I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all I need for an act of theatre to be engaged.
—Peter Brook, 1968
In 1954, a telephone-line repairman named Jimmie Collier drove by a dilapidated horse track in Monroe, Washington, and saw a bare stage. In his mind, the track was an empty space where men could drive in circles whilst others watch. The Evergreen Speedway was born.
Last Saturday night, 12 Seattle theater people (mostly actors) drove to Monroe to watch dozens of people (mostly men) drive in circles, as well as figure eights. The outdoor Speedway is a series of paved concentric ovals, all less than a mile around.
Before the races, the crowd (which didn't substantially outnumber the drivers) walked around the track, poking their heads inside cars and allowing themselves to be fondled by Racey Raccoon, the Speedway mascot, whose fur is impregnated with soot from years of exposure to racecar exhaust. Nikki Bristol, a 24-year-old driver, stood by her car, signing autographs and handing out lollipops. "I've been racing since I was 16," she said. "I've been in a couple of crashes." Once, Nikki was in a figure-eight race, fell behind the pack, and crossed the center of the eight just as the lead car was approaching. "Neither one of 'em would give up," her grandmother added. "Nikki got T-boned." For racing, Nikki wears a black fire-retardant suit, black fire-retardant long underwear, and an $800 helmet. "You can touch the suit," she said, pinching at herself absentmindedly, "but the helmet stays inside the car. I don't like people touching it."
A racing fan with a tobacco-stained beard lingered by another driver with a burn-scarred face and a missing arm. The bearded man started to stick out his hand to shake, then switched to a shoulder pat. "Good luck," he said.
The races were brief, numerous, and deafening. It was stock-car night, meaning that the cars were all factory-made and home-modified for racing. (Stock racing began during Prohibition, as a pastime for rumrunners who had souped up their cars to outrun the police.) The cars raced around and around, their backs and sides plastered with advertisements for energy drinks, tire companies, and Dino Rossi's gubernatorial campaign. One of the Seattle actors prayed loudly for the Rossi car to lose while another prayed for Nikki Bristol to win. Rossi came in third. Bristol came in last.
Another of the actors considered switching his avocation. "This probably doesn't cost much more than doing theater," he said. "And it's probably more rewarding."
Evergreen Speedway, 14405 179th Ave SE, Monroe, 360-805-6100. $14.50. Racing every