Racing Infinity

By on August 3, 2011

You’ve probably never noticed this—I’ll admit I hadn’t given it any thought until a friend pointed it out to me on Sunday night—but the Teton County Fair’s Figure 8 races take place on a muddy lemniscate, an infinity symbol carved out of earth.
Yeah, I know what you’re probably thinking: No shit, Sherlock.

Then again, think about it. Once a year, a couple thousand people gather to suck back beers and stare, unwittingly, for hours, at the unbounded limits of 8, written in dirt, contained in a rural rodeo arena, to watch old cars race around the track, hoping they’ll smash into each other. It’s an almost ritualistic gathering, a bizarre combination of symbol worship and sport.

Strangely, the infinite in this case has an ending: when a car finishes 15 laps, the checkered flag is flourished and the race is over.

After the first six races, the earthen berms that defined the lemniscate’s borders were wearing down, the racecourse was becoming indistinct, the infinite was fading. So a piece of heavy machinery wheeled around the track, redefining infinity. Were my friend and I really the only ones who found this metaphysically fascinating? Probably.

I doubt many of those in attendance at Sunday’s Figure 8 races were thinking very hard about their relationship with infinity. They were too busy watching nearly four hours—six races plus four semifinal heats and the final—of thrilling racing chaos. My friend and I were seated, or more often standing, in the eastern grandstand with the rest of the rowdies. Dollars bills were waved high as people made their bets. Empty, translucent beer cups piled up on the footrests of the bleachers.

The evening’s most exciting moment sprung from a quiet corner of the track, where crowd favorite Tim Hoff sat in his broken down ‘87 VW Jetta in the midst of Heat 4.

Suddenly, the Jetta’s front end erupted in flames, fire peeling from under the passenger side of the hood. The crowd cheered boisterously. Hoff scrambled from the vehicle as the on-track judges ran across infinity to extinguish the flames.
The excitement of the Figure 8s isn’t just the crashes—and there are lots of crashes, often pretty spectacular ones, tremendous t-bone and rear-end collisions—it’s how fast fortunes can turn. In an instant, the leading car could get run off the track, high centered on a berm or slammed into by another car, dashing your hopes of winning a couple bucks on the race.

Sometimes, the Figure 8s aren’t about the race, but how a driver plays the game. The number 77 car, a blue ‘87 Mazda 626 driven by Jasper Cyr, didn’t stand any chance of winning the fifth race, but its determination and resilience won the crowd’s fervid support. Cyr was t-boned, passenger side, as he passed through the 8’s juncture into turn one. The collision mangled his car’s frame, and still it kept racing. A few turns later, 77s front end was crumpled in a fierce head-on collision, but even that couldn’t stop it.

As his car limped around infinity, Cyr waved and honked at the crowd. The crowd cheered. Cyr waved at the judges, who looked befuddled. Never before have I seen a man take such joy in infinity.

About Benjamin Bombard

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