Archive for December, 2014
On Friday of race week was my interview with rookie Nationwide driver Chris Buescher. I was set up to meet Chris at Fuzzy’s on the infield. Fuzzy’s was packed and it was a gorgeous day, so I opted for an outside picnic table. There was no doubt when he approached the fence around Fuzzy’s that it was him. Like a baseball pitcher having that distinctive solid arm, Chris had the race car driver build. His 22nd birthday was two days before so I greeted him with a Tootsie Pop and apologized for it not being a Bit-O-Honey (Chris’s sponsor). We sat up on the picnic table with the wind occasionally flapping the umbrella behind us.
I congratulated him on his win in August at Mid-Ohio, one of NASCAR’s few road course races. I love road racing as it’s not the norm of “Turn Left.” It truly tests a driver’s racing skills on hills, curves and straightaways. The race Chris won was particularly exciting as he was on fuel conversation the final laps of the race. I shared with him that I was on my feet the last five laps — standing just a couple of feet away from my TV monitor when the announcer said he was racing on fumes. Chris laughed. “Yes, driving changes when you’re shifting fuel on each turn and each hill. Coast and save!” The last three laps seemed to last forever with his fuel pressure light flashing and Chris expecting to run out of gas at any moment! On the last turn, he jiggled the Mustang just right and crossed the finish line ahead of Regan Smith and Brian Scott. His crew greeted him from atop a barricade and shared in the jubilance of the driver’s first Nationwide win. “So, do you like racing road courses?” I asked the rookie. He laughed and replied, “I do now!” What was even more meaningful to him that weekend was bonding with the kids from Children’s Hospital, the race’s sponsor. Chris was paired with Patient Champion Luke Benner, a six year-old diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The boy’s picture was displayed on Buescher’s car. I had predicted on Twitter for Chris to win that race. “You did?” he replied surprised. “Yes and I also picked Brendan to win the road course at Road America,” I shared. “So, how are you feeling about the Texas race?” he inquired. I smiled. With the Cup drivers participating, I felt a top 10 was a possibility. His hope was to do better than the Texas race in April where he was involved in an accident. I asked him if he had ever flipped over. He had but it was not in a stock car. One thing that fascinated me during our chat was when Chris explained how his driver’s seat is custom made to his body. It’s similar to how a cockpit is made in a fighter jet where the body is restrained and protected in case of impact. (However, the custom fit also has a disadvantage which was evidenced the following day when Elliott Sadler took ill before the race and the search was on for a driver with the same tall build as Sadler so they could replace him.)
When he’s not racing, Chris is consumed in his 1955 classic truck rebuild. It was evident he just loved wheels. He was already looking forward to attending an automotive show in Vegas and in his next life; he would come back as a race car driver. Unlike married-with-kids cousin James (also a racer), Chris is single but “in a relationship.” Although he didn’t share any details, I learned that she’s a Carolina Panthers fan and is trying to get Chris into following football. I couldn’t resist asking him about his cook when on the road — since it’s a friend of mine. “So, tell me… how is Eloy’s cooking?” I probed. “It has its moments…… but his French fries are on point!” he laughed.
Last month NASCAR returned to Texas. The first sign of life at the track was the miniature city of RVs and tents which spouted up around the perimeter starting the week before. Wednesday night found the haulers for the truck series scheduled in followed by the ones for Nationwide the next morning — or so the published schedule claimed. I camped out on the pedestrian bridge early Thursday to gets pictures and hear the toot toot of my friend Eloy’s hauler. After an hour of no movement from the staging area, I texted Eloy asking how much longer it would be — I needed a bio break! He texted back, “LOL — well, I’m going to Walmart to do a little shopping – go ahead and pee.” It turned out the times had been changed to the evening. The wait was worth it as we watched the parade of lighted transporters against the backdrop of the setting sun and later the darkness.
Friday’s fun included watching practices and qualifying. With the purchase of our pit passes, we had a pretty good view as the cars zoomed out of the garage area and onto the track. However, as the day went on, the crowd cloned. Grown men literally knocked over women to get a look at their driver. On tippy-toes, I finally found safe haven and a good view from atop a barricade. Speaking of barricades, one separated me from one of my favs, Brendan Gaughan. “Hey! Brendan!” I shouted. When he saw it was me, he backed up and reached across the barrier giving me a bear hug. “Did you get a picture of my bear hug?” I excitedly asked my husband. “No, I was waiting to take one of Matt’s car. It was then I discovered we had way too many favorites.
