Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Race Week Got Better on Friday: My Bristol Experience (Part II)

Yesterday I shared with you my experiences at Bristol Motor Speedway last Wednesday. Today, I bring you part II, in which I share with you about what all happened before, during, and after the Food City 250 last Friday.

By the time my alarm went off Friday morning, I was more than ready to hit the road and return to Bristol. Thankfully I only live just over an hour from the track. My best friend Hope was with me for the drive that day. We met up with Jordan—my best friend who had gone to the Truck race with me—and her friend Lindsey at Waffle House for breakfast before going on to the track.

The gates opened at 9:00a.m., and the four of us arrived around 10:00a.m. We stopped by the SPEED stage while NASCAR Live was being filmed. I’m not sure if I was ever visible in the crowd on TV, but I was absolutely cracking up at the guy with the Kyle Busch sign. As I mentioned in yesterday’s article, I am a Kyle Busch fan, but the sign was just too funny! For those of you who know what I’m talking about, I’m sure you are sitting in front of your computer screen laughing right now as you remember it too.

After that, we made a quick stop at the souvenir haulers. Being a Roush Fenway Racing fan, I had a shirt of all the drivers, except Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. so I made my way to Biffle’s souvenir hauler. I had every intention of getting a Biffle shirt, until I spotted the Stenhouse, Jr. shirt. This might make me sound crazy—and I very well might actually be!—but I started jumping up and down excitedly as I told the lady working at the hauler I wanted that shirt. As she gets a shirt for me, she informs me that they also have an autographed hat too. It should come as no surprise that I ended up with both the shirt and the hat. I sure looked like a die-hard fan once I took my seat in the stands, sporting a Colin Braun t-shirt and a Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. hat. (Just an FYI, I always have on two different drivers’ gear when I’m at the track.) Friday was virtually nonstop action as both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup drivers ran practice and qualifying sessions under mostly sunny skies. Hope and I sat on the backstretch during Nationwide practice to get good pictures of the teams working on the cars. You see, during the day not many people are there so you can move all over the track to watch the practice and qualifying sessions. When Cup practice began, we moved around to the front stretch to get pictures of those teams too. The first practice session ended around 2:00p.m and the next Cup practice was set to start around 2:45p.m. To get out of the sun and cool off, Hope and I went under the stands to walk around. As we were walking, I heard a familiar voice to my left. I stopped dead in my tracks, which prompted Hope to ask me what was going on. Sitting on a golf cart talking to someone as he waited for practice to start back up, was Mike Calinoff, Matt Kenseth’s spotter. Being a Kenseth fan, I had recognized Mike the second I heard him speaking. Keep in mind, I don’t listen to the scanner on the weekends, and I had never met Mike before. I had only heard him talk during a few TV interviews and the couple times I was able to listen to the scanner earlier this season. Instead of simply waving at him or just walking on, I walked right up to Mike and said hi. I told him I was a Kenseth fan and that I wanted to wish him, Matt, and the team good luck. He said “Thank you, I appreciate it. We’ll try to win one for ya!” At that point, I thought that chance encounter with Mike would be the highlight of that Friday for me. I had no idea what would happen about an hour later!

While sitting through final practice, I watched as A. J. Allmendinger spun down the frontstretch in front of where I was sitting. He had spun out not too long before that on the backstretch. Somehow I had a feeling that if he didn’t repeat that in qualifying, then he would definitely repeat it in the race on Saturday. Sometimes I hate being right!

Cup final practice ended at 3:30p.m. Hope then tells me she had seen a sign outside the track that David David had an appearance at the Ford display stage at 4:15p.m. Immediately, we headed outside the track to the Ford display located near the hospitality area outside turn 4 for the Q&A David was scheduled to do. During the Q&A, I made sure I was front and center because the last time David did a Q&A, I was way in the back because I had gotten to the stage so late. He is my second favorite driver— second only to Matt Kenseth. And trust me, it’s such a close 2nd some people think Ragan is my favorite driver. Truth be told…they might be right. Anyway, I was able to ask David a question during the Q&A. I asked him what the team’s main goal was coming into the 2010 season. He said their goal was to win a race and make the Chase. He said he realized that making the Chase was no longer something they could accomplish in 2010 and that getting that first Cup win was the team’s main goal for the rest of the season. After the Q&A ended, Ragan walked off the stage and immediately, many of the fans present were asking him for an autograph.

