Posts Tagged Texas Motor Speedway
Last month was the final month in the Chase Championship for NASCAR, and Texas Motor Speedway was host to the third from the last race. The two leaders, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, were tied and it was apparent that the stage was set for a showdown in Texas. A media center display of all the contenders titled DEADLOCKED with #20 and #48 barrels positioned to blow up conveyed the importance around the TMS race. Needless to say, this sportswriter was beyond “in her element” with one of her favorite drivers right in the mix!
Day 1 — Unlike June when only the trucks and Indy cars were there for the two garage areas, the trucks and their humongous haulers took over the Infield Parking Paddock leaving media parking at slim pickins’. Because of a further walk to the Media Center, this necessitated my carrying everything I might need throughout the day. Due to anticipated temperature changes throughout the day, I looked like I needed my own hauler as I started the trek from my car with my “stuff.” Once settled in my work area and after perusing the schedule, I retraced my steps to the “garage” area and watched the process for NASCAR inspection of the trucks.
There were inspectors everywhere — some measuring the trucks and some under hoods inspecting parts. Parts were sealed and once qualified the truck was impounded until the race the next day. I paused at Brendan Gaughan’s truck as an inspector finished scrutinizing a large part. “Did his engine pass?” I inquired. The inspector grinned. “This here is the carburetor” and then went into a long explanation of what he was looking for. I heard a snicker and turned to find Brendan standing there. Wanting to overshadow my naivety of car parts and knowing my favorite truck driver had played basketball at Georgetown, I switched subjects to the hoops. I was defeated there also when Gaughan reminded me about former Hoya coach John Thompson and company taking the “slamma” out of my “jamma” Houston Cougars.
Following inspections, there were two truck practices. We bailed during the second, as we needed to get home to give out the seven bags of candy to our six Trick or Treaters!
Day 2 — The morning started out sadly with the announcement of Atlanta Motor Speedway’s Marketing Director Marcy Scott’s battle with cancer ending in her passing. Not only had she interacted with several of my peers in the media, but at one time was Matt Kenseth’s PR person. The sharing of Marcy stories ended with the arrival of Sprint Cup driver Martin Truex, Jr. He was there to end weeks of speculation of whom he would be driving for next year — Furniture Row. The next arrival was Matt Kenseth. One of the questions asked was how he felt knowing that “some fans are rooting for you to win the championship because they’re rooting against Jimmie Johnson.” He smiled and explained that’s how sports are and went into how some fans root for a dynasty and some for the underdog. He looked across the room. The “dynasty” had just entered – Jimmie Johnson. Matt fielded some more questions, and as he left the room, the two shared a friendly handshake. Despite the demeanor some other drivers portrayed in competition, those two men had the upmost respect for each other, both on and off the track. As with Matt, the reporters’ hype with Johnson was around the “intense battle.” Jimmie assured all he and Matt were friends off the track and shared many of the same values including family, being laid back, and foremost, respect for each other when it came to racing. Following JJ was Kyle Busch. I wanted to ask him how it felt being booed during introductions but thought better of it. Instead, my fascination was on how he hoped to sweep all three races at Texas. The interviews ended just as Andy Hall, PR at ESPN, arrived to take Rick and me on a tour of the ESPN Production Complex located outside the race stands.
Our first stop was the area containing wardrobe for all the on-air personalities as well as the roving pit reporters for ESPN. Each garment bag was neatly labeled and contained different colored outfits for each day. I found out that roving reporter Dr. Jerry Punch was really a medical doctor who had saved driver Rusty Wallace’s life back in 1989. Now the two were working alongside each other at ESPN. Attached to the large tent was a hauler containing offices and a conference room. Adjacent were several haulers containing massive rolls of cables. We climbed the stairs to one of them and found ourselves inside the “brains” of the production. Lined on one wall were seventy-five monitors for HD cameras positioned for the races. These supported in-car cameras, manned cameras, handheld, robotic on-track, robotics in Pit Studio, Crewcams, pit overheads, Jib cameras, Grasscam, POV cameras including the announcing booth, race control, flag stand and Chopper Cam. Monitors were dedicated to the leaders as well as competing drivers, in-car and pit stalls. There were two rows of seats where the producer, director and staff monitored all the camera shots for their immediate use on live TV. Even though there was nothing going on while we were in there, I felt the still air of intensity in the room. Andy pointed out that the challenge in covering motorsports was that there were no breaks in the action like in baseball between innings and football with halftime. He explained that in addition to catching all the action, there had to be a balance when running ads. That is why you rarely see shots of people in the stands. Andy also explained how the sun can cause disruption with the satellites especially in the fall. From there, we headed back into the pit area to the production hauler for on-air personalities. We climbed up the stairs and entered into the actual set for Countdown to NASCAR and the race. I timidly asked if I could sit in Nicole Briscoe’s chair. Once settled in, I smiled at the three cameras positioned and felt right at home.
