Share my discovery of the serenity and community of racing
"I'm going to the Drags with Daddy tomorrow" was the bedtime statement from my two and a half year old daredevil daughter. "She couldn't possibly remember", said her mother as we recall taking her to the Winternationals last year. We were put in our place the morning after when testing if she knew what the drags were she answered like we were stupid, "It's where the cars line up and race!". Maybe the blast from the Top Fuel dragsters left more of an impression than I thought.
So began the exit ritual. The $1000 hand-me-down stroller is ditched for the more streamlined $20 K-mart pram for the task of Dad tackling the daredevil and her five year old low-maintenance brother. "Are you sure you don't want to come?" is returned with a deadpan look that confirms Mum would rather a quiet day from the kids to get stuff done.
You have to be a good girl or you'll have to stay at home next time" is dismissed with the customary, phoned in "Deal" from the daredevil. That's not a good sign. The screaming began half way out to Willowbank. For some reason she could only be seen in her brother's sunglasses and as usual he gave them up to keep the peace. Despite winning, she protested loudly at the suggestion that she should sleep for the rest of the trip but relented and agreed to have quiet time for 5 minutes.
The tirade continued when she woke up on arrival. Clearly disappointed in herself that she fell for the oldest trick in the book she was both stating how cold she was and refusing to wear her jumper at the same time. It wasn't cold, the wind was strong but it wasn't brisk, it was beautiful. Still some payback was due and that meant Dad needed to carry her while the boy pushed a backpack around like a baby in the pram.
It's all part of the experience I tell myself as she refuses to take photos with the hotrods in the pits. Having abandoned the SLR I soon got the knack of taking iPhone shots while carrying a kid in the other arm as we made our way to the car display. Might have to double down on the back pain pills tonight.
You wouldn't naturally think it but the Drags is truly a family day out. Show and Shine entrants know this as some have novelty eyes and toy rats decorating their expensive pride and joys in a desperate attempt to scrounge the people's vote. The boy is spotting American muscle cars that are in his Hot Wheels collection as I drool over the Aussie muscle cars that normally take centre stage on my screensaver.
So we climb the grandstand. This is where the $20 pram pays for itself as we settle into our seats with it folded up on the floor. That's when I made a rookie mistake as a Dad. I reminded them they needed to tell me the moment they needed to go to the toilet so we can get there in time. They both apparently now need to go. "No I mean when you do need to go". "I need to go to the toilet". OK then, they're cleaning the track anyway lets hustle. This is where the spirit of Willowbank comes into play, I think nothing about leaving the pram and the food/drinks bag behind as we make our way to the toilet. She, of course, will not hold her brother's hand despite the "carpark rules" being announced and when pushed on the issue begins the chant "pick me up, pick me up" louder than normal from wearing earmuffs. The spirit steps in again as a complete stranger senses how flustered I'm getting and offers "that's what you get when you teach 'em to speak". An uncontrollable smile spreads across my face, it was the most perfect gesture.
I wonder then what my wife is doing. I realise she is probably vacuuming at that very moment and that despite the setbacks I've still got the better deal. A communal toilet experience has brought injustice to the daredevil as her brother can stand-up pee quicker than she can get her pants off. This can only be righted by refusing to wash her hands as I wonder what the teenage years will be like.
We pick up some earbuds and make it back to our seats, disturbing a group of people who are happy to oblige. We shuffle a few seats down to let their whole family in and there is a real sense of community here. Guys in the row in front are smirking as I try the seemingly impossible task (if you've ever tried it) of getting earmuffs onto a kid's head over the top of a hat. The spirit strikes again as the guys suggest without any judgement at all "just make sure the boy plugs his ears for the big ones". I love that. I hand James the plugs and will warn him when the four serious drag cars come up but he knows the drill. At five years old he's probably been out here a dozen times by now.
As the racing starts we play the "pick a colour game" and the boy gets creative saying that he picks the one that will win. We may have to discuss that need to win a bit later. The daredevil is getting into the burnouts as well as we watch a good session of racing before the tractor comes out again to clean the track. All of a sudden we are looking down the barrel of another toilet trip. "A Pee and a Poo" confirms that I can't ignore this despite calling bogus. Again we disturb people to leave but get no attitude as we cart all our gear out this time.
So we make our way around to the hill side of the track. After a quick pitstop confirmed I was scammed, we sat down on the grass with some chips for the kids. I've never seen it so green out here, the place looks really great and there is room for them to run around without stressing that they'll get lost like at the big events out here. They just love going up and down the hill stopping occasionally to have a chip.
You can forget it if you are a coeliac as there are no gluten-free options at the drags and there never have been. Knowing this I pull out my pre-made toasted sandwich and it nearly slips onto the grass. There is no structural integrity to a toasted cheese sandwich made from bread the size of a playing card, it's just science. If you enjoy fine coffee I suggest you bring it from home also.
I slip into the meditative state of the hill. I liken it to the zoning out that you do when your fishing except you don't have to do your business in a bucket. The kids are having a ball and are double and triple checking their chips before eating them after seeing one ant in the area. I try to get them excited about the parade but it is just hard to compete with the thrill of the hill. There was rolling, army crawls, angels, and my favourite where the boy inexplicably gave himself the physical challenge to get to the top of the hill on his bum feet first like some dog scratching its "tail" on the carpet. You couldn't write this craziness but it's then followed by an equally inexplicable display of affection from the daredevil. A forehead to forehead head cuddle followed by "I love you Dad". Is it wrong that I immediately suspected something was up just then? Damn, I missed the moment.
We make our way back to the car after a few more race sessions as I spoil the kids by getting a slushy and a 3 pack of donuts for them to share on the ride home. I also collected a $5 t-shirt and $15 hoodie for the boy. My tip for getting the best merchandise bargains is to buy the 2013 Winternational items. Why not, he was there. She rejected any offering that wasn't pink and only realised she'd shot herself in the foot when I wouldn't turn the pram around after she changed her mind and wanted the red t-shirt. What can I say? Sometimes you just have to be tough on them, and the Willowbank spirit can't save you every time.