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While fans are not yet allowed, the return of stock car racing offers welcome relief

The sun was shining, dust was thrown into the air and motors screamed, growled and whined at a high-decibel pitch.

MILES VANCEIt was the official — but delayed — start to the Columbia County Racing Association's 2020 season at the River City Speedway, held Sunday, July 12, at the Columbia County Fairgrounds.

While the opening-day field was limited to just 53 cars and there were no spectators allowed in the grandstands, Sunday's races nonetheless marked a welcome step back toward normality and routine for the people of St. Helens, Scappoose and Columbia County.

After long months of being stuck inside their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing four-month lockdown, the residents of Columbia County can look to Sunday's races and those that follow as an indicator that life may soon edge back toward what we used to know it to be.

And the Columbia County Racing Association is a great place to start. Why? Because the races — a longtime annual tradition at the fairgrounds — take place outside on the quarter-mile banked clay oval track of the River City Speedway.

The entire nature of the sport itself screams social distancing, with every driver on the track trying to get ahead of, and away from, every other driver. Social distancing wins — at least if you're ahead.

For a little while on Sunday, the drivers, their pit crews and the people staffing the races for the CCRA at the fairgrounds track could take their minds off work, or unemployment, or child care needs, or bills, or the state of an elderly or health-compromised loved one. At least for a little while.

Instead, it was time to think about going fast, to think about how to pass other drivers, to think about strategy and repair needs on their vehicles. In short, it was a time to think about anything except for the pandemic that has turned the world's lives upside down for the past four months.

It's not possible yet, but when it's allowed — perhaps when Columbia County moves into Phase 3 or perhaps in years to come — you need to come watch the Columbia County Racing Association's product in person. You'll remember it if you do.

It's loud — really loud sometimes. It's also dusty, competitive, a little bit violent and exciting. But most of all, it's fun.

It's four-wheel racing where you sometimes wonder if all four wheels will remain on the vehicles where they started. It comes in cars that vary in sizes, shapes, speeds, engines and body styles, with Sunday's divisions including the Four Cylinder, Sportsman, Dwarf Car, Modified, Micro Sprint and Micro Sprint Restricted.

The cars themselves are decked out in bright colors, sponsors' logos, their identifying numbers and drivers' names. As to the races themselves, there were spin-outs, the occasional meeting of cars with the track's reinforced concrete wall, and enough sideways cornering action to make your head spin. But all those factors are part of the overall experience at the raceway. They're all part of what makes it fun.

I'll tell you what else it is. It's competitive, slightly dangerous, family friendly, somewhat crazy, communal and contested outdoors. In other words, it accurately reflects a significant percentage of Columbia County's residents.

So as drivers gunned it around the River City Speedway, jostling for position and angling — sometimes forcefully — for the right line on the corners, it was also a chance to think about something other than the pandemic. Something normal. Something fun. Something better.


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