Andy and Rick chuckled when I offered to sit in for Nicole, who was going out on maternity leave. After the tour was a working lunch and more interviews with Darrell Wallace, Jr., Jeff Gordon, Danica Patrick and Nationwide Championship Leader, Austin Dillon. I felt the generation gap during Darrell’s interview when he shared that he didn’t even have a driver’s license when he started racing. He said the coolest thing he had experienced so far was being asked to appear on Arsenio Hall (and not knowing who he was) as well as being followed on Twitter by Tyler Bates. The rest of the afternoon was busy on the track with qualifying for the trucks, the Sprint Cup cars and final practice for Nationwide cars. Meanwhile pit row was sprouting up crew chief stands for the truck series that evening. In qualifying, the spring’s race winner, Jeb Burton, grabbed the pole for trucks. Later Carl Edwards won his first Sprint Cup pole at Texas.
A fall chill encompassed the air as the truck drivers took to the track for the WinStar World Casino race. Ty Dillon dominated the race leading all but seventeen laps. Brendan finished fourth.
Day 3 – The morning was spent roaming the Nationwide garage during inspection, watching those cars qualify and the Sprint cars practice twice. Easy on the eyes Travis Pastranais (and 17-time medal winner at the X Games) was being interviewed in the Nationwide garage area after qualifying 39th. “I really need a win” he told FOX Sports’ Herme Sadler. I am not the Einstein of racing, but I thought to myself, “He needs to quit being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” collecting six DNFs (Did not finish) this year.
Also, during my garage visit, I met the oldest active driver in NASCAR, Morgan Shepherd. The rough faced seventy-one year old looked discouraged as he climbed out of his #89. Unless there were a couple of wrecks during qualifying, he would not see action in the race. Back at the media center, there was a collective gasp while we were monitoring on TV the practice session as Jimmie Johnson’s car brushed the wall. I bolted out of my chair and back up to track to assess the damage. The champion had dodged a bullet.
Thank goodness the Nationwide race was in the afternoon, as I was already worn out trying to keep up with who was doing what and when. Several drivers were participating in both the race that day and the Sprint Cup the next day. Last year’s cup winner, Brad Keselowski ,a participant in all three Texas races, won the Nationwide race later that afternoon.
Day 4 – Despite gaining an hour of sleep with the time-change, I didn’t get much rest since Rick had to be back at the track early for his pace-car ride with Landon Cassill, a driver for both car series. Claire B Lang of SiriusXM rode in the front seat interviewing Landon as they did laps around the track. Unfortunately, there were cables crossing the track for the pre-race ceremonies so they did not get up to the high speeds I experienced in the spring. I found a crew member setting up the crew chief stand for Matt Kenseth. I always wanted to sit in one. The next thing I knew I was climbing the vertical ladder with the guy pleading for me to be careful. All I can say is the view is much better from Jason Ratcliff’s chair!!
We headed next to the Sprint Cup garage where inspections had started. Surprisingly, many of the crew chiefs and crews were approachable. I had my picture taken with Jason Ratcliff and several of the cars waiting for inspection. One thing I discovered was that the headlamps and taillights were actually decals instead of the real thing. Multitudes of fans were gathering in the garage area and NASCAR rep Laura Finley was caught in the middle of the crowd control. “Please, if you’re not with the team, stay behind the yellow line.” As I started to step back, she said, “You’re fine.” I thought to myself, “I love this job!” The next hour was spent back at the media center posting pictures and updates on Facebook and Twitter. It was then I found out that Claire had aired my post-race question to Brad the night before on SiriusXM. I was so glad that inquiring about changing shadows and the setting sun on the track wasn’t such a dumb question after all! It was soon race time so it was back out to the track for pre-race ceremonies. Rick positioned himself at the photographers’ well at Turn 1 while I wandered up and down the pit. During the race, I ventured up to the grandstands to look for Hill Country’s Denise LeMeilleur attending the race.
