Archive for category NASCAR
Hanging with Camping World Truck Series driver Austin Wayne Self at Texas Motor Speedway June 2017
Austin was 2014 ARCA (Automobile Racing Club of America ) Racing Series Rookie of the Year and finished second in the 2015 Championship Points Battle.
We’ve all heard the Disney song “It’s A Small World.” In April, I found myself in one of those situations while at Texas Motor Speedway for NASCAR race weekend. Hubby Rick and I had gone over to see one of our favs, Brendan Gaughan at the Chevrolet display. I first met Brendan in 2013 and interviewed him the following spring so he immediately called us out by name and planted a kiss on my cheek. Just as previous times seeing him, Rick was still waiting for the camera to focus, so the picture was me reciprocating back the kiss. After Brendan, three of the newer Xfinity drivers came out. One was named Garrett Smithley and immediately caught my attention when he shared he was into theater. One just doesn’t picture a guy, who risks his life driving high speeds, being into the arts. He mentioned he was from Pennsylvania and then pointed out his parents who proudly smiled and waved. Since no one is a stranger to me (remember I am a retired flight attendant), I approached the couple. I introduced myself and asked what part of Pennsylvania they were from. When they answered that it was a small town in Western Pennsylvania, I told them my best friend lived in Ligonier. Bethanie Smithley’s jaw dropped and she replied, “Garrett, tell Carlotta where you were born.” “Ligonier, Pennsylvania,” he replied. We’re talking a town of 1,549 in the last census. But it didn’t end there. Garrett’s mom was also a former flight attendant and his dad,R K, was a pilot who flew military charters at World Airways with Barb Lambert, one of my flight attendant friends from Delta! It is indeed a small world.
The following month, we again found ourselves at the speedway. This time it was for Wheel of Fortune auditions! I begged poor Rick to go along just in case I got chosen to go on stage so he could take pictures. The next thing we knew, we were in a long line of cars to enter the midfield where auditions were being held. When we joined a two-hour line already snaking through the NASCAR garage, I realized that I was not the only one with the great idea of going!! There were several hundred people!!! We had to fill out a small 4” by 5” yellow piece of paper (the “application”) telling our names, ages, contact info and what made us unique from the others in the line. Try being original given just four lines as well as writing legibly using one’s other hand as a clipboard!! The rope finally dropped and we ended up very close to the stage. There were to be three rounds of an hour each with the names being drawn from a hopper for several games. Our Pat Sajek was a guy named Marty Lublin who was personality extraordinaire!! Our Vanna was a perky blonde named Mallory Harden with a body I will wish for in my next life. Marty did a quick interview of each contestant that was even more important than the actual puzzle solving. After all, the producers didn’t want someone whose hobby was watching paint dry, for the real show! As people came and went on stage, I was mentally rehearsing my spiel. They got to the last group for round one. They called, “Carlotta…..” finally!! “Gonzales.” Not me. They announced the last person for the round. “Rick…..” My hubby got a look of horror since everyone pauses before they try to say our last name. “Schmittgen!” Oh boy! The man, who I talked into coming as well as filling out an application and was bailing after round one, was chosen!! Rick did pretty well on the interview pointing me out in the audience…. I just wished he had added something like sports guru. I knew from the Smithleys at NASCAR to just proudly smile and wave. He mentioned he liked gardening and woodworking, then “playing with our two-month-old Boxer Katie” who was actually almost five months. I had to smile – nerves. As for the rest of the twelve hour day, my “application” was never drawn. I knew it wasn’t meant to be. They didn’t have one sports puzzle!!
This was my column for the quarterly magazine, Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country Spring 2017 issue.
As I write this column, it is Super Bowl Sunday. Normally, my favorite day of the year, but this year God threw a curve ball and took our Boxer Rex away from us a week ago. It just won’t be the same without him. “Big Boy” Rex was the one who would obediently come to the closet when I said, “Game Day! Where’s your bandana?” He would sit and hold his neck up, still as a statue, as I put his New England Patriots scarf on. He knew it came with his mom’s crazy superstitions on game day! You ask how could a gal who lives in Texas like a team who deflates footballs? Well, I’ve lived in three areas of Texas all but 14 years of my life, but I was born in New England. Patriots football is in my blood along with fall foliage, skiing on ice, “pahking the cahr” and loving “lobstah.”
It was fortunate for Rex that he was so big that I couldn’t find game jerseys to fit him. He just wasn’t into clothes. He made his point with one torn football jersey from his puppy days. He drew the line at bandanas. One time when I put my ski hat on him, you could tell by his look that it wasn’t a game face; it was instead a “Seriously, Mom?” There were exceptions to the rule like the time Rex helped me with a Duck Dynasty contest entry at Texas Motor Speedway by donning a beard … well, sort of … it was Rex posing behind a cardboard beard.
