On Standing Downwind of a Tire Fire (or autoerotic asphyxiation)

by thebradmiskell

Underground Diaries, Part 16

I went to several drifting events. They were terribly exhilarating and equally toxic. Many people didn’t like me saying so…

on standing downwind of a tire fire

Don’t pretty much all mobile organisms with a lick of sense—particularly those that respire—flee toxic plumes of rubber smoke? Don’t I have a lick of sense?

Such thoughts raced through my head as a whirling wall of tire smoke, car exhaust and track funk engulfed me, obscuring drift cars mere feet away as they careened sideways around Irwindale Speedway. The toxic plume also veiled the thousands of fans in the grandstands behind me—though I could still hear them cheering above the shriek of tires, over-revved engines and the giddy woohooing I was doing.

This is that awesome pump I’ve heard you get at the race track! It’s that visceral charge that explains why so many people will sit for hours watching cars go around in circles!—Wooooooo!—I can’t breathe!

Top drivers from the drift world and NASCAR at this Drift vs. Grip exhibition weren’t merely going around in circles. They were jerking their cars into prolonged, sidelong power skids around a banked asphalt track. It was an intoxicating brew of muscular insanity, earsplitting noise and choking smoke. I decided it must be one definition for autoerotic asphyxiation that I’d overlooked. I was spent… I was euphoric… I considered going for a smoke.

But I stood my ground and was soon awash in a new wave of putrescence… and digging the #$%! out of it! Yes, I knew I was nuts—that everyone there was. I knew that in addition to tire fires being ridiculously hard to extinguish, they’re a tad hazardous to your health. I knew that every time the cars I watched went into four-wheel drifts they were sending toxic God-only-knows-what (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons? phenols? benzene?) into the air we were all breathing. There was a maroon Viper at the event generating so much smoke I assumed it was equipped with an onboard smoke machine. The thing was like a super-hero whose special power it is to vanish in a cloud of greasy smoke.

The drivers seemed forever on the verge of slamming into immediately adjacent cars they absolutely could not see. When they regularly opened their doors after runs, I assumed it was to showboat for the crowd (for displaying such harrowing stupidity). Only later was I informed that they do it to let the smoke out of their cars.

The unrelenting waves of rubber smoke that blind and choke drift car drivers and onlookers alike are no small part of the sport’s visceral thrill.

And therein lies the rub.

The tire smoke and exhaust fumes have got to be terrible for drivers and fans—lots of kids with tender young lungs among them. And then there’s the broader environmental impact of any sport that revolves around fossil-fuel guzzling, particulate-emitting, landfill-filling motor vehicles.

To those already crying “sneaky hypocrite” or worse, who feel it’s their God-given right as Americans to recreate as they please, I say 1) Guilty as charged and 2) Who am I to argue? How do I know my carbon footprint from stamp collecting isn’t several orders of magnitude higher than a drifter’s? I don’t. But I do wonder about alternatives.

Which is why I’ve become obsessed with the idea of drifting a Prius, not so much for its vastly-improved environmental impact as for its symbolism. (And, yes, drifters, I know, the Prius is front-wheel drive and not really suited for drifting, but stick with me.) Because I get why people dig drifting—and motor sports in general. I just wonder about ways to make them easier on the environment. How much drifting can you do if the track is under water due to melted polar ice caps? Besides, I’d love to hear of someone who’s just raking in the dough after inventing tires that, when lit up, emit a vapor cloud that smells identical to burning rubber but feeds on ozone and CO2.


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