Fans of the "caught-on-tape"-style TV shows know that the short-course, dirt-track race is the mother lode of spectacular car crashes. The speed, the tight turns and the dirt surface generate more close calls and tumbling autos than drunken-monkey stock-car racing (a popular underground sport among New York's glitterati). M&M's Night of Stars Race is a ten-lap shoot-out on I-55 Raceway's dirt course (located on Herky-Horine Road in Pevely, 636-479-3219), but no one's hoping for a car crash (well, maybe just a little one). The event is a fundraiser for Kyle Petty's Victory Junction Gang Camp for Kids, and racing luminaries Petty, Kenny Wallace and Ken Schrader (and possibly Tony Stewart) will be competing in the scramble. In addition, Dirt Works Race Cars will be raffling off an engine-less dirt racer. Sweet. Tickets are $20 and $25, and the event gets underway at 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 31
According to the RFT's etiquette expert, wood is the traditional gift for the fifth anniversary. What kind of gift is wood? Anyway, the reason we bring it up is that the Rocket Bar is celebrating its fifth anniversary tonight, and everyone who's ever had a good time, a stiff drink or a cutthroat game of "Golden Tee" at the Rocket Bar should stop by to pay their respects. Good rock clubs are hard to come by in this town, and the Rocket Bar is one of the best. They book great shows, they keep ticket prices down and their stage is actually in the Guinness Book for being the highest stage above sea level in the Midwest. Robb Steele and PJ from Outer Space are scheduled to appear, doors open at 8:30 p.m. and tickets cost $5. So bring 'em a Jenga set and then have a drink. It's the Rocket Bar way.
Friday, August 1
The multi-pronged plan for the revitalization of downtown includes the warm-weather First Friday Washington Gallery Walks. Drop by Gallery Urbis Orbis (1409 Washington Avenue, 314-406-5778) after 5 p.m. to check out some art and pick up a schedule of the happenings at all of tonight's participating galleries. Prong two: the Washington Entertainment District Association Outdoor Jazz/Blues Happy Hours. A number of the clubs in the 1200-1500-block area of the avenue host outdoor happy hours with live music and DJs on their street patios, from 5 p.m.-ish into the night. Both of these new collaborative happenings are going down this eve. Read a complete lineup of the city's Downtown Lights on Friday Nights go-crazy-in-the-streets-like-ya-got-just-one-night-to-live schedule at www.mstl.org/downtownlights. The party is free like Mandela.
Saturday, August 2
Belladonna and nightshade and death cap mushrooms are poisonous plants that Stevie Nicks used to make a potion to achieve rock superstardom, and they're also beautiful botanicals you might find in paintings by Anne Ophelia Dowden. Dowden, the accomplished illustrator of Wild Green Things in the City: A Book of Weeds, The Clover and the Bee: A Book of Pollination, and Shakespeare's Flowers, mounts a new exhibit on Poisons in Our Path: Botanical Illustrations at the William and Florence Schmidt Art Center (2500 Carlyle Avenue on the campus of Southwestern Illinois College-Belleville). The show opens Thursday, July 31, with a 6-8 p.m. reception, but today's Family Day event in conjunction with the exhibit features watercolor-painting and plant activities for kids, a clinic for sick plants brought in by the public, a talk on edible flowers, tours of the art show, demonstrations with topiary and watercolors, prose and poetry readings, live music, raffles and sales of food and drink from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., all for free. Call 618-222-5278 for more info; the exhibit on potent plants remains on view through September 4. Please don't eat the poinsettia.
Sunday, August 3
Guests at previous Kookin' for Kids fundraisers enjoyed meatballs from LoRusso's, pizza from Joanie's and other delicacies from dozens of area eateries at the St. Vincent Home for Children benefit gala ($50, 314-534-1111). In a gorge-fest worthy of Fellini's Satyricon, revelers flitted from booth to booth, loading their plates with viands and stretching their duodena in the name of public good. This year's dinner is served at Queeny Park's Greensfelder Recreational Complex (550 Weidman Road) from 5-9 p.m. by local celebs, who in the past have included the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Bill McClellan and K-SHE-95 DJ/East-Side party hostess Katy Kruze. You can bid on goodies at the silent and live auctions and enjoy entertainment by the Muny Kids, who are stocked, cocked and ready to rock.
Monday, August 4
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., is not like other memorials. No other monument continues to generate the attentions of hurting former soldiers who come to a large chunk of rock, seeking answers and healing. That's mainly because the Wall has the names of 58,219 U.S. men and women who died in Southeast Asia etched into it. In order to speed up your search for a particular name (they're not in alphabetical order) among the Wall's 140 panels, head to thewall-usa.com before stopping by the Moving Wall, an exact replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial coming to the grounds of the Florissant Civic Center (Parker Road at Waterford Drive), from Wednesday, July 30, through tomorrow. Chapter #794 of the Vietnam Veterans of America sponsors the display. Call 314-838-7368 for more on the free event.
Tuesday, August 5
National Night Out is, as the name implies, a nationwide event designed to show criminals that regular people can stop crime by, uh, spending time outside at night. OK, it seems a little silly, but the core of the idea is a good one. If the people that make up a neighborhood take the time to learn about one another and socialize, neighborhoods become actual communities, not just aggregations of houses. The Spanish Lake neighborhood has a particularly well-organized Night Out planned, with hayrides, activities for the kids and night fishing, but according to the Web site, www.nationaltownwatch.org/nno/, scores of St. Louis neighborhoods have signed up to participate, so check to see what's going on in your neck of the woods. Spanish Lake's Night Out takes place at Spanish Lake Park (12636 Spanish Pond Road, 314-615-4386) from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and it's free.