Monday, August 30, 2010

History Was Made on Saturday: My Bristol Experience (Part III)

Many apologies for the delay in getting this posted! This is the third and final part recounting my Bristol experiences. I hope you all have enjoyed reading them as much as I have enjoyed sharing them with you!

Since the race was the only on-track action on Saturday, the gates did not open until 1:00p.m. I left my house and picked up my cousin Kayla around noon. The weather was dreary. It was sprinkling rain as we left my cousin’s house. Kayla, who is a die-hard Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fan, is also a David Gilliland fan. When you ask her why she’s a Gilliland fan, she’ll respond “Because he wrecked Montoya!” Just as a side note, the incident she’s referring to happened two seasons ago! Proudly sporting her David Gilliland shirt, Kayla was excited to be back at Bristol for her 2nd ever Cup race. The rain was pouring down when we arrived at the track, which was around 2:30p.m. Kayla and I both had ponchos, but we both still questioned how smart it had been to wear white t-shirts.

So for the second day that week, I went to the Bruton Smith building and ducked into the Fan Relations office, hoping to run into Ben Trout again. As it turns out, Ben had something special for the fans in the office. He called us all over and began to explain to us about the driver introductions. Then he told us that he had some pre-race passes he wanted to hand out. So, I got one for me and one for Kayla. With the chance to be on the track before the race started, everyone who held a pre-race pass in their hand looked at the gray skies, hoping the rain would stop so driver introductions wouldn’t be cancelled.

We hung around the Bruton Smith building after that even though the rain had stopped. Jeff Gluck was hosting a tweetup outside the building, and I planned on attending it at 3:30p.m. For those of you that don’t know, a ‘tweetup’ is a gathering of Twitter users. Although, I’m sure you all knew that. As it got closer to the time of the tweetup, Kayla and I stepped outside, surprised to see it had stopped raining. I was immediately greeted by someone calling out my name. I looked over to see Becca. (Some of you know her as Rebecca Kivak, who is also a member of the Skirts and Scuffs team.) Becca and I had been texting each other in the days leading up to the race. We were both excited to be meeting each other for the first time. I was ecstatic to finally meet another member of the Skirts and Scuffs team! We talked for a few minutes before joining the crowd at the tweetup. There were so many people who showed up! The estimate I heard was that nearly 100 people had come to it. It was so great getting to meet so many people I spend a lot of time on the weekends discussing NASCAR with!

Mike Calinoff also came to the tweetup and had ARCA series driver Brandon McReynolds with him. I was excited to be able to meet Brandon. I talked to Brandon for a minute, and he signed an autograph for me. Then I went to talk to Mike again. Mike smiled and said “Saw you yesterday!” I couldn’t believe he remembered me! I laughed and said, “Yep. And again, I’d like to wish you, Matt, and the team good luck today.” Mike replied, “Thanks. And I just want you to know, I see your messages to me on Twitter. I appreciate it, and the guys do too. It means a lot to us.” At that very moment, I don’t think anything could have wiped the smile off my face. You see, before each race, I post a Twitter update wishing Matt Kenseth, Mike Calinoff, Jimmy Fennig, and the team good luck. It truly made me happy to know that Mike was seeing that message every race day. I finally got a chance to meet and talk to Mary Lou Hamlin. She is such a friendly person. She told me the story as to how her little dog, Bristol, got his name. Let's just say, it only made me respect Denny Hamlin even more!

After the tweetup, I talked to Becca for a few more minutes before going to the Matt Kenseth fan tweetup with Rae, who runs Matt Kenseth’s website and the Matt Kenseth Fan Club page on Twitter (@KensethClub). While showing up at a Kenseth fan tweetup wearing a David Ragan t-shirt isn’t exactly a good idea, I did it anyway. I did it in March too, and one Kenseth fan was none too pleased about it. But, as I said in Part II, I always have on two different drivers’ gear. I also had on a Kenseth visor, earrings, and even a Kenseth dogtag necklace. So I was supporting Kenseth too, and this time around, none of the Kenseth fans present had any objections to the fact I am a Ragan fan. After talking to the Kenseth fans for a while, we took a group photo, then Kayla and I left.

Kayla and I immediately headed for the Ford stage since A.J. Allmendinger had an appearance there, but as soon as we got there, A.J. was leaving. By then it was a little after 5:00p.m. Since our pre-race passes required us to be at the track entrance gate at 6:00, Kayla and I decided the best thing to do was go to the gate. About 5:50, Rae met back up with me and Kayla, and the three of us went on through the gate and onto the track.

With each step I took, I had to keep telling myself it wasn’t a dream that I was on the track before the race was set to start. As we walked through the gate at turn 3, one of the security guards told us we needed to go on around to the stage at the frontstretch. I knew that wasn’t right, because when the drivers come out for intros, they walk across the stage that is set up at the turn 3 gate. Ben had told us we would stand next to the stage at turn 3. Just to make the security guard happy, we obliged and walked around to the frontstretch. I immediately began taking pictures of the cars on pit road. I stood by the pit road wall and had Kayla take a picture of me standing near David Ragan’s car. Then I made Kayla go near David Gilliland’s car so I could take a picture of her with it. Kayla, Rae, and I remained on the frontstretch before going back to turn 3 where the other stage had been set up.

