On Sunday, April 10th I attended the final day of the three-day 30th annual Super Chevy Show at the Memphis International Raceway. Almost 40,000 racers and fans alike came to swap parts, show off vintage cars, and see speed first hand. I would recommend anyone giving a race or a car show a try.
Engines revving, tires burning out. The sound carried through the wind as I approached the 400-acres that make up the Memphis International Raceway in Millington.
I had never been a fan of racing and had never seen the track itself. I always thought it was a seemingly simple sport, but the thousands of voices effortlessly making small talk with a mechanic’s vocabulary made me realize I had underestimated the culture.
The wind carried the smell of a carnival in the air that was paired with a similar sense of excitement, and the backdrop of engines racing screamed through the air with a chilling thrill.
Making my way to the track I walked through the swap meet, where “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” serves as the basis for hundreds of individuals with parts “I may never know what they go to or why”. It was a sideshow attraction of metal pieces, a literal garage sale, and what looked like a post-industrial steel sculpture was easily identifiable as a ‘72 Chevy Malibu carburetor to some.
Between the stands and me stood vendors upon vendors, selling assorted tools, car themed t-shirts, and food and beer vendors scattered in between.
Working my way to the stands where thousands of people watched cars of all colors, shapes, models, and makes bellow and growl as they approached the starting line, but first they stopped in the burn-out zone.
Their engines thundered, their tires squealed and a thick smoke clouded the zone, before they pulled out from what looked like a storm to the starting line. It was electrifying.
The light blinks green. You hear the sound of speed. Within seconds they’re gone.
I learned you have to be careful not to blink at the wrong time or you could miss the race.
Drag racers race the clock, which I didn’t know. These cars go from 0 to 120 mph in five seconds, sometimes faster. It’s something you have to see, hear, and feel. It gives you a rush, and you understand the thrill.
As the cars passed the cut-off point, the crowd screamed, eagerly awaiting the next race, which happens only seconds later. The excitement is constant, and you can feel the energy as the combination of applause and stomps shake the bleachers. The crowd is almost as exhilarating as the race.
Dragsters, souped-up pick-up trucks, Mustangs fitted with Chevy engines, and everything else vanished into the distance in seconds, leaving behind only smoke and a roaring applause that rivaled their engines.
After a couple of races somehow turned to dozens I moved on to the car show. Since it was a Chevrolet event, all of the cars, whether racing or being shown, had to include either a Chevy body or engine. When I made my way there I saw a sea made of hundreds of cars, all glimmering in the sun as if it was their first day on the road; untouched by time.
Scarlet Corvettes, tangerine Bel Airs, golden Malibus and a rainbow of cars from across the century mingled in a parking lot, contrasting against the bright blue sky, as hundreds of people inspected the renovations, customizations and sheer class of the cars’ outstanding perfection.
Not a smudge or fingerprint could be spotted on a single vehicle, just the reflection of the clouds against the paint.
Each telling the tale of a different time, and each evolved from the last. Some were completely original; some had been customized with new interior, bigger engines, or flashy trimmings. Some cars left you feeling as if you had traveled back to the ‘50s, while others made you feel as if you were in the future.
After walking through the maze of automobiles a few times I walked to the pits, where professional racers from across the country and local weekend warriors mingled and worked on their cars before it was their turn to race.
There was a sense of brotherhood rather than rivalry or competition among all of the racers. Everybody, fan or racer, was there to enjoy themselves and take part in something they love – racing. The harnessing of speed.
The amount of knowledge, precision, time, money and passion that goes into these races is much more than I had ever thought, and the kindness and knowledge of the racers and staff of the Memphis International Raceway left me feeling humbled.
I learned a lot while I was at the racetrack and would recommend every Memphian to take advantage of the great racing facilities we have in Memphis. It’ll be a year before the next Super Chevy Show, but the 63rd annual World Series of Drag Racing will be coming up on August 26th and 27th, which will be the largest racing event the Raceway has seen in seven years and the first time the series has been hosted in Memphis.