Ah, the tang of burning oil, the heady huff of fresh gasoline: In summer, Portland's an auto-racing town. From the June CART cruises at Portland International Raceway to the weekly squeals of fury at the Woodburn Drag Strip, you could live on checkered flags and light beer from now until Labor Day.

Even if you haven't played with cars since your Hot Wheels days, you've still got to love racing's looks. No sport is more stylistically striated than auto racing--where everything from sleek Italian modernism to the middle-American mullet has its level. This intricate aesthetic hierarchy holds design lessons for anyone. So take a few cues from the track.

Formula One racing is at the top of the fashion food chain. Each sleek car is unique in design and hand-built according to strict technical limitations. Therefore, it's no surprise that F1 is the same racing genre that produces chic flag-striped pullovers, tab-collar leather jackets, lace-up kid boots and tight T-shirts studded with Italian logos. Corporate brands slip from fashion's "don't" list when they're Ferrari and Renault.

Sporty apparel makers like Puma and Fila lend mainstream mojo, making many speed-demon styles available to pedestrians. The Race Cat shoe ($189), a two-toned suede boot with the trademark Puma arc in white leather, is a collaboration with motorsports giant Sparco. Race gear isn't a mall mainstay, so stick to the web: Find Puma boots, sexy Sparco jumpsuits and white Momo balaclavas at www.saferacer.com.

Fuel injector: Take a crash course with Le Mans (with Steve McQueen, film racing's all-time hottest pin-up stud) and Grand Prix (starring James Garner, a very distant second).

Street racing is ruled by once-modest Japanese economy cars, Mitsubishis and Hondas tricked out and turboed beyond recognition. The look follows suit--factory-issue fashion customized on the wearer's whim. Think double-layered spaghetti-strap tanks sawn off just below the bust-line paired with Kangol caps. The racer scene has also launched its own boutique logos: visit www.girliegirlracing. com for pink chrome valve covers with the "Girlie Girl" bug ($25).

Fuel injector: Check out street-racing expo Import Motion July 26 (PIR, 1940 N Victory Blvd., 823-7223). Or watch 2 Fast 2 Furious.

Finally, the Street Legal Drags. You could noodle with NASCAR, but for true red, white 'n' blue blood racing, head to the Woodburn Drag Strip www.woodburndragstrip.com for scheduled events). Barracudas. Novas. This is ground zero for big-block muscle cars and the hair to go with them. Since the uniform consists mainly of foam-front mesh caps and stained T-shirts printed with saucy slogans--"I didn't want my mom to know I was drag racing for 20 years, so I told her I was in prison"--you probably already own the basics. Anything bearing an American flag is aces.

Fuel injector: For specialty gear (e.g., checkered-flag bikinis), visit www.tnb-racewear.com. And rent the original 1974 Gone in 60 Seconds: Director H.B. "Toby" Halicki gives top billing in the film to his car--a 1973 Ford Mustang named Eleanor. Vroom.

Online retailers are the best bet for real road- warrior gear, but a quick eBay search or a road trip to Red Light Clothing Exchange (3590 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 963- 8888) may help you score a few vintage race wear finds.

Since the Portland City Commission passed a "zero tolerance" ordinance against street racing last year (empowering them to tow and impound cars-- even spectators' rides), you'll have to head to the tame track environment to see these rides and flaunt your hoochie- mamma threads.