Out of breath from the long climb to row sixty, I reached her row to find she was not there! On the return trip, I ran into Denise coming from her car carrying blankets. Yes, the cold front had arrived! Back in the warm media center, I watched the rest of the race. The media center crowd is supposed to remain unbiased during the race, but it was hard to miss the massive groan when contender Kenseth received a speeding penalty on pit row on Lap 175. This meant him repositioning to the end of the cars on the lead lap. This would come back to haunt him by race’s end. Despite his fast car, Matt could not make up the lost time the rest of the race. His fourth place finish saw him plunge to second place in the Chase, making strong finishes and preferably wins imperative at Phoenix and Homestead for the Chase title. Jimmie Johnson won the race.
How does the story end? Brendan & I are now twittering back and forth about college basketball, Travis “retired” from his brief stint in NASCAR and Jimmie added another title to his racing resume, never looking back after leaving Texas. A disappointed Kenseth ended up the bridesmaid and left his fans thinking “What Ifs” around the Texas race. I am still eating Halloween candy. And Nicole’s vacated ESPN chair? <sigh> Mike Massaro sat there instead of me.
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My article below appeared in the July issue of Hill Country Happenings.. Click here for more articles and information about happenings in the Texas Hill Country.
I was in my element again in June. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the IZOD Indycars were at Texas Motor Speedway for a three day weekend. I couldn’t think of a more fun way for this sports addict to spend my birthday! The first day was the truck practice and qualifying. Wedged in between were the driver press conferences which are always an enlightening experience — some of those kids decked out in their spandex suits could be my grandchildren!! Two of the drivers we interviewed also were celebrating their
birthdays around the race, Joey Coulter on the 8th and Matt Crafton on the day after mine, the 11th. Neither one could compare to my instant favorite, Brendan Gaughan. I don’t know what attracted me — his high position in the truck series standings or his rugged, Teddy-Bear look with a smile perfect for a toothpaste commercial; I suspect the latter. He was considered a “senior” driver. When I asked him what was thought of as “old” in truck racing, he replied, “Me!” “Old” turned out to be having a 1975 birth date!
Day two started with an appearance by Helio Castroneves, points leader of the Indycar Series as well as winner of Season 5 of Dancing with the Stars. Questions from the media started with the “usual” about tire usage, downforce and grip. Rick held his breath as my hand went up; he anticipated something like, “Did you keep your yellow costume from the quick-step?” Instead, he got to proudly beam as I asked, “Helio, some NASCAR drivers have been racing in Indycars; would you ever consider crossing over to NASCAR?” He smiled. “Excellent question… If the opportunity presents itself, then I certainly would love to try. Right now I only have one thing on my mind and that is trying to win as much [sic] races as possible here and hopefully bring this championship to Roger.” (Penske Team Owner). Later, during a one-on-one with him, he confirmed that he did keep the yellow outfit from Dancing with the Stars. After Helio, a Grapevine deli unveiled three sandwiches named in honor of Mario, Michael and Marco Andretti. The three generations of Indy racers sampled the sandwiches and then the younger two departed for practice on the track while Mario stayed to chat with several of us. I was immediately awestruck over the twinkle in his eyes and how incredible he looked for his seventy-three years. He and I talked about young drivers and the importance of setting a good example for our youth. He assured me that he already had discussions with his grandson of the importance of putting his racing in front of the “glamour” life at night clubs.
After the press conference, Rick and I headed up to the start-finish line for the pace truck rides. The truck was driven by Ward Burton, retired NASCAR driver and 2002 winner of the Daytona 500. Ward, in a soft, Southern drawl, inquired, “Aren’t you riding with your husband?” I explained that I had enough speed in April with the pace car and that I was going to pass. After watching Rick’s laps, it appeared that Ward’s driving was the gingerly ride I so wanted in April. Within minutes I found myself in the truck cruising around the oval track for several laps at a modest eighty miles per hour. Ward was pumped that his son Jeb was racing that evening in the truck series. It was then I found myself with a conflict — do I root for Teddy-Bear Brendan or Jeb? While I mulled my choices, the Indycars lined up to start their qualifying. It was strange going from watching pick-up trucks to seeing a flat-style car which came up to my waist and sounded like a swarm of bumblebees!
