This is my July column published in Hill Country Happenings magazine.
June brought me another birthday and the NASCAR trucks and Indycars back to North Texas. Texas Motor Speedway dodged this year’s weekly NASCAR rain curse and instead steamy, hot temperatures and George Strait’s last hurrah in Dallas beleaguered the event numbers. Those choosing to battle the desert-like temperatures were an interesting combination of true diehard NASCAR devotees and the fast Indycar aficionados. The common denominator was a love of speed and racing.
The afternoon of the truck race, I met up with Jennifer Jo Cobb, the auburn-haired owner/driver of the #10 truck. She grew up watching her dad Joe race and found herself racing at Kansas’s Lakeside Speedway by the age of eighteen. Being owner in addition to driving puts more responsibility on the forty-one year old. It takes money to operate the car, get crews and equipment so on non-racing weeks, she works hard at getting sponsorships for her truck. If I wanted to sponsor her truck one race, the costs ran from $1,000 – $15,000 depending on extras like appearances. Perhaps if I win the Powerball…. As we talked, I learned that Jen is not in racing to be a “token” female. Instead she is in it because she loves it and wants to be respected as an equal. Her favorite track other than her home track Kansas Speedway? She laughed as she explained it would have to be Las Vegas because of South Point Hotel Casino’s full infield spa offering pedicures! At that point I spotted a pink chandelier hanging over her as she filed, then blew on her nails. She looked more like a model than a racecar driver and it was hard to visualize a helmet would be smashing the auburn locks in just a few hours. This is the fourth year that Steve Kuykendall has been her Crew Chief. She shook her head as she explained that he was currently using a crutch due to twisting his knee. Sure enough, we later spotted him hobbling on one foot as he pushed the #10 truck through inspection. Later that night, Jen finished twentieth.
The following day Rick was working so I gave my brother, Craig, his ticket for the Indycars. Poor Craig experienced the “Lotta Sports obsession with sports.” As usual, I was like a kid in a candy-store visiting with other fans, TMS workers, car crews and of course, driving the simulator. After losing me twice in the Indycar garage alley, Craig said “I’m putting you on a five-minute limit and no wandering!” I can’t help myself. With my flight attendant background, talking to strangers was my way of life. While in the garage alley, I met a father/son duo, Mike and Zach Jankelson from the state of Washington. Mike (dad) flies to North Texas every year for the three NASCAR race weekends. He is a diehard stock car follower. Last April, because of the rain one-day postponement, he found himself watching the race on an airport TV. Son Zach was a college student and a huge Indycar fan. Will Power was “his driver.” The Indycar organization offered an open garage to all those holding pit passes. It was thrilling to many of us to actually get feet away from the cars and their parts. The only drawback I noticed was because some fans were so zealous; it was pulling some of the garage team from their duties. At one car, the gal next to me was shouting, “Cameron! Cameron! One more picture! Let’s do a selfie!” Poor ruddy faced Cameron couldn’t say no and found himself posing repeatedly as she clicked away. I couldn’t help but laugh when his garage boss gave him “the eyebrow.” There’s a fine line between customer service and getting the job done. Adding to the excitement of the day was the last leg of the Triple Crown so at five pm, Craig found us with front-row stools at Fuzzy’s Taco Bar in the pit. There were two local radio guys doing their show and my brother watched nervously as I asked them if they would mind breaking away during the race. Fortunately, they wanted to see the race too. It was an exciting few minutes when the Belmont Stakes ran and we almost saw history made. Sadly, California Chrome was literally out of gas having raced the Derby and Preakness while some of his competition rested. A collective groan filled Fuzzy’s as we watched him come up short.
For every person who purchased a pit pass, we were allowed at the start-finish line for pre-race introductions. Waiting for the festivities to start were the Great American Sweethearts who would be announcing the drivers. I approached them and asked, “Is one of you friends with Donnave Abt?” (Donnave worked at Delta with me) A tall blonde named Katie, in a definitive Texas drawl proclaimed, “I am! My daddy works with her husband Jim!” (I wondered if she knew she made Rick’s day when he posed with her at Big Hoss’s debut.) During the ceremonies, it was great as we found ourselves standing by a guy with a loud voice. As each driver came out, he would shout their name and say something personable. The driver would look our way and wave back so it was as if they were posing for us. Except for Marco Andretti ‘s crash on the third lap, the race itself was rather boring — until the final twelve laps. Crowd favorite Will Power had a miscommunication and exited to pit row to find his crew not ready for his arrival. A collective gasp radiated from the crowd as he passed through without stopping. He tanked to eighth, however a caution and restart gave Power one final chance to win. The crowd stayed on their feet as Power sped his way back to the front. After dominating the entire race, Power finished second to #20’s Ed Carpenter. It was not a good weekend for ANY of my favorites!