As driver intros began, a group of 30-40 people who had been given pre-race passes from Ben cheered every driver, no matter who it was. Although, it was still evident which drivers had the most fans. When Ragan walked out, I didn’t hear many cheers, but I cheered and waved as he walked onto the stage. He looked at me and smiled. I wondered if he remembered me from the day before. However, I think the most memorable minute for me was when David Gilliland walked out. I don’t recall hearing any cheers from the stands, but as Gilliland walked to the stage, Kayla yelled out as loud as she could, “Go Gilliland!” He stopped for a second and looked at her. He saw that Kayla was wearing a shirt with his name on across the front. Gilliland smiled and waved at her. I’m convinced there was no happier eighteen-year-old girl on the planet than at that moment when Kayla was acknowledged by one of her favorite drivers.

One by one, the drivers walked across the stage. A few of them got the crowd riled up. Some made the crowd laugh. Then came Brad Keselowski. I heard many boos from the crowd as he walked out. At least until, Keselowski called Kyle Busch an “A--“ in front of close to 160,000 people. I have never heard the crowd cheer so loud! Just to further prove the fact that Bristol fans do not like Kyle Busch, the fans pretty much booed Busch out of the place when he later walked across the stage. Yet, Busch took all the jeers with a smile. I can’t help but to admire him. He refuses to worry about what the fans think of him. He lets his racing do the talking.

As soon as the intros ended, those of us near the stage were ushered off the track. Kayla and I immediately headed for our seats. We were sitting in row two, right off of turn two. I had never sat so low for a Cup race. The lowest I had ever sat was row 42 on the frontstretch. Honestly, I would rather sit higher up, where I have a clear view of the entire track. But hey, the pair of Cup tickets I had were free so I won’t complain! I had won them through Bristol’s 100 day giveaway promotion. As I stood for the national anthem, the flyover sent chills down my spine. I’ll never know why, but flyovers always give me chills. Once the engines finally fired, the crowd was on their feet.

The green flag waved, and I don’t think I sat down until twenty laps had been completed. Being a Kenseth and Ragan fan, I had to keep switching back and forth on which driver I wanted to concentrate on. To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention to the lead. Lap 126 was when I almost lost interest in the race entirely. Ragan got hit by Allmendinger in turn one and spun out. The rear of his car slammed the wall. The driver’s side of Ragan’s car turned to the oncoming cars. Kayla and I both grabbed each other’s hand. I remember both of us screaming “Please don’t let anyone hit him!” Thankfully the other drivers avoided him.

With Ragan’s chances of winning over, I was completely heartbroken. However, just like Ragan and his crew, I refused to give up. Even when he was bringing up the rear, I cheered every time he went by.

Following a restart, Juan Pablo Montoya got into Jimmie Johnson, which sent Johnson into the wall. Cheers erupted from the stands. Bristol fans, myself included, don't seem to like Johnson too much.

Honestly, I don’t remember much else during the race, other than the fact it wasn’t as thrilling as the previous two had been that week. I wanted a caution toward the end to bunch the field back up so David Reutimann, who was in 2nd, and Jamie McMurray in 3rd would have a shot to win. Many fans still booed Kyle Busch as he brought home the win for the third time that week. As for me, I was amazed he won.

The last three Bristol races were the 8th, 9th, and 10th times I had gone to Bristol. As a die-hard race fan, I always enjoy every second I spend at the track. This year’s fall race week at Bristol Motor Speedway was the best one of my life so far thanks to: Ben Trout, who proved the folks at Bristol really do their best to help fans get the most out of their time at the track; Mike Calinoff, for being one of the nicest spotters in the sport of NASCAR; and to David Ragan, for taking a minute to make this NASCAR fan’s day simply by taking a picture. I’m already making plans to go back to Bristol next March, and after my experiences this year, I have no idea how much better it could get. I just can’t wait to be back at the World’s Fastest Half-Mile in 2011!

And on a personal note, I would like to congratulate Kyle Busch again on his sweep of the Bristol races. It was an amazing feat that nobody else had ever been able to accomplish. I’m so thankful I was able to attend all the races and see NASCAR history be made.
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Photos courtesy of Whitney's personal collection.

Photo 1: Becca and I during the tweetup.

Photo 2: Mary Lou Hamlin and I during the tweetup. And yes, that's little Bristol she's holding!

Photo 3: Group photo of the Kenseth fans who came to the Matt Kenseth Fan Club tweetup.

Photo 4: A view down the backstretch pit lane before the race.

Photo 5: The No. 18 congratulating Kyle Busch on his victory in the Irwin Tools Night Race.

Want to see more of Whitney's photos? Check out the following links!

UNOH 150/O'Reilly 200 race day pictures


Practice, qualifying, and Food City 250 race pictures


Irwin Tools Night Race pictures

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