One day in February, not long after my husband Kevin and I went to the
Daytona 500, I tweeted that one of the things on my bucket list was to ride in a pace car during a NASCAR race.
I wrote it not thinking I’d get much of a response other than maybe a “me, too” from another NASCAR fan. But was I ever surprised when Brandon Mudd, the Public Relations and Media Manager for Gateway Raceway, replied to me a few minutes later.
My first reaction was, “Yeah, right.” Then after a few Twitter, LinkedIn and e-mail interchanges, I realized that this was actually going to happen. All I had to do was get myself (and my hubby) to St. Louis the weekend of July 16 & 17.
Gateway Raceway provided my husband Kevin and me with Hot Pit / Garage / Media Center passes, along with passes to Victory Circle, and even Infield Parking. If you’re not a NASCAR fan this is what it means:
- Hot Pit Passes: We were able to stay in the pit area (where the car & truck teams are during the race) before and through the entire race, meeting as many drivers and teams as we wanted to. We just had to be sure to stay out of their way when they were working.
- Garage: We could see what the teams were doing to get the cars & trucks set up for the races.
- Media Center: We had a place to cool off and relax a bit. The temps were into the 100s, and it was 135 for a while on pit road.
- Victory Circle: Before and after the races, we stood in the Victory Circle area. I was able to get a lot of great pictures of drivers chatting with each other before the driver intros, and I was right there as Kevin Harvick drove up his winning truck for the CampingWorld.com 200 race. We even got to see the infamous Hat Dance.
- Infield Parking: This made it easy for us to go back to our car as needed to cool off and get refreshments. For a while, we even turned the car around so it was facing the track, and watched parts both races from the air-conditioned comfort of our cars.
They did the driver intros, which was fun to watch from behind the scenes as the drivers chatted with and teased each other as they waited their turn to be introduced in qualifying order.
Then it was time for the National Anthem. Lincoln Brewster, lead singer and guitarist for a Christian band, prepared to play the song. But there was no power for his electric guitar. He was urged to just sing it a capella, like it’s usually done . . . but he admitted he didn’t know all the words! Yikes. So then it was time to watch Brandon and his team scramble around to find someone who — with no notice or practice — could and would sing the National Anthem before a NASCAR race, on national television. (I would have volunteered, but I think my hubby of almost 25 years would have walked out on me if I did. And if you heard my singing voice, you’d have turned the channel quickly, too!)
All of a sudden, NASCAR’s Jimmy Small volunteered to sing it. Whew! Crisis avoided. Jimmy approached the stage . . . then the power came back on enough for Lincoln Brewster to go ahead with his Jimi Hendrix-inspired rendition of the National Anthem.
And the power stayed off. As it turns out, there was a major power problem offsite. Brandon wrote and distributed a news release from the Media Center with the details. I just happened to peek through the window as he was writing.
The truck race was delayed until Saturday at 12:30 . . . which meant that the nice, coolish evening race we had planned for was now going to be a part of a LONG double-header day of racing on Saturday.
We went back to the hotel to cool down, then headed back to the track on Saturday morning after a fantastic breakfast of the best corned beef hash I’ve ever had at Crepes, Etc. We made a quick stop for supplies, including some Baskin and Robins hard candy for Tati Papis, who had recently lamented on Twitter that the ice cream lady at the track was nowhere to be found.
Our first stop when we got back to the track was at Max Papis‘ hauler. I think I surprised Max when I introduced myself to him (trying not to sound like a fangirl!), but then asked for him to see if his wife Tati would come out. I gave the ice cream candies to a laughing Tati. Then Tati, Max and his crew chief Bootie Barker posed for a photo with me. Nice folks, all of them!
Here’s some video I took with my Flip camera of the CampingWorld.com 200 race (before, during and after), including the Hat Dance by race winner Kevin Harvick and his team. This short video includes the command “Drivers start your engines,” trucks rolling off pit road, racing to green, a few pit stops, then the post-race in Victory Circle.
For the next few hours, we milled around in the pits, the garage and the media center. I took about 250 pictures that day. You can see the best of them in my Picasa web album.
Finally it was time for what I (thought I) had come to the track for: my ride in a pace car during a race, the Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250 to be exact. The National Anthem was sung without a hitch, then Brandon walked me down pit road for my ride in the car. I took video with my Flip camera (from the back seat) throughout the two laps I had on the track.
The Bottom Line: I was able to cross one item off my Bucket List. The ride was fun, and I came away with even more. Throughout the weekend at Gateway Raceway, I was constantly amazed by how approachable the drivers are and how much access the fans have to them. What other sport lets you up so close, not just before a game, but during?
Many, many thanks to Brandon Mudd for responding to my tweet that I thought would go unanswered.
(PS: A Confession :: We didn’t stay until the end of the Nationwide race to see Carl Edwards win. We were exhausted and drained from the 100+ temps, even though we’re Floridians now and drank more than a gallon water each during the day. We listened to the race on MRN radio in the car on the way back to our hotel, then watched the final 50 or so laps from our air-conditioned room with our feet up — and lots of great memories of the day.)