Monday, June 22, 2009

A Night at the Races: Ocean Speedway

On Friday, the Wood Family visited Ocean Speedway in Watsonville (CA) to see our first demolition derby (which, for some reason, they call Destruction Derby). Traffic around the "fishbook" leading to Highway 1 was godawful and we ended up spending an hour on a trip that normally takes about 20 minutes. So we showed up in a somewhat stressed mood. But all that hassle evaporated when we arrived and heard the revving of the engines. We found seats, grabbed hot dogs (and a beer or three for me), and settled in for the night.

We presumed that the Derby started at six. Turns out, Ocean Speedway runs races for hours before the big event. So we set through time trial after time trial for five classes of cars. And then we watched those five classes compete for real (after the national anthem and a public prayer). Honestly, we didn't care all that much for the races. But it was pretty cool to see tightly packed scrums of cars whipping around a quarter mile dirt oval. There was at least a minor wreck seemingly every five minutes (oh, how we came to dread that yellow flag). And sometimes, even after a somewhat major wreck, they'd keep the race going anyway. So a number of cars looked like crumbled up pieces of fiberglass by the end of the event.

Finally, they ran the "destruction derby" sometime before 10. About six old clunkers, painted in garish fashion, were driven into a small part of the track set off by tires. The guys who drove them seemed to be regular fellows who do this sort of thing for kicks. Maybe they turn a wrench in their day jobs, but they could be shoe salesmen and barbers for all I know. The Derby ran about 15 minutes, a sort of bumper-cars-for-real spectacle complete with flaming engines and bone rattling crunches. Then, about five hours after we arrived, the Wood Family returned to our own boring car. No more crashes for us.

Visitor tips:

Parking is no big deal. They have plenty of open space across the street from the lot, which fills up early. No fees either way. Just remember to position yourself near the entrance for easy exit.

Seating is fairly spartan. If hours of sitting on aluminum bleachers depresses you, bring a cushion.

Dirt and mud are a big part of the close-up experience at Ocean Speedway. Despite the safety fence, you will likely get hit with bits of earth as the cars screech by. Dress accordingly.

Noise? Hell yeah. They sell cheap ear plugs if you need 'em.

Safety is no problem. Attendees are friendly and the vibe is relaxed. Kids run around the small (largely) enclosed area. Use common sense, but don't worry.

Weather can get chilly at night. We arrived in shorts and t-shirts, perfect for a mid-June afternoon with temps in the 80s. A few hours later, we understood why regulars wear layers. It can get downright cold.

Prices are predictably high, but not outrageously so for this kind of venue (one bottle of bear will run ya five bucks). Bring cash. They may accept credit or debit, though I never saw any card readers.

(Photographs by Andrew Wood)


Evan said...

My father-in-law grew up in Watsonville. He and his family were interned in WW2, and their farmland taken from them.

Andrew Wood said...

I appreciate your comment, Evan. While I have no personal knowledge about internment practices near Watsonville, not being a native to the region or an expert on that particular history, I imagine that we both share sorrow that the act of internment took place.

Evan said...

Sorry, I know a bit of a random and heavy comment to drop, but it's really all I can think about when I hear about Watsonville (which isn't all that often). It's still largely agricultural, correct? I wonder if any Japanese-Americans moved back there after being released.