Bitchin’ Camaro: Hot Cars and Cold Beer in the Natural State 

We were somewhere around Blytheville, at the old airport, when Big Red blew a rod in a foul cloud of black smoke at better than 200 miles per hour. I remember saying, "That's not supposed to happen like that," to the man in the lawn chair. The little fella been watching the races all weekend and had been telling me about how they'd had to tow the Lamborghini out of the beanfield earlier. So, there I was, watching motorcycles join the 200-mph club, impossibly expensive Italian sports cars sink up to the rims in Arkansas loam, and a 1969 Camaro called Big Red blow its engine on its way to breaking an event record.

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These motorheads travel heavy, which means the Big Red team travels with a spare 2000HP engine. Since they hadn't broken the event record, not this year at any rate, they thought they'd install another block overnight. I got packed off, along with a film crew from from a show called Hoonigan, to the Holiday Inn. That was fine, I don't know anything about engines and I needed a beer.

Arkansas — or Little Rock — has a solid craft beer scene, but few of them seem to make that long journey over the bridge to the Memphis market. Diamond Bear Brewing Company, however, is alive and well and available at a number of places over here. A local beer seemed fitting, as Arkansas is the Natural State, and in an epic battle between man (Lamborghini) and nature (beanfield), nature definitely won that round.

Diamond Bear's Southern Blonde Ale is a solid winner for toasting this kind of contest. It's a lager, but doesn't go away, like many of them do. The brewers say that it has a bit of caramel in it, but it comes off as a twist of honey to me. It is more malty than hoppy, but nothing in the palate really breaks out to yank your tongue. This is not a stand-in for a watered-down lager, but a hazy beer with a big fuzzy collar on it and an ABV of 5.18 percent.

Little Rock has the beer scene, Blytheville doesn't have much. Except an airport — make that two of them. The muni airport, I had to explain to the Southern Californians, was mostly crop dusters. Blytheville International, they explained to me, used to be a command for B-52 bombers, and therefore has one of the longest runways in the country at 2.75 miles. Which is why the Arkansas Mile Event is held there; drivers need a mile to get to top speed and, basically, another mile to stop.

Since Big Red first started racing in the Southwest in the late 1980s, the team has continued racking up event titles like some people collect baseball hats. Over the years, it has become something like the Elvis of Pro-Touring cars. The whole event, and the show that goes with it, have something of a California feel. So, after I foisted the Arkansas beer on our visitors, they foisted Lagunitas IPA on me.

There really wasn't any arm-twisting here, as this IPA was nothing new. Lagunitas is available almost anywhere, and its IPA, a well-balanced ale that is hoppy without being too bitter, is one of the go-to IPAs wherever you are. While there is a lot of talk about the pairing of beer with food, you also have to consider pairing beer with, say, an event. This IPA is a great brew to play with this adrenaline fueled, gear-head foolishness. It weighs in at 6.2 percent ABV, and it is a clear ale with a crisp, nice finish.

And a nice finish is what the boys from California were after, having spent nine hours installing another engine into their monster car. They weren't drinking anything, but I suspect they were getting a contact high from the methanol fumes.

RJ Gottlieb, the driver, hit 243.6 mph on Sunday, but fell short of the 250-mph goal. I think he was just high on whatever you call that.

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