This excerpt is from Chapter 6: Star Gazing of A Little Bit Sideways by Scott Huler. The book takes you behind the scenes of NASCAR racing in 1997. In this short piece, the author is describing the fantastic smell of the garage.
The engine running for a moment immediately assaults yet another sense. With bright colors, roaring engines, and baking asphalt overwhelming eyes, ears, and skin, you can be forgiven if you haven’t taken a moment to do something that sends racing people into a kind of reverie: stop and smell the exhaust.
It sounds ridiculous, but a Winston Cup garage has one of the most beautiful, richest, almost somatic aromas you can encounter. You pick up the harsh, almost smoky odor of tire rubber, which is everywhere; you can get the high, acrid stench of hot rear end gears and fluid, which is so recognizable that the announcers can smell it atop the grandstand during a race: “Someone just lost a rear end—I can smell it,” Benny Parsons will say, and a lap later someone will go behind the wall, his rear end gear cooked. You smell the oils emerging from the heating asphalt. You smell brake fluid, SD-20 cleaner, oil, and the ozoney scent of burning metal.
But underneath it all, providing the base scent for the intoxicating perfume, are the gas fumes. Unocal racing gas is leaded, and it’s 110 octane, and the burning fuel yields an exhaust that is metallic and rich beyond imagining. Along with it comes the scent of the metal of the motor, as it runs so fast that it literally consumes itself, burning up tiny pieces of metal, which add a sharper metallic flavor to the exhaust. It has a sweetness to it that you can actually taste. You don’t so much smell it as absorb it with the back of your palate, and it’s overwhelming and dizzying. The relationship between the smell of the exhaust of the car in your driveway and the scent of race exhaust is a lot like the relationship between the stink of manure and the rich, sweet, but cloying smell of silage. Neither is exactly what you would call pleasant, but one has a sweetness and overpowering, almost rotting, richness that seems to cover you, to draw you in.
Walk into the Winston Cup garage once and you might not notice it. But walk in a second time, and it’s the first thing you’ll say: “Oh, the smell! I forgot about that!” You’ll never forget again.
Even though more than half the cars haven’t even been uncovered today, that smell fills the air.