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There’s something about a night at the speedway

Updated February 12, 2021 - 7:25 am

Dale Geissler has a pretty cool job. No, not district manager in the circulation department for the Pahrump Valley Times and Las Vegas Review-Journal, although I’m sure that job has its share of excitement.

Dale’s real job is flagman at Pahrump Valley Speedway, the one person everybody on the track must pay attention to and, from his perch in the flagstand, the guy with the best vantage point in the place.

Of course, he’s also the guy handing out punishment for any transgressions the officials see. Then the black flag comes out, which gets a different reaction than the checkered flag that greets the winner.

“Everybody hates the flagman,” he jokes, a victim of the shoot-the-messenger mindset. But the hate is temporary and never personal. Dale is a fixture at the speedway, as much a part of the landscape as the noise of the engines.

That noise is what you notice early, as a line of cars waits to enter the pit area even as track owner Chad Broadhead announces the drivers’ meeting will begin in 10 minutes. It’s the last day of the season at the speedway, but that doesn’t mean every driver has been there every other Saturday night.

“All you new guys, I appreciate you guys coming, but please read our rules,” he tells the group. “There are a few things going on. Watch the flagger. If he gives you a rolled-up black flag it does not mean you’re black-flagged and leave the track. We’ve had a few guys do that, and then they get mad and scream and yell. You weren’t black-flagged, you just got a warning.”

The drivers’ meeting is a mix of announcements, reminders and tying up loose ends before racing starts. One of the reminders, this being November 2020, is one that hopefully won’t last too far into the 2021 season.

“Put on your masks, please,” Broadhead implored the drivers. “OSHA’s already been out and looked at us a couple of times this year. We passed, by the way. If you’re not in your pit, have your mask on. We’ve all got to work together.”

Of course, between the dust and the exhaust fumes, a mask wouldn’t be a terrible idea here, pandemic or no pandemic.

Broadhead readily admits issues crop up regularly, but it’s also clear he loves racing and loves the drivers. Owning a dirt track is no way to get rich, but it will take a lot of him to give it up. It’s family — both memories of his own family and the family of drivers that gather here regularly.

“I want to thank you guys for coming out and supporting us all year,” he tells them before dismissing the meeting. “The first half of the year we only got to race twice. There’s a lot of places that can’t even race yet. They might not even race next year. It’s OSHA. They’re really clamping down.”

The meeting over, Geissler heads to the flagstand. Broadhead very graciously invited the hack from the local paper to watch a day at the races from the flagstand, and Geissler just as graciously spent time between races answering just about every silly question thrown at him. Didn’t laugh at me once.

The best part, aside from the ideal view of the proceedings, was the headset. They hooked me up with a headset that allowed me to hear all of the communication during the races. Policing the track really is a collaborative effort.

At one point during the Mini Stock race, for example, there was this exchange:

“Does the number three merit a black flag or a warning?” “Warning, it wasn’t intentional.” “The driver is out of the car and OK.” “They were leaning into each other pretty good, but the three ran him up into the wall.”

When they saw the driver was OK, fans in the stands let out a cheer. And the decision to issue a warning seemed to be the correct one. “That’s why it’s good to have multiple sets of eyes,” Dale said.

Of course, no matter how many eyes are watching out for miscreants, only one hand rolls up the black flag and points it menacingly at a driver, the speedway equivalent of a grade-school nun whacking some kid’s knuckles with a ruler.

“If they do something wrong, I’ve been saluted the ol’ No.1 plenty of times,” Dale said, repeating that he doesn’t take it personally. “I never do. If you do, it’s not the job for you.

“It’s a lot of fun. But when you’re up there, it’s hard to see everything on the track. When these cars get spaced out, it’s hard to see everything. There are times when track officials miss something that happens, and we’ll ask around for help. We have one over at the entrance to the track in turn three, several tow truck drivers look to see what’s going on, there’s Chad, the tower.”

Of course, the black flag is not the only one in Dale’s arsenal. Often situations will call for a series of flags to be waved in succession, making Dale look like a fan dancer in an old-time burlesque show.

“There’s green to start the race, yellow is caution, white is your last lap, checkered obviously the race is over,” he explained. “Black flag, if it’s rolled up and shaken at a driver it’s a warning, if it’s displayed to the driver, they have to leave the track. Red flag we use if there’something major that has happened, a car rolled over, hit the wall, whatever it may be. And this blue one with the yellow is to let a driver know that the leaders are close to lapping him or her and they should hold their line. It is the leader’s responsibility to pass a lapped car by driving a different line than that of the car being lapped.”

Yes, that happens. It happened to Fred Flintstone once, so I know it happens. But nobody at Pahrump Valley Speedway was lapped because his stone tires started to break apart into little bits.

The cars themselves often don’t look like much, but you don’t get style points on the dirt track. Some of them are crudely numbered and appear to be held together with duct tape, clothespins and wishful thinking; others look very professional, complete with sponsors’ logos. Some bore political messages; one had T-R-U-M-P spelled out on the back.

That car finished third, but as of press time no lawsuits were filed seeking to overturn the results of the race.

And sometimes another vehicle made its way onto the track. On most nights, there will be mishaps on the track, whether something as simple as a car getting out of control and winding up in the infield or a car crashing up against the wall.

On this night, one race kept tow truck driver Pete Wallace especially busy.

“10D needs a tow truck, corner of the track, turn four,” said a voice in the headset. Meanwhile, another car has found itself in the infield. “He’s going to need a push over here Petey when you’re through with the 10 D.”

In no time, Wallace has both situations well in hand.

Not everything in the headset is vital, but it’s all part of the rhythm of the speedway.

“That car that just came in, did they pay?”

“Just go green this time, Dale.”

“Car 31 has a flat. 3-1.”

“Let them drive around a couple of laps, Dale. I don’t think they’re ready yet.”

“Loose part in turn three.” “It’s just an air filter. I’m going to get it.”

“Looks like we might need you out here, Petey.”

After each race, Dale scrambles from his nest to present a trophy and take a picture with the winner and, this being the last night of the racing season, champions in each class are recognized.

Usually there is an awards banquet, but because of pandemic restrictions the banquet honoring the 2020 champions could not be held. Tanner Reynolds won the Mini Stock, Ron Moffatt the Superstock, Brady Gladd the Modified, Joel Dean the Sport Mod, Mark Daub the Coupe, Adam Tiscareno the Hobby Stock and Eddie Chacon the Micro Sprint.

There’s something nostalgic about dirt track racing. And the view from the far side of the track, sun setting behind the mountains, cars zipping around, the oversized small town that is Pahrump stretching out in front of you, is picture-worthy. It’s a great setting.

And you don’t even have to be in the flagstand to enjoy it.

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