- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2001

There is a Confederate flag rising out of the pit at the Old Dominion Speedway in Manassas.
The flag is not intended to be a culturally insensitive statement. It reflects a way of life, still strong to some, even in the politically correct new millennium.
This is the opening of the race season in this rapidly growing exurb of Washington, D.C., just off Interstate 66, where the past and present morph into this oddly appealing kaleidoscope of images. The blood ran thick in Bull Run, the scene of two great battles in the Civil War, and all around this defining piece of history is a commercial strip with, yes, a Shoney's. Step right up to the all-you-can-eat salad bar. Feel the ground move. That probably is a passing dump truck answering the call of progress.
Step inside the speedway, unbowed by the passage of time, the billboards off in the distance, across from the wooden bleachers. Check out the view at Hooters. Call Henry's Wrecker Service.
The wind has picked up. There is a chill in the April air. The principal attraction on this night is a 40-lap race involving the Legends Cars, racing's response to the escalating costs hitting the sport's low-end competitors. They came up with the car in Charlotte, N.C., in 1992, a modified version of the NASCAR models from the 1940s. These are the sport's bargain-basement machines, powered by a motorcycle engine, ranging in price from $14,000 to $20,000, with low maintenance costs.
Come on down in the pit and meet the Hendershott clan, the KD Racing team: David, the father, Elizabeth, the mother, and Kyle, the son.
David, 53, a former special services officer in the U.S. Army, grips your paw with conviction. His blood is pumping, his adrenaline up. It is race night. It is time to stare down the walls and hit the turns as best as you can and stay out of trouble.
He'll tell you how he got into trouble last fall at the Southampton Speedway in Capron, Va. Two drivers lost it in front of him on the second turn of the first lap. They were blocking him. What could he do? He started turning the wheel, baby, looking to cushion his date with the force ahead, and he had it under control, except for that crazy kid behind him, all hopped up, all over his rear. Darn it. That rankles him even now, just talking about it. That kid crawled all up inside his car, tore it up every which way, and that was it. Yeah, yeah. David Hendershott walked away. He was fine. But his car was finished. Be thankful? No. Be angry.
"You always have your fingers crossed," the father says. "I've been very lucky, for the most part."
Luck is the whispered prayer of the participants, whether along the NASCAR circuit or the out-of-the-way spots.
The father is actually a real-estate appraiser, unbeholden to the motorsports industry, whose relationship with luck is based on a lifelong passion, not financial need. Hobby is too soft of a word, if not an indictment. Some people skydive in their off hours. The Hendershotts leave the safety of their home in Fairfax and follow the Legends trail. You don't have to understand. Would you feel better if they hung out at Starbucks with a rolled-up New York Times tucked under their elbow, speaking the language of the bovine class?
What's the frequency, Kenneth, of the newly chasted Dan Rather? The joke is on him, always has been, and in his favor, America is usually too busy to notice.
He does hurricanes, right there in the eye of them, and as one blowhard to another, it works on that level, despite the danger and accompanying question: Why is that silly person, with a camera crew in tow, allowing himself to be beat up by a hurricane?
He does what he does, Kenneth/ Dan does, not unlike the Hendershotts, and the validity of each endeavor, while not necessarily your cup of cultural java, is beyond your definition of a good time, which is, amusingly enough, watching someone toss a ball through an orange cylinder.
The Legends Cars hit 90-plus mph on the straightaways, and they fishtail into the turns going 70 mph, and if you're not careful, if your nerves are not steady and your reflexes just off, you can lose it all by yourself and go end over end.
Elizabeth Hendershott, the mother, is biting her fingernails. That is not her official duty, just her principal one, especially on this night, the first time the father and son are going head to head, mano a mano. Kyle is just a boy, 16 years old, a junior at W.T. Woodson High School, who has moved up to Legends after racing go-karts the last six years.
"Kyle is scared to death right now," the mother says.
That is not what he says.
Kyle says, "I'm feeling great. I think she is the one who is scared."
That could be it, too.
Death goes with the territory. Dale Earnhardt died after he hit the wall in Daytona Beach, Fla., in February. His spirit lives at the three-eighths mile track in Manassas.
"People ask me about that," the father says. "I can't say I was a fan of Dale Earnhardt, the way he drove. Was I sorry it happened? Yeah, of course, I was. But I can't say I was a Dale Earnhardt fan."
The father and son come out of qualifying in good stead, the son in seventh place and the father in 12th, and the mother is somewhere between anxious and proud, in a mood to work the asphalt, pacing.
"Kyle just got his driver's license last June," the mother says.
Ten months later, he is ready to push his machine and see where it takes him, chasing the bumper in front of him, to the point they almost kiss.
The mother's perspective is shaped by the friend whose son was partially paralyzed after sustaining a neck injury at football practice. There also is this: Teens die on the local roadways each year, sometimes because of alcohol, sometimes because they think they are in a race. In the latter case, the son knows the difference.
Except for all the yellow flags, the 30-car race is uneventful. The son finishes fifth, the father eighth, and between them, they take home $320 in prize money, enough to buy a new set of tires. It's not about the money, although they respect its power, and its place in their sport, and while they are at it, they have to note their sponsor, ZeroDownHomeLoan.com.
But really, this is about family, their family, and this seemingly misunderstood slice of America, and God bless America, the red, white and blue, and out here, beyond the Beltway, where the last remnants of the old South are being overtaken by developers, they go to the speedway to celebrate who they are.
Have a hot dog. Share a soda. How is the puppy runnin'? She's running real nice, thank you. That's right.
They feel the power. They feel alive. They feel at one, man and machine, and the Hendershotts embrace it with all their might.
"I was tickled to death with the way it turned out," the father says later. "It was perfect."
It was the first stop of the season for the Hendershotts.
Next up: Southampton Speedway this Friday, when the father, son and mother try to duplicate perfection.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide