Each Saturday night, there’s music’s in the air across many Oregon small towns…where flood lights glimmer and flags fly over the hundreds who gather at the Banks Sunset Speedway.
But out here in the Washington County countryside, the “music” isn’t a guitar performance.
Rather, it’s the sound that a dozen 400-hundred horse powered engines makes as they growl and roar and whine while stock car drivers jostle their cars for position and a green flag start.
“You’re going to get dirty, it’s going to be noisy and it’s a whole lot of fun,” noted Charlie Weaver, the announcer for Banks Speedway.
This is dirt track racing and it’s unlike any getaway you’ve ever experienced.
“Yep, Saturday night is short track racing,” added Weaver with a smile. “Its a summer time getaway that more people need to see and hear at Sunset Speedway.”
“You pick a favorite car – either by looks or the driver’s name,” said longtime dirt track racer Bob McGrotty. The 83-year-old is something of a fixture on the Sunset Speedway. In fact, McGrotty raced his first car in ‘48 at the old Portland Speedway and he continues to race each weekend at the Banks track.
He said that most of the drivers are amateurs who have a need for speed and the racetrack is their outlet: “They’re from all walks of life really. In most cases, they do something else – it isn’t their trade.”
That’s especially true for Andrea Tardio, the driver of the only pink racecar on the speedway track.
When Andrea puts her pedal to the metal she screams around corner number four on the 1/3 mile long oval dirt track. Her tires screech as she hits 60 miles an hour.
But the 24-year-old never lets her work interfere with her sport! That’s easy to understand for Andrea is a self-proclaimed “grease monkey” who has the oil-covered hands to prove it.
Andrea does the heavy lifting right alongside brother Joey Tardio – (also a dirt track racer) at Transaction Transmission in nearby Forest Grove.
Joey showed her the ropes when she joined the family business in 2008.
But after she’d spent a year of rebuilding transmissions and replacing old brakes, Joey saw something special in his younger sister; something unexpected:
“She is so aggressive and competitive and she hates to lose. She’ll do anything to win and puts in a lot of hard work to make it happen.”
He dared her to try something new – race car driving - and Joey made that happen too!
“I drove by the race track one day and thought I can build a race car and that’s where it all started…something challenging to try.”
Joey was looking for a different sort of challenge after his tour in Iraq and the former Marine thought that stock car racing would be a perfect fit for him and for his sister too.
“You can have a good car and put anyone in it but that doesn’t mean you’re going to win. You must have good reaction time because you often have only have a split second to decide where to go and how fast to get there.”
Andrea said she was drawn to racing because of the competition, but stock car racing is a far cry from the timed horse competitions or the cheerleading contests that she enjoyed as a student at Banks High School.
Now, they are a brother and sister racing team who like to go fast and win.
The Banks Sunset Speedway has hosted dirt track racing for nearly 25 years.
It is one of many Oregon speedways that are scattered across the state and offer dirt track racing each summer.
The races draw a dedicated crowd!
“We try to put on a good show for everyone and entertain them for three or four hours a night,” noted Weaver. He added with a knowing smile, “We do put some dirt in their hair.”
The Tardio’s compete in different divisions and varied stock car events, and they usually race several times on a typical Saturday night. Each has also taken first place many times.
Andrea said that she has learned many lessons by watching her older brother on the racetrack.
“He’s just as competitive as me as he swerves back and forth to get around other cars,” said Andrea. “I actually watch him closely to see how he puts the car in the corners, how he passes people and where he is coming down the stretch. I learn something new each time he races.”
Andrea’s goal is to win the ‘Women’s Stock Car Division’ and soon – so far this summer she is on track to do just that with multiple first place wins.
How does she do it?
“As the race starts, I focus on the car in front of me, “ she said. “I take each car one at a time and it’s funny but if I don’t go out there thinking I am going to win the race, I don’t win.”
She added that the exhilaration that comes with racing at high speed on an uneven dirt track is unlike anything she’s ever experienced.
“It’s powerful and a whole of a lot of fun. Sure it’s dirty, but that’s part of being outdoors, right?” With a quick giggle she added: “It’s great to hold that trophy at the end of a race and say, 'I beat people this time!' "