rubbin' is racin' — the safety of dirt track racing

One thing that you need to know about dirt track racing that should be obvious but was apparently not apparent to me — you will get dirty while you're out at the track. Especially if you're prone to accidents. And walk across a muddy track. And yes, I'm prone to accidents. People who serve on pit crews gather in the middle of the track to watch the race during the dirt track races at Eastside Speedway on Friday, June 21, 2013, in Waynesboro.There are two dirt tracks in our coverage area — one near Waynesboro called Eastside Speedway and another in Natural Bridge, Natural Bridge Speedway. I went to Eastside without any issues — got pictures, got names, had an overall great time. I spent most of my time in the pit, which is outside of the track, or walking to the inside of the track where many of the pit crews stood to watch their drivers race.

Jeff Wimer lowers the jack as son and driver Jakob Wimer looks on before the dirt track races at Eastside Speedway on Friday, June 21, 2013, in Waynesboro. Natural Bridge was a little different though — most of the pit is inside the actual track itself. Cory Mull, our new sports reporter, and I got there early, before the races started, to talk to people and mill about. Before the races start, a large water truck douses the dirt track in gallons of water, making it tacky and muddy to make it safer for the drivers. And unsafe for me, apparently, crossing it obliviously.

Duct tape with the words "I'm scared!" cover the bars protecting the driver's seat on a racing car at Natural Bridge Speedway on Saturday, June 29, 2013, in Natural Bridge. Many cars no longer have windshields for racing anymore, due to the weight which can be used elsewhere, and bars and helmets instead protect the driver from mud and flying debris. I'm pretty sure I crossed that track immediately after the water truck had gone by. And, because I had been to Eastside and crossed that track without any problems, I didn't anticipate the insanely slick conditions that the track was in, due to the large amount of water that had just been dumped on it with no cars to pack it down.

Ryan Adams, 22, secures his helmet before heading out to race in the sportsman division at Natural Bridge Speedway on Saturday, June 29, 2013, in Natural Bridge. Late model and sportsman series races often offer the biggest payout to the night’s winner, sometimes going as high as $1,500.So, I crossed the track with Cory. And didn't get far. My feet came out from under me, clad in completely traction-less Toms shoes, and I landed on my ass, camera bag barely cushioning my fall. Once I was down, I did not know how I would get up. I knew my shoes were not going to help my situation, but figured now that I knew how bad it was, I'd be a bit more careful. So, I got up, only to take one step and be back where I was, on my ass, in front of drivers and pit crews and the racing fans and track employees. And yeah, covered in mud.

Sprint cars return to the pit after a qualifying race at Natural Bridge Speedway on Saturday, June 29, 2013, in Natural Bridge. NASCAR driver Jason Leffler was killed in a crash on June 12 at a dirt track in New Jersey, caused by a mechanical failure with the torsion bar on his car coming apart. The moose plug is expected to prevent that from happening.A woman watches the drivers from inside the track on Saturday, June 30, 2013, in Natural Bridge.I decided the only way I was going to get across was, somehow, to take off my shoes and, like, dig my toes into the mud track to provide some traction. A track employee ran over to help and him and Cory basically took my mud-soaked arms and led me across, as I practically skated on my feet to the other side. So, I put my mud-covered feet back in my mud-covered shoes, accepted some towels from some really sweet drivers, brushed off my ego, and worked for the next three hours covered in mud.

Ryan Adams, 22, talks to his father, Chris Adams, as his dad straps him into his car before he heads out to race in the sportsman division at Natural Bridge Speedway on Saturday, June 29, 2013, in Natural Bridge. Late model and sportsman series races often offer the biggest payout to the night’s winner, sometimes going as high as $1,500.Besides my muddy accident, I had a great time at the tracks. Cory and I worked to find out how safe the dirt tracks were after a famous NASCAR driver, Jason Leffler, had a fatal accident on one in New Jersey in June. We found out that most accidents are caused by aggressive drivers and people that hold grudges, or mechanical failures, like in Leffler's case. Or poor shoe choices and walking across a dirt track covered in mud. And in that case, the only casualty was a now very muddy camera bag and a ruined polka dot shirt.

Driver Buck Roadcap gets inside his vehicle as car owner Kenny Tanner and wife Beth Roadcap get him ready for racing in the late model division during the dirt track races at Eastside Speedway on Friday, June 21, 2013, in Waynesboro. Roadcap races against nephew Derrick Rankin.People who serve on pit crews gather in the middle of the track to watch the race as Petie Coffey drives by in the late model division during the dirt track races at Eastside Speedway on Friday, June 21, 2013, in Waynesboro.Cory wrote a great story about the very complicated issue of dirt track safety. Be sure to check it out.

A man waves a flag signaling to the racers during the super stock division during the dirt track races at Eastside Speedway on Friday, June 21, 2013, in Waynesboro.Charles Wyatt races in the super stock division during the dirt track races at Eastside Speedway on Friday, June 21, 2013, in Waynesboro. Wyatt placed first in the finals of the division.Drivers and pit crew watch the other races from inside the dirt track in the pit at Natural Bridge Speedway on Saturday, June 29, 2013, in Natural Bridge. At Natural Bridge, there is a metal fence that separates outsiders from entering the track. It’s only opened when cars are off the course, though there have been occasions where spectators have crossed to visit Pit Road during warm-up laps.Randy Gardner races in the sportsman division on the dirt track at Natural Bridge Speedway on Saturday, June 29, 2013, in Natural Bridge. The track is lined by two-pronged metal fencing, roughly four-feet high, along the straight-away portions of the course, and there is no fencing on the outside of the track along the curves at Natural Bridge. Natural Bridge also has a concrete wall on the inside straight-away.Larry Ramsey races in the late model division on the dirt track at Natural Bridge Speedway on Saturday, June 29, 2013, in Natural Bridge. The track is lined by two-pronged metal fencing, roughly four-feet high, along the straight-away portions of the course, and there is no fencing on the outside of the track along the curves at Natural Bridge. “The straight-aways are fine to keep the fans safe, but the turns for us, it's better not to have them [the fencing] at all,” Bob Reiner said.Trophies and racing memorabilia decorate the office at Natural Bridge Speedway on Saturday, June 29, 2013, in Natural Bridge. Drivers, depending on their division, can win prizes from $300 to $1,500 in a race.Drivers and their pit crews gather between races during the dirt track races at Eastside Speedway on Friday, June 21, 2013, in Waynesboro.