Monday, April 25, 2011

Why I Love NASCAR: Live Cup Races Part II by Chief 187

Cheif 187 returns to the track after many years to witness Kurt Busch win the 2007 Pennsylvania 500 - Jason Smith / Getty Images for NASCAR
My love affair with NASCAR ran hot and cold. I was a terrific fan when my driver, Dale Earnhardt, was winning races and championships. After leaving the South for my native New Jersey my interests divested. I was not among those who enjoyed NASCAR, save my husband, so I let that part of my life take a back seat to other more northern-friendly pursuits. My husband, a loyal viewer and fan, tried to talk NASCAR with me, and I’d try to watch a race here and there, but my heart wasn’t entirely in it. Then I decided to join my husband to watch the drama that is the Daytona 500. I was always willing to start the season and had adored seeing my driver win the 500 in 1998 and receive high fives from every single person on pit road. Maybe he would bring home another victory. It was 2001; Dale and his two drivers for DEI were running first through third. Then, the unthinkable happened and my time as an active NASCAR driver ended. I thought it was going to be forever.
My husband continued to watch NASCAR. I did for a few weeks after Dale’s death; I cheered Kevin Harvick to victory and cried like Chocolate did, unabashedly. I stood up and rejoiced when Junior won in Daytona that July, and cried some more. Eventually I didn’t have the strength to cry anymore. I stepped away. I lost track of who ran what number for what team with what sponsor. I would glaze over when my husband explained a great bit of racing he had witnessed on the television at a NASCAR race. I was done with NASCAR. I handed in my fan card. Until 2007 and social networking came to call.
As a mother of two and a stay-at-home mom I was figuring out my role in my own life. I adored being home with my children, but I definitely felt life was starting to pass me by and I also felt my husband and I needed to get closer. We want to be together and enjoy one another long after the kids leave the nest, and I know that staying friends is a huge part of that equation. So, when he joined a NASCAR social networking group, started ‘blogging’, and made many virtual friends (many of whom were attractive women), I decided to join, too! It was the night of the Coca Cola 600 in May. I was pontificating about the race (I decided to start watching again so I had something to contribute in discussions). My husband said, “Enough! Don’t say it, BLOG it!” He signed me up, gave me my pseudonym “Chief 187” as a complement to his “Racer 187”, and I was off and typing. NASCAR had brought my husband and me closer, writing back into my life, and a virtual world full of amazing friends.
Within a couple of months we felt so much a part of this online community that we desperately wanted to meet up with them. A race meet up was planned for Pocono. My parents, good eggs both of them, agreed to watch our sons so we could go to the race, located about 75 minutes away. We knew Pocono as my husband had been racing there for years with the Vintage Sports Car Club of America (VSCCA). We’d go up every April for the inaugural race of the VSCCA season