Rex’s claim to fame came at the Texas Rangers Bark in the Park. The first year we went, Rex became the hit of section 11 as he howled at the hotdog vendor. The guy yelled back, “Ain’t no dogs for you Bud!” The following year he was chosen from over 700 canines to wear the FanCam in the pregame walk around the ballpark. He proudly stood stoic while they mounted the camera around his neck. I could tell he was thinking this was something important happening and to not to screw it up. What a great job he did! As he did his lap around the perimeter, he got the attention of the Ranger players and coaches observing from the dugout as well as fans hanging over the guardrail. He was the envy of every dog attending! And his footage ran on a Fox Sports Southwest Special including his shot of his “sister” Roxie licking his camera.
Yes, Rex led a life many dogs only dream of. R.I.P. Rex. Sports will never be the same without you.
You Tube — Rex and the Hot Dog Vendor — Texas Rangers Bark in the Park — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c423zq5PIOU A classic Rex moment !!!
My article in Heartbeat of the Texas Hill Country – Winter Issue
What an exciting year 2016 was for sports! It’s not too often that one sees so much history in the making as we did. The year started out with a Cinderella ending for NFL great Peyton Manning as he guided the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl win. What a way to end a career!! He hasn’t done too badly in post-football either. There’s rarely a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t see Peyton in a commercial. I think the funniest is the one where he’s sitting on the couch in his bathrobe and sipping coffee. Lionel Richie is singing in the background, “It’s Peyton on Sunday morning.” Manning is on the phone with brother Eli wanting him to come and watch Sunday football on his DirecTV set-up. Eli’s seen in the Giants locker room explaining why he can’t – he’s playing football. “I’ll pencil you in for Tuesday,” and Peyton writes “Eli” in the empty calendar.
March Madness in college basketball made history too when the number fifteen seed Middle Tennessee upset number two seed Michigan State in the first round destroying just about every basketball fan’s bracket including mine! The “experts” had predicted Michigan State to make the Final Four and some had even picked them to win the championship. And it didn’t end there! The fourteenth seed Stephen F. Austin upset number three seed West Virginia and Syracuse became the first tenth seed in history to advance to the Final Four. The finals were held in Houston where Villanova upset North Carolina to win the championship on a three-point shot at the buzzer!
The NBA followed suit when the Cavaliers brought Cleveland their first sports championship in fifty-two years! Hubby was happy as he’s from the suburbs of that city on the lake. As Rick watched the TV coverage, he wondered which speck was his nephew Bret and was probably secretly envious because he wasn’t there too.
Even car racing re-wrote history when both the June and July NASCAR races at Pocono Speedway had to be postponed due to weather as well as the Indycars at Texas Motor Speedway finishing the end of the June race in August due to weather. Weather delays are never fun for fans as a lot of the spectators travel in and postponements cause havoc on hotels, car rentals, transportation and work plans. We know only too well after waiting out a few ourselves only to be watching concession stand commercials on Big Hoss and covered cars on the track as the rain dripped off our hair and clothes.
But no greater history was made with the conclusion of the Major League Baseball season! For a while, it looked like both Texas teams, the Astros and Rangers were destined for the playoffs. Houston had a September meltdown, and then the best in the American League Texas Rangers found themselves swept by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1st round of the playoffs. Our home became a war zone with my husband’s Cleveland Indians and my Boston Red Sox meeting in the AL Championship. I was the queen of trash-talking only to eat my words as Rick’s Indians swept Boston and moved on to the World Series.
I quickly found myself OK with t he loss when I realized that I was watching sports history unfold yet again! The Indians were in the World Series in 1997 when they lost in extra innings in game seven to the Florida Marlins. They hadn’t won the title since 1948. The Cubs hadn’t won the title since 1908, and hadn’t made it to the World Series since 1945 – the infamous series where the Billy-goat curse was put on the team. We were witnessing one of the two longest championship droughts in baseball finally come to an end! It looked like destiny was going to hang onto the coattails of the Cavaliers and side with the Tribe, who jumped out to a lead of three games to one. Then Chicago shocked themselves and the Indians not to only to piece together back-to-back wins, but they also forced a game seven and won in extra innings! . I just wonder if sports will ever repeat a year like 2016!
Part of my exclusive with NASCAR’s Landon Cassill during his recent visit in Texas.
This aired on 1610am 106.3fm KWQQRadio.com this week. Hope you’ll tune in for ‘Lotta Sports and Sports Snapshot — Daily on KWQQ Radio!
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.