A few hours later, as the sun flirted with the horizon, we found the trucks back out on the track lining up for their race. As the race progressed, daylight went to evening and the bright lights blazed the oval track while the field of thirty-two pick-ups roared around the speedway. Mid-race found Brendan leading and things looked very promising until he spun his tires on the last re-start. As his number started to plummet on the pole which listed the order of the trucks, we recognized a number in the top three. It was the #4, Jeb Burton. The final laps were very exciting as Jeb raced against the leader, Ty Dillon. It was Jeb to cross the finish line first followed by a burnout for the fans. At the later press conference it was not Jeb who the press was most interested in hearing from — it was his dad, Ward. Yes, the same Ward I took the gingerly ride with around the track earlier that day. He was beaming with pride as he told everyone that seeing his son win this race meant more to him than his (Ward’s) win at the Daytona 500.
Day three started with an invite to ride the Indy pace car. I was getting melancholy with my birthday only two days away so I decided to “throw caution to the wind” and just do it! Since I was taping the experience again, I vowed to not repeat my expletives used during last spring’s ride. Instead, they were replaced with “Breathe …. Breathe …. Breathe” as we got up to speeds of 140 mph! I also decided that motorsports is a family affair as our driver, Stefan Wilson, had a brother in the race later that day. Further down the track, they were offering rides in a two-seater Indy car. I opted out when I saw I would need to wear a helmet. It would only mess up my ponytail or maybe it was hearing that I would have to be strapped into the car because of the speeds of almost 200 mph!
A more serene setting was in the media center where I got to meet two teachers from Moore, Oklahoma and a firefighter from West, Texas. They had been invited to the race to do the “Start Your Engines” and the flag to begin the race. It was a very emotional thirty minutes as they relayed their experiences from the tornadoes and the fertilizer plant explosion. After they left, two members of the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) presented Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan with a certificate of a bull TK500, named in his honor. The bull, formerly known as Mud Wasp, has been successfully ridden only four times!
During the Indycar pre-race ceremonies, I met the only female pit member. Her name was Anna and she was the rear-jack for National Guard Panther Racing #4 car. I commented that I thought it would be neat to do something like that, but I was too old. “Never give up on your dreams,” she advised me.
There was only one person left on my radar and it was someone I had not seen since the mid-70s when I worked flights between Houston and Indianapolis. As I proceeded down the line of pit crew canopies, I spotted him – racing legend and now owner, A J Foyt. He was seated in a golf cart in the #14 car’s area. I had already met his assistant, so when she saw me, she motioned me over. Moments later, I was on the cart talking to A J about the year I worked his charter to the Indy 500 and we watched the race in the rain. And as if seeing AJ wasn’t exciting enough, a third of the way through the race I ran into former Texas Rangers catcher, Pudge Rodriquez. The day before he had been named to the Rangers Baseball Hall of Fame so I congratulated him. I had not seen Pudge since I worked the baseball charters in the early 90s; he had not changed at all.
As it was the night before, the race was exciting. Mario Andretti’s grandson Marco led the first part of the race. He and two other drivers kept the lead until Lap 97, when Helio Castroneves took over and kept the lead until the race ended at Lap 228. For me, I was torn between which was better — that night, or the night Helio won the Dancing with the Stars competition. Hmmmm… a blue and red helmet or dancing shoes? I guess it just depends on one’s sports perspective, and that’s Lotta Sports!
My article below appeared in the May issue of Hill Country Happenings.. Click here for more articles and information about happenings in the Texas Hill Country.
NASCAR came to Texas last month and Hill Country Happenings’ Lotta Sports was there behind the scenes! This month’s column is dedicated to the incredible sports experience that I had NASCAR weekend at TMS (Texas Motor Speedway) in April. I will have a tough time conveying this experience but I will try!
