mad. Every kid's fantasy --
190 mph all the way to Hollywood. From San Francisco. The drivers looking
like tricked- out astronauts. The pit crews flying around. The seconds
ticking off, gas spraying into the air as the car squeals away and out of
pit road.

Now, I have to admit that I am no motorsports virgin. My ill-spent youth
was in Southern California. I know a thing or two about quarter-mile drag
racing. We used to go to the speedway and stand behind the chain-link fence
as close to the starting line as we could get. We would be covered in the
rubber dust floating in the air where the dragsters burned out their tires.

I have, on occasion, been known to take a run through the gears myself on
the odd Saturday night. But I left that all behind when I moved to the
Northwest and embraced the environmental movement. Internal combustion
engines were replaced by the quiet green shades of the forest. I watched
swallows fly below me as I climbed the granite walls of Tumwater Canyon.

Hugging trees was political action, used to keep the loggers at bay. All of
my environmental concern went for a visit somewhere when those drivers
fired up their engines.

When my friends at work told me to bring two sets of ear protection, I
thought they were kidding. They weren't kidding. I used inside ear plugs
and outside earplugs, and son, even that wasn't enough. Nothing I have ever
experienced is as powerful as the sound and feel of those 40 cars.

They were moving so fast, I could not focus on them when they drove by.

Didn't matter. I just stood there and felt the power vibrate through the
ground, through my body and through what was left of my mind. Clean air?
Trees? Are you crazy? I want horsepower, and more of it.

Then there was the pit crew, dressed in bright, flameproof clothes and
flashy helmets. I knew they were cool when I saw them stretching out before
the race. I watched them counting the piles of tires, checking their

I was a lost doggy. Go ahead and take me away, boys. You can't hug trees
going 190 mph.

I tried to tell one of my friends in Washington how amazing it is watching
someone pour gas into a car and he hung up the phone. I described for my
sister the excitement watching someone change a tire in four seconds and
the next call was from my mother. She wanted to know if I had a fever. I
told her I did. NASCAR fever.

It is bad enough that I now find it entertaining watching cars go around in
a circle for three or four hours burning up fossil fuel and rubber. Worse,
I seem to be regressing back to that teenage boy hanging on the chain link
fence getting covered with rubber dust.

My concern for the environment won't disappear, but the symptoms are
troubling. I want a set of earphones with the radio so you can hear the
conversations between drivers and their pit crews. I bought my nephew a
1:24 replica race car for his birthday. I collect Jimmie Johnson trading

Hello trouble.

Steve Simpson

"Go for the Gusto, Go for the Overall"
-- Robby Gordon, SCORE off-road champion