It was the corn dogs what swung it.
For the past year or so, Bennie has displayed increasing indifference and even passive hostility to the idea of getting out and about in pursuit of sport.
Rebels, Storm or All Blacks?
Heart, Victory, Socceroos or – heaven forbid – T20 cricket?
But somehow he intuitively knows an outing to check out Avalon Raceway will be more to his liking.
And when his question about the likely availability of corn dogs is answered in the affirmative, it’s a done deal and off we go on Boxing Day.
Actually, it’s been at least three decades since I’ve had one of those battered critters, so I’m quite open to having one myself.
More pragmatically, I expect the food offerings to be on a par with what’s available at AAMI Stadium, but probably not as good.
As far as the racing goes, I’m not a serious petrolhead by any means, though I’ve always had a soft spot for what I consider to be the blue-collar, everyman variations – as opposed to the billionaire playground that is Formula One.
On that basis alone, I’m up for it.
We get to the track just before 6pm and I’m quite impressed by the number of cars and people already in attendance, even though the “hot” practice laps are just about to start.
Most punters, including many families, appear to have brought their own furniture and/or food.
Not us, of course, though we nevertheless find a cool pozzie against the fence, with wooden sleepers to park our bums on when we’re not eyeballing the racing.
Where we’re at, on corner three, means we’ll be splattered with mud for the rest of the day/night, but after a while we barely notice. Bennie thinks it’s all an absolute hoot.
Various groups around us utilise different and innovative ways to protect themselves from the slung mud, ranging from blankets and umbrellas to screening pinned to the track perimeter fence.
The food situation turns out to be every bit as dire as I had expected – at first.
A single shack is selling hot dogs, pies, dodgy looking chips – with gravy for $6 – and that’s about it.
There’s not corn dog in sight.
Bennie later rates his hot dog as a six, once again raising for me doubts about the veracity of his rating system.
The chips are underdone, limp and awful.
My Routley’s beef pie is not hot enough and just OK.
Our food and drink costs us $15, which isn’t too bad. We’ve certainly spent more for worse at sports events in the past.
Like speedway bikes, sprint cars have no transmissions.
And – according to this informative story at automedia – nor do they have differentials, the lack of which is covered by having the inside rear tyres significantly smaller than their outside equivalents.
We’ve packed ear plugs, though they turn out to be non-essential. But I do keep mine in for most of the night.
The sprint cars – ranging from about six up to 18 per race – put out a deep rumble in the laps leading up the green flag. The racing tenor itself is, of course, a good deal higher pitched but still quite pleasant when compared to the killer dentist-drill mosquito-whine pain of F1.
And even Bennie enjoys the racing.
We don’t know one driver or car from the other, of course, but what with bearable noise levels, the smell of burning race fuel, some torrid racing and numerous bingles and prangs, it really is quite thrilling.
The cars are shunted on to the track by ATVs then push started by a team of utes.
It’s a buzz being so very close to racing vehicles yet feeling quite unthreatened. I suspect the cars may not be going as fast as they appear to be, and certainly no drivers are hurt in the various mishaps.
And still the mud flies!
After a half-dozen or so heats, I leave Bennie at our pozzie and go for a wander.
Punters can get a beer at Sliders Bar – VB for $4 – but they don’t appear to be doing great business.
Maybe because all booze must be consumed “in-house”, although the racing can be watched on TVs while doing so.
A little further on I stumble upon the Dirt Track Diner.
The food here appears to be somewhat different but of similar standard – think wilted burgers and leather-tough fried dim sims.
But wait – there’s more!
Yes, they have corn dogs.
I buy a couple for $5 each and make my way back to a wildly grinning Bennie.
He loves his and devours most of mine.
I’m disappointed. I expect the outer batter costing to be crispy – instead, it’s rather doughy.
I discover, courtesy of this informative piece at Wikipedia, that corn dogs appear to have originated in the US in the 1920s and that they have become a multicultural, multinational foodstuff.
And so it goes …
I’m surprised we make it right through to the evening’s conclusion, the 18-car Gold Cup final.
Then we make a hasty exit, beating the crowds and getting on to the highway home in about five minutes.
For a family day/night out, we can recommend a visit to Avalon Raceway. Our tickets prices of $25 and $5 certainly compare real well with any significant sports event in Melbourne.
You may want to pack your own picnic lunch/dinner, though Bennie snorts with contempt at such a suggestion.