We had heard many stories about Loretta’s, but they varied mostly by degrees of heat. August in Tennessee: one could only imagine it as a smoldering place. And since my good moods are sometimes held hostage by humidity, I thought only of heat as the event approached.
So when I pulled into the Hurricane Mills Wal-Mart parking lot in Tennessee at 2:00am and jumped out of the truck and shuddered with cold, well naturally I was incredulous.
The day after our arrival, it rained. And rained. And rained some more. Some people vaguely remembered a year here or there when it had rained. But in 32 years, they had never seen the likes of a storm such as this.
By day two the races were postponed due to rain. Golf carts teeming with teenagers hydroplaned through the backwoods. Flooded camps produced inflatable boats captained by tenacious moms. All manner of mud-fights between crews of rascally kids ensued.
When the racing resumed, we watched as bikes piled up in the mud on the holeshot; otherwise experienced riders sought speed hopelessly in the slop; tiny kids on 50’s came off the track with hot tears streaming down their faces; vet riders peeled steaming gear from their bodies and dumped buckets of cool water over their exhausted, muddy faces. Miraculously, rarely a complaint was heard.
By Thursday the rain stopped and the sun returned to bake the track. Friday brought blue skies. But the storm was scheduled to return on Saturday—the day of the first ever live broadcast of the AMA Amateur National Championship on NBC.
The rain arrived once more in a steady drizzle, followed by the rumble of engines on the starting line. Between the morning races, tractors resumed their tasks of plowing and scraping the track, searching for a dry layer beneath the puddles. More scraping. More plowing. When they discovered a crushed drainage pipe that would have served to drain the track, when they had scraped so low that they were almost to the water table, when they saw the clock counting down what little time remained, the situation appeared truly hopeless.
It was then that the heavens stopped their crying. Forklifts were enlisted to bust open the blocked drainage pipe. The track received its final grooming. Cameramen assumed their positions. The best amateur racers in the world took their places at the gate. Hearts pounded as the long-awaited moment approached, when the Loretta Lynn’s AMA National Champion would be crowned.
Watching, I remembered something that I had heard once, that though today might bring rain—it might bring grief or pain, challenges, or even death—
Tomorrow, we race.