The fun of race weekend is meeting other fans. While watching the cars practice, I chatted with a photographer standing next to me. I detected a Midwest accent so I asked him where he was from. “Hi… Larry…east side of Cleveland, “ he replied as he extended his free hand. I laughed and pointed at my husband. “Meet Rick….west side of Cleveland. They proceeded to talk Buckeyes and Browns football with Larry photographing the cars at the same time. There also was an “older” red-head who I spotted chasing down a golf cart containing Carl Edwards. Upon meeting her the following day, I found that Shirley was just as avid a motorsports fan as me. She was thrilled when I told her I had captured a pic of her with Edwards. My favorite fan was a little boy named Landon. I asked him who his driver was. “My uncle,” he replied. The uncle turned out to be Nationwide driver Jamie Dick who came over and gave him a hug. Since the race was during football season, there was a mix of fans wearing their favorite team or player jersey. Although, Jerry Jones claims to own “America’s team,” Cowboy fans were outnumbered by the Saints, Broncos, Texans, Bears, Packers and Steelers in the apparel wearing department. Those most fun to view were the couples who wore different NASCAR drivers apparel. Interesting combinations made for jabbing at their spouses in the stands. Although Rick and I are miles apart on football teams, we do like the same drivers.
Prior to the races, I talked to pit crews and officials as they set up and prepared their areas. As I entered pit row, I spotted my Twitter friend Chris Taylor, rear tire changer for Matt Kenseth. Despite being entrenched in a sea of tires, he snuck in a cute grin as our cameras clicked away. Further down, I spotted a female checking tires for the #66. During a quick chat, I learned from Liz that she was the only female on a Cup pit crew. A few yards away from her, I met up with Kevin, an official in a bright orange jumpsuit. He camps out at the pit in case of fire. I told him about witnessing a fire last year when Kenseth’s car had one during a pit stop. Yes, Kevin has job security. An interesting stop was at a computer display lined up with the start/finish line. NASCAR official Dona Harris explained that the equipment measured where each driver was in the race. She said it was the equivalent of a photo/finish shot at a horse race. Towards the end of our pit row stroll, I had my “This could only happen to me” moment. I got to a pit area which had a smaller number of tires and I turned to Rick and said, “This is one of the smaller teams not in the limelight.” A nice-looking tall, lanky guy approached us so I said, “Now, what is your job on the team?” He smiled… “I am the driver….” he replied. I composed myself. “Are you going to be changing into a racing uniform?” I asked while pointing at his black slacks. Hello to #33 Timothy Hill. Needless to say, the other crew member was amused. The rest of the day I kept thinking to myself, “Where do I know that Hill guy from?” (Upon googling I found that he had rear-ended MY driver during a caution earlier in the year!) On the way to our seats, I passed a display of the bracket for the Chase. The drivers’ names and numbers had Velcro backs so fans could post their individual predictions. After I reset the display, I posed for Rick. He handed me the camera saying, “Did the picture come out?” As I looked at the picture, up walked George Reba, sports with WFAA TV. As the cameraman filmed, Reba questioned me on how the bracket worked, and then asked me my favorite driver. Meanwhile, I still had Rick’s camera in my hand behind me frantically waving it to Rick in hopes of getting a picture with George! After the interview, George said he planned to run the segment on the late sports.
Our seats were in the center of the row and the people on each end were not very accommodating. One time I was forced atop the seat panel and I teetered with uncertainty with each step I took over the jackets, blankets and food on the bleacher. One guy reached over to help me and caught his heel in the bench, then fell into the next row. It’s probably the last time he will ever come to anyone’s rescue. The race itself was rather boring until the last five laps when Brad Keselowski wrecked crowd favorite Jeff Gordon. This led to a brawl on pit row with the two drivers and their crews after the conclusion of the race and our seats were right across from the melee! When I got home, I stayed up until after midnight to watch a rerun of the sports. Alas, the clips with George were axed to cover the fight on pit row.