Saturday, June 18, 2011

Modified Friday Night Wars

Last night was quieter than it should have been for a Friday. When that happens, the weekenders tend to say it’s because the wind’s blowing away from the speedway. They tend to say it with a shake of their heads, a bit mournful; the sort of gesture that, in a local, might go with an anecdote about a hard-drinking neighbor who got popped on a DUI and will be riding a bike to the store for six months.

We’re not fully up on the history of the racetrack and the battles with the weekenders. We know they don’t like the track; they don’t like the traffic of big pickup trucks pulling trailers with gaudy decals up 209 before the turnoff at the roller rink outside of Accord, and they certainly don’t like the buzz of high-revving Modifieds on the dirt track, starting about five and ending around 10 or so. They came up from the city after a hard week, through the traffic, and now they want to sit on their patios and screen porches off their restored stone farmhouses and their Eyebrow Colonials and drink Pinot and, after a while, bring out the new tomatoes with the basil from the small garden that Ryan maintains for them down the hill a bit, where the green plastic deer-repellent netting doesn’t stand out too garishly. They want to hear the doves coo, and maybe an owl, and the drone of bees, and the murmur of the voices of their friends talking about real estate and restoration and the best place to get grass-fed beef or, if they’re vegetarians, organic squash or rhubarb. There was a lawsuit, and some pretty hefty legal forces came up from the City, but the racing still runs every Wednesday and Friday.

The Accord Speedway runs Modifieds, mainly. In the ’30s and ‘40s, these were chopped and channeled, stroked and bored versions of whatever you could get your hands on. If you built AMF or Revell car kits in the ‘60s, you were putting the decals on Modifieds. By now, there’s usually no original vehicle from which the racer is modified—they’re built from scratch, or hybridized from multiple cars, but you’d never be able to see the ’32 Ford or the 48 Merc underneath. Dirt Modifieds don’t really have much use for a body beyond channeling the airflow—except, that is, to provide cover for the ads—for DC Landscape Services or Rhinebeck Ford.

Accord is a dirt track; technically, it’s a quarter-mile clay speedway. If you go, you’re going to get dirty. On dry days, your hair turns grey-brown and your face feels gritty. On wet days, like last Wednesday, the midweek smaller machines throw clods of mud into the stands. There’s beer.

What there aren’t, though, are mufflers. Warmups start around 4:30 and the gates open at 5, and the noise bounces and channels between the ‘Gunks and the Catskills. For weekenders who bought in High Falls and Stone Ridge, it’s like having a mosquito about five feet from you. In Accord, where a pilgrimage from Park Slope and Brooklyn and Manhattan started buying up the old places and letting it be known what a bargain they’d gotten, that mosquito is pretty close to your ear. Real estate agents sold in Accord on Saturdays and Sundays, and for some reason the owner was always unavailable to show on Friday evenings.

Fridays are bad days to schedule the races—bad for the weekenders. It’s hard to show off your place to your guests without one of them asking, in an impolitic way that just might be a little spiteful, what that noise is. That’s when you shake your head in that way, if the wind’s blowing away from the speedway. If it’s not, your evening’s pretty much ruined.

For the locals, Friday night is the very best night for it. They’ve been servicing the weekender places all week, in a rising crescendo as Friday nears, for everything must be done and cleaned up by Friday evening. The cement mixer can stay if it’s a midcentury one, but the Volvo panel truck with your name on the side has to go, even if it’s full of tools and fragments of the fabrication you’re doing of a 1680 stone hearth, all laid out in a sequence that will go galley-west at the first pothole.

Saturday can start late. Saturday is Estimate Day, and it’s Time-and-a-Half Emergency Day. On Friday, you’re done by 5; you can cheer yourself hoarse, stand around a monster engine that your buddy paid for with a second mortgage, and pretty much it’s just you guys, whole families piled into the big diesel pickup, with a smattering of hardcore race fans coming in, sometimes on Harleys, sometimes in nice machines of their own, and in the stands there’s a few semi-locals who know someone who’s racing or just like the noise and the excitement. I’m not sure, but I might have seen betting.

Friday night, in other words, is the night when the locals and the weekenders set up as surreptitious armed camps. The weekenders have the money. They have the Pinot. They have the Wall Street bonuses paying for their wellhouse restoration. The locals have the Modifieds.

On the Accord Speedway web site, I read the disappointing news: Tonight’s Racing Has Been Cancelled Due To Weather &Track Conditions. But there’s next Friday, and the wild little runts on Wednesday. And on July 1, there’s going to be fireworks, and the Chicken Barbeque.


  1. I have been reading your essays with much interest. And I'm having a little bit of a hard time. Because I am one of those weekenders in Accord. And I am not getting any bonuses from Wall Street. And I think that as a group, weekenders are just as diverse and varied as locals.

    I own a home upstate because I am not, at heart, a city person. I live in New York City because I have to, and I have grown to love much about it. But I am a central PA farm girl, and I needed somewhere to stick my hands in the dirt. No "Ryans" are tending my garden. I am the only one picking stink bugs off my tomatoes and cutting horn worms in half with my nippers. I clean my own house. I paint the walls. I build my own patio. I trap my own flying squirrels. I suppose I sense in your prose a little contempt for the "weekenders" and their entitlement. But for all of the horrid hipsters, there are those of us who come to Accord because we love it. Who wish we could live there full time, but have to make choices. Who scraped together cash for a downpayment on an eyebrow colonial and eight years later still don't have heat on the second floor. Who even kinda like the whir of the raceway on a Friday night because it means we escaped work early enough to make it to the mountains before the races were over.

    Just, don't forget about us too, okay?

    1. Wendy, I am trying to write with some irony about the positions of various residents here in the Hudson Valley, but also throughout America. And since I am myself an outsider-- we will forever live in "The Old Pratt House, you know, the one with the porch that got knocked down then the bulldozer landed on it"-- I am also trying to suggest some of the divided loyalties that exist in any American landscape. Lots of Accord weekenders aren't of the type I describe-- which is also to say, they aren't part of that particular weekender armed camp. Similarly, there are many locals who would never be caught dead at the Accord track. And I try, in the longer sequence of pieces, to present myself as culpable, as an outsider, a usurper-- at the Navajo Nation Monument Valley Park, for example. And yes, I will be writing about this side of the Hudson weekender soon enough!