Attempting to get the lay of the land, my husband Rick and I took a tour of the complex the week prior to the race. Our tour guide, Paul Rector, was an absolute delight as well as a wealth of knowledge concerning the track, with its twenty-four degree banked turns. One fascinating statistic was that “Jerry’s House” — aka Cowboys Stadium — would fit within the infield area four times. (I later understood the immensity of the infield when it became my home away from home for three days and I was walking everywhere.) The lighting for the track area is equivalent to ten NFL stadiums! (During the races, those bright lights were playing havoc with our attempts for action pictures, sending beautiful designs to the monitors of the digital cameras. On a positive note, I felt those same lights helped to stave off the chill on the infield after the sun went down.) In addition to the track itself, the complex has garage areas, media centers, Infield Care Center (after an accident, if a driver’s car is not drivable, they must ride there in an ambulance), driving schools, offices and high-rise condominiums, luxury suites holding sixty-four chairs each and the Speedway Club. On the comfort/courtesy side, all spectator seats have backrests; however umbrellas are not allowed.
Now, let’s delve into an incredible three day fan experience when NASCAR comes to Texas!! On Thursday, I reported to the media center and got my work area assignment and media schedule of press conferences. Rick and I knew we would busy on Friday and Saturday so we decided to shop and do typical fan activities. The midway was set up with semis full of apparel, decals, license plate holders and stuffed toys for every driver as well as displays of monitoring equipment. I had an internal debate concerning whether or not to rent a headset and scanner to monitor the drivers but I talked myself out of spending the money and later regretted not just going for it. I also talked myself out of a cute pink and white dog with a number 20 (Matt Kenseth’s number), but I did splurge on a T-Shirt. A cute gal snagged me to have a photo made with a choice of six drivers’ photos merged into mine. I chose Greg Biffle since I would be interviewing him the next day. Meanwhile, Rick sampled at a beverage display of almost a hundred different Coke products, and then went to the gal taking the photos merges; typical male, he chose Danica Patrick for his picture. Next stop was the “Changing the Tire” booth. It looks so simple and fast when the pit crews do it. I eyed the display. Next thing I knew, the clock was rolling and I was changing a tire! I proudly finished in fifty-eight seconds but then my elation was shattered when I looked at the record for the day – nine seconds – and then noticed Rick grinning ear to ear. “OK, smarty, let’s see you do it!” I challenged. Fifteen seconds later, he was done! Obviously a tire change should be a guy thing – at least in our household! The rest of the afternoon was spent watching practice runs from the pit. Most thrilling was being mere feet from the cars as they whizzed by to enter the track. Both of us had cameras and were clicking away madly. Why did Rick’s set have ten pictures of Danica while other drivers were totally missing?
Friday the work began. At 9am Rick attended a photo briefing and was issued a blue vest so that he would access closer in on pit row. At 930am was our first press conference with Martin Truex, Jr., Paul Menard and Greg Biffle. After they fielded several typical race questions, I timidly raised my hand. Mic in hand, I said to Greg Biffle, “I saw at Daytona you had two gorgeous boxers just like we do; what are their names and are they here at the race?” I looked over at Rick and saw his look of “You’ve got to be kidding!” followed by relief when Greg grinned and then elaborated on his answer. “Foster” and “Gracie” were on the Phoenix and Las Vegas trips, but “because it became more of a chore, they are home enjoying the pool.” I was dying to know how they selected those names….but I didn’t want to press my luck with Greg or my husband! After the drivers left, we headed to the garage entrance to watch more practice. Rick suddenly realized my absence. He surveyed the crowd and finally spotted me inside the garage area. I was attempting to stay out of the way as cars zoomed in and out of the stalls, all the while snapping pictures and shooting video. As I started to exit the garage, they shut down the track for a clean-up. I was in my element as cars waited in line to exit and I spotted my favorite Nationwide driver, Elliott Sadler, fourth in line. There I was, a yard away, trying to contain myself and not ask him if he owned a dog. There’s a fine line between respecting a celebrity and being a passionate fan interested in dog breeds and names!
