Posts Tagged TMS
A fun day!! Caught up with driver Timmy Hill — he will never forget when we met in 2013. It was pre-race and he was checking things at their pit-box. “Now what is it you do with the team?” “I am the driver….” Every year we laugh about that. Saw Garrett after qualifying and got to meet his sponsor.
Race was what I expected — it’s playoff time and all bets are off — 1st yellow flag was in 1st lap when pole winner Christopher Bell spun — the race had 13 cautions. Garrett flirted with 10th at one point — excellent for a small team. He was involved in late race accident and still got a top 20.
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.
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!
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.
NASCAR weekend is not complete without real action!! Thanks to EJ Coleman and Jimmy Hurd of Ingersoll Rand for helping me with the lug nuts experience. click here for the action. (and there are more videos at the end of the pictures)
There’s more to RCR’s Brendan Gaughan than just racing! My fun one-on-one with the South Point driver will be in the May issue of HCH. Here’s a preview!
IN THE PIT
BEING A FAN IS WHAT NASCAR IS ALL ABOUT
IT’S ALL ABOUT RACING
CARS, CARS AND MORE CARS
Check out these action videos!
Restart under the lights.
Unusual Start — Race started with track still being dried
The track is dry — Let’s go racing!!
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!
Next month I will have coverage of the April event at Texas Motor Speedway. There’s already a lot of hype over a Stewart-Logano faceoff!
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