As for me, I wasn’t interested in getting his autograph. I wanted a picture with him because, as cliché as it sounds, a picture truly is worth a thousand words. So as I made my way through the crowd of people to ask if he’d take a picture with me, he raised his Sharpie and was about to sign my shirt when I stopped him. That was when he realized I wasn’t wearing a Ragan shirt. I said, “Hi, David, will you take a picture with me?” He replied, “Sure, just hang on a second.” Then he smiled and patted my shoulder and signed more autographs. He was just trying to sign the autographs to get the crowd to clear out. Once the crowd thinned, he stepped up beside me and I handed the camera to Hope so she could take the picture. I thanked David for taking a picture with me and stepped out of the way. Hope asked him to sign the can coozie she had. I had to put my hand over my mouth to keep from laughing when he squeezed it twice before signing it. If only I had gotten a picture of the look on his face when he squeezed it! As Hope and I started to walk away, I turned back. David was signing another autograph. I called his name, but he didn’t hear me. So I reached out and touched his arm so he would look up. He smiled at me and I said, “I just wanted to wish you good luck tomorrow, David.” He kept smiling and said “Thanks. I appreciate it.”

For those of you who might have bad opinions of David Ragan, I just have to tell you he is one of the nicest guys on and off the track.

I don’t remember much about that walk back to my seat in the stands. I had just met my second favorite driver, and my brain could barely comprehend it! David Ragan is also the only Cup driver I have ever met. Finally, I turned my focus back to the on-track action for qualifying. Elliott Sadler took the pole for the Nationwide race, which many fans were happy to see. For Cup qualifying, Carl Edwards shot to the pole only to be knocked off that top spot by Jimmie Johnson. I’m not a Johnson fan, so I wasn’t too thrilled he knocked Edwards off the pole.

Shortly before driver intros began for the Nationwide race, the fans sitting around me and Hope noticed a praying mantis under the row Hope and I were sitting on. We left it alone, figuring if we did so, it would leave us alone. However, it decided that joining the fans would be better. Without me or Hope noticing, it crawled out and flew up to land on the shoulder of a woman sitting behind us. She screamed so loud I thought someone was in major trouble. I turned to see the praying mantis on her shoulder. One fan nearby yelled out “What is that? I’ve never seen one of those!” Then some fans started taking pictures of it. The woman was still freaking out over the bug until a little girl, probably seven years old, walked over to her and picked the bug up. The little girl stood there admiring the huge bug until it flew off and landed on the catchfence. For those of you wondering, seeing a praying mantis in the stands at Bristol is not that uncommon. I’ve seen at least two every time I’ve gone.

Once the Food City 250 got underway that night, it soon became apparent that Kyle Busch would once again be the driver to beat. He was taken out of contention in the race in 2009, and on Friday night, he would not be denied the win a second time. As the race unfolded, I had actually turned my attention to the battle between Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Brian Scott for the 10th position when Justin Allgaier got into Kasey Kahne coming into turn 1. I didn’t see the wreck happen, but Hope hit my arm and made me look up. I looked over in time to see Kahne’s car sideways, the right wheels atop the SAFER barrier in turn one, as he took a wild ride through the turn. I was speechless as his car rolled off the wall and came to a stop on the apron. I breathed a sigh of relief as Kahne walked away uninjured.

A controversial move off of turn 4 in which Busch wrecked Brad Keselowski had many fans in the stands riled up. I’m not sure who the fans disliked more, Busch or Keselowski, but it seemed everyone was mad at Busch for spinning Keselowski out. As for me, I’m a fan of both drivers, and while I considered the move just one of those classic Bristol moves to gain the lead, I couldn’t help but think that Keselowski got the short end of the stick on that deal. Since he’s on probation, he couldn’t retaliate. I could elaborate on the my feelings about that, but I’ll just refrain and tell you all more about my experiences.


I had wanted to see Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. or Brian Ickler, who was in the #16 instead of Colin Braun, get the win. Both did okay, but neither of them were able to even contend for the win. Ickler did okay, and with about 30 laps to go, Stenhouse, Jr. scraped the wall in turn three as he was running around the 20th position.

As Kyle Busch took the checkered flag on Friday, all I could see from where I sitting (I was in row 4!) was the smoke from his burnout. I will say he does the best burnouts I’ve ever seen! Many fans made it clear they were not happy with the fact Busch had won again. I heard many creative ways on how to describe the young driver. However, one Kyle Busch fan looked at a group of fans who were obviously not Busch fans, and yelled, "Thanks for coming to the Kyle Busch Show! Y'all come back now, ya hear!"

I left that night looking forward to Saturday. Would Busch make history to become Bristol’s 100th Cup winner and the only driver to win all three races in one weekend? And what else would happen that could possibly make my trip to Bristol even better?

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Tune in for tomorrow to ‘History Was Made on Saturday: My Bristol Experience (Part III)’. I’ll share with you about walking through the rain and getting completely soaked before ducking into the Bruton Smith building, how my dream of being on the track before a race started came true, and how I witnessed NASCAR history being made firsthand.

Photo courtesy of Whitney's personal collection.

Photo 1: My best friend Hope (right) and I in the stands during practice.

Photo 2: Nationwide crews work on the racecars during practice.

Photo 3: A.J. Allmendinger spins out on the backstretch.

Photo 4: David Ragan and I after the Q&A.

Photo 5: My view of Kyle Busch's burnout. Nothing but smoke!

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