It was back to the Media Center to join a press conference with Carl Edwards and Brian Vickers. Carl has the 99 Ford and when he wins, he thrills his fans with a backflip at the Winner’s Circle. I joked with Rick that I was going to ask him to do a back flip and I got the raised eyebrow. Brian is a substitute driver for the 11 Toyota normally driven by Denny Hamlin, currently out on injury. Brian was there with a darling little girl, March of Dimes National Ambassador Nina Centofanti. Sweet Nina was all decked out in a special FedEx team fire suit just like Brian’s. After a late lunch of fried chicken and trying to update my Facebook page without getting grease on the mouse, we headed up to the pit for the time trials for both races. It was just a few hours away from the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300, which is 200 laps. I began to realize it was already turning into a very long day. I was on my second pair of shoes, running on five hours of sleep, and the temperature was rising as the bright sun blazed on the track. I scoped out the line of Nationwide cars and lined up with Elliott’s empty car. Then came the “This Could Only Happen to Me!” moment! A soft tap on my shoulder and then a man’s voice said, “May I get through, please?” I slid to the left and two inches from me was Elliott Sadler! Also in that qualifying was my Sprint driver, Matt Kenseth, who was driving in both races. I would soon have to decide whom I would root for in the race that night. During qualifying, someone wrecked on the backside and a gal next to me mumbled, “I hope it’s Kyle Busch.” (Kyle is not well-liked, as during his youthful years he was cocky and made some immature decisions while racing.) The wreck wasn’t Kyle. The two qualifying events ended and we had about an hour to kill so we went through the tunnel and up into the grandstands to try and find our friends, Herbie Witt and Mike Miles, from Kerrville and Mooney Airplane who are season ticket holders. It seemed to take forever to get to their seats at Turn 4. Out of breath and my feet weakening – I can now relate to how Kellie Pickler feels after an hour of practicing the jive — we found their seats empty.
When pre-race ceremonies began, we discovered you cannot hear the invocation, Star Spangled Banner or “Start Your Engines” from down in the pit. You just figure it out through hand-signals by some and action in the pit. We found that Matt Kenseth’s pit area was on a corner and just to the left of the start finish line making it great to see the cars for a brief few seconds! There was also a big screen close by so we could view the race looking straight up. There were eight caution flags, only one of those an accident, which slow the cars down for a few laps while debris is cleaned up. Most drivers take advantage of this to refuel and go through tire changes although some remain out to get credit for leading the lap. Unlike the race the following night, this one had a limited number of tire replacements allowed so the right timing strategy was critical. Matt led for twelve laps and spent much of the race in the top ten. It was exciting to be right there seeing his pit crew work for just seconds to get him back on the track each time.
It was Kyle Busch who owned the race, leading ninety-one laps, one of those being the checkered flag. Matt came in sixth and Elliott, further back than normal, thirteenth. While Kyle burned rubber on the track before going to victory circle, we watched Matt’s crew dissemble the pit stand. The earlier piles of tires, giant Sunoco gas cans, and huge dollies were gone. All that remained was the smell of burnt tires and a little boy asking one of the pit crew for a lug nut. Okay, I had nothing to lose. After the boy walked away, I approached the same guy and introduced myself. I then admitted that I wasn’t twelve years old, but it surely would be nice to have something to share with the Lotta Sports’ readers. He motioned for me to wait and within a minute was back, placing five greasy lug nuts in my hand. The fueler smiled and said, “These are off of the 20 car.” Later when Rick and I discussed the moment, Rick mentioned the silver protective apron which the fueler was wearing. “What apron?” I asked. “I only saw his gorgeous brown eyes!” We laughed and headed off to the media center for press conferences with Brad Keselowski and Austin Dillion, the second and third place finishers followed by another with winner Kyle Busch, his crew chief Adam Stevens, and owner J.D. Gibbs. I was again chosen for a question; to Rick’s visual relief, I asked Kyle if he preferred Day or Night Racing. Kyle got a big grin and said, “That’s a great question.” He responded that car racing actually started with drag racing under the lights and that is his preference.
