My May column which was in the May Hill Country Happenings.
My spring NASCAR experience this year came a month earlier than the race when Rick and I attended the unveiling of Big Hoss, the largest high-definition LED video board in the world. The Texas Motor Speedway infield area was filled with over eight thousand fans along with dignitaries, NASCAR driver Kyle Busch, Indy car driver Helio Castroneves and the stars of Duck Dynasty. While waiting on the event to start, I went wandering and discovered the TMS Great American Sweethearts autographing and posing for pictures. I felt it was my wifely duty to return with Rick. There was nothing more entertaining than watching him suck in his gut as he sneaked peeks at the obvious cleavage. I got my thrills too that night when I spotted myself on Big Hoss during an interview of a fan in front of us.
Before I knew it, race weekend was here. Thursday was the arrival of the Nationwide haulers. It was like seeing a little city develop as we peered through the wrought iron fences surrounding the garage area. Hauler drivers like my friend Eloy Trevino were busy setting up barbeque grills because many also serve as cooks for the teams. This activity was short-lived since it was soon time for my one-on-one with Nationwide driver Brendan Gaughan (see exclusive column) and then practice. Thank goodness everyone’s name was scribed over the driver’s window as there were so many changes from last year’s crop. On the way out, I signed the tunnel between the pit and the stands. My legacy joined thousands of others on the grooved wall and left me wondering if, on a return trip, I’d ever find where I had signed.
Friday turned into a long day …. according to our dogs who patiently waited at home. Our first stop was at OneMain Financial in Denton for an autograph/picture session with Elliott Sadler and his car. He laughed when I held out my lug nut from his race last year. I know …. It’s a lug nut fetish I can’t seem to control! While we were waiting in line, we found out from the couple behind us that Marcos Ambrose, my favorite road course driver, was signing at Wal-Mart in Roanoke. Meeting Marcos was fun and listening to his “down-under” accent was an added extra. That afternoon found us watching the Sprint Cup practice and Nationwide qualifying. We saw Brendan briefly and wished him good luck in the race. The rest of the pre-race found me talking to several pit crews and snapping photos of tires and gas containers. It’s the little things in life that make me happy. When we found our way to our seats for the Nationwide race, we were pleasantly surprised with their location — Turn 4 was to our left and the start-finish line to our right. The weather was ideal for night racing with only a lightweight jacket needed. It was an exciting race with the typical multi-car crashes because of so many novice drivers participating. Even more exciting was that a rookie, Chase Elliott, beat out a very experienced handful of Sprint Cup guys and won his first Nationwide race!
Saturday morning found me killing time before Sprint Cup qualifying with a visit to the tire change display. I was determined to better last year’s fifty-eight seconds combat with the lug nut installer. There I was in line with guys, some who worked at car shops for a living. There was a lot at stake –winning automotive gadgets as well as bragging rights. I was in it for the latter. My first attempt was over thirteen seconds as I had to coax my fingers into grasping the lug nut. Remember, I was still recovering from my accident in November. Back into the line I went and my second attempt was ten and fifty-two hundredths seconds. I even beat a couple of guys in line with me. Unlike the horse races, I quit while I was ahead. Later was Sprint Cup qualifying amid a light shower so I got to see the drivers substitute their helmets with umbrellas as the jet-dryers dehydrated the track. There wasn’t a race because of the Final Four in college basketball being that evening.
Severe storms woke us up in the wee hours with downpours all morning. We left for the track at the last minute and tromped through mud lots after parking. While weathering a four hour delay, our entertainment was watching Big Hoss which provided fan interviews in the stands, an episode of Duck Dynasty and promos about the concession stands. They finally postponed the race until the next morning. After a night of thawing and drying out, we were relieved to find sunny skies and pleasant temperatures for the race morning. Despite being a work/school day, there were about seventy-eight thousand fans there. During our pre-race visit in the pit, we met up with John Johnson, whose son is the “engine turner” for Matt Kenseth. He said to me, “Hey, I checked out your website last year after the November race and there was only older stuff.” When I explained about being out of commission for months after my accident walking the dog, he felt bad — for throwing my card away. I next met up with Chris Taylor, rear tire changer for Matt Kenseth. We follow each other on Twitter so it was fun meeting him in person. He had a beard similar to the ones that the Red Sox players had last year during their World Series run. Rick and I also watched the pit crews doing their limbering exercises. I think a prerequisite for the job is being tall, lanky and ambidextrous! As predicted when we headed to the stands, I couldn’t find my signature in the tunnel. It was an unusual start for the race with the cars under the caution flag for several laps as the jet dryers completed drying the track. Things immediately got contentious as wind from one jet dryer affected several cars including last year’s champion, Jimmie Johnson. Once they were racing full speed, fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. slipped into the grass and plowed across the track into wall. He caught on fire, but was able to escape before the car was engulfed in flames and black smoke. I could not believe I had my video running when the wreck occurred. What are the odds of that?!? Many Aggies were present as Jeff Gordon’s car was trimmed in maroon and white with Texas A&M logos. It became evident he was destined to win the race until there was a caution flag the last few laps. Gordon took two tires and said on the radio, “Please tell me the others didn’t take four.” Much to Jeff’s chagrin as well as John Phillips, a Gordon fan seated next to us, the other contenders took four. Gordon was engulfed in the restart and Joey Logano took the checkered flag. <sigh> Maybe in my next life I’ll be a stock car driver …. or better yet since I never exceed the speed limit, be on a pit crew.