After another five hours of sleep and what turned into an eventful day three began. It started with the morning news reporting that a senator from Connecticut had asked Fox network not to broadcast the Sprint race since the sponsor was the NRA (National Rifle Association). There was another report that some of the drivers would not appear in press conferences at the media center because of the NRA logo in the background. I was working solo since Rick had to work at his normal job. I also discovered I was missing my camera charger and would have to stop by the store to get another. The negative tone for the day quickly changed when I found the charger still plugged into my outlet at the media center and then an invite to the media to go to the start/finish line and ride two laps in the pace car with former NASCAR driver Brett Bodine. I headed up to the meeting place and found people milling about, but no definite line. I saw another guy with a media badge so I stood with him. Then groups started forming so we relocated to one that appeared more organized. We quickly found out we were in with a tour group and were sent to another spot. A line of media began to form behind me. Meanwhile, the tour groups were given rides three at a time. We were on our fourth relocation so I asked someone who looked in charge if we were in the right place. He told our line to stay put. It was then that I realized the ride I was waiting for was not going to be a gingerly ride around the track. Now, we are talking about someone who doesn’t even like Ferris wheels and had ridden an upside down ride only once at Astroworld! I must have started to look nervous because the gal behind me said, “You can do this and it will be over in no time!” Suddenly I am climbing in the car behind Brett and barely had my seatbelt clamped when we departed! At first I was trying to take pictures and fortunately I changed to the video function. I captured every “Oh my God” followed by a sigh of relief when the car slowed up after leaving Turn 4 the second time. My heart was pounding and legs feeling a little shaky when I climbed back out, but I was glad I did it. The gal who had urged me to go cheered as I exited and off she went, shouting, “I heard the worst place to ride is on the passenger’s side since you go so close to the wall!” Someone must have been looking out after me when I got the seat behind Brett!
Just when I didn’t think the day could get any more exciting, I returned to the media center where a deli was introducing a sandwich named after Matt Kenseth. Matt chatted a while with us and then was open for an informal one on one session. There I was, talking to Matt about the airplane he used to own which was made in Kerrville. I also asked him about his departure from the last pit stop the night before, and then imitated the sound. He laughed and had me repeat it. Why do things never sound as good the second time around? The rest of the afternoon sped by quickly with everyone in the media center diligently working on their stories. The next thing I knew we were all back at pit row as final preparations for the start of the race began. Members of the military were lined up holding a huge flag. Temporary stages were in place at the start finish line and sounds of Sarah Evans in concert filtered through the stadium. Convertibles with each driver perched atop circled the field. Race cars covered with black covers lined pit row with owners, car sponsors and their families jammed around each car. It was impossible to get within twelve feet of crowd favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car. At each driver’s area, their number was being extended and colorful tapes placed on the pavement so the driver would know his small pit stop allowance area. The opening ceremonies started and included the introduction of the controversial sponsor. I had a brief moment of unease, then relief. As the sounds of the Star Spangled Banner filled the air, aircraft in formation flew over with a vapor stream of red, white and blue trailing behind them.
The race itself was three hours, twenty-seven minutes and forty seconds with an average speed of a hundred and forty-four miles per hour, much faster than the previous night’s one hundred and twenty-three. There were seven caution flags, three of them involving accidents. Pit row had its share of excitement when Matt Kenseth exited his pit area and overflow fuel was ignited on the pavement by a hot lug nut. Screams of “Fire!” filled the air. I could only see the intense smoke from two pit areas away but replays of the race showed one crew member’s leg on fire, explaining the protective head to toe gear the pit crew members don for each stop the driver makes. Kyle Busch again was first to see the checkered flag. Martin Truex, Jr. was forced to accept second place since his last pit stop was not turned as quickly as Kyle’s. An emotional Truex, Jr. vented frustration during the post-race interviews, noting the victory would have been his except for the precious seconds lost, determining a difference of two hundred and nine thousand dollars in winnings. Despite this, the exhausting weekend ended on a high-note when I met retired NFL Super Bowl Coach Joe Gibbs, owner of the winning car. And remember the stuffed dog I eyed at the midway? Rick presented one to me the following morning … the perfect closure to an awesome experience!
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I am officially pumped. Both my NASCAR drivers are on a new team! Both look like fast cars! ‘Gonna be a fun season, I hope. Today I ordered our seats and pit passes for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series Race on April 12th at Texas Motor Speedway. We’re on turn 4, lower part of upper section 429. Last year I had a blast in the pit watching time trials. Already have several friends also here for race weekend. Rick still needs to get the day off and I might have a job which works Fridays until 6PM….but its located in Roanoke which is minutes away from the track. Minor details… LOL…
PICTURES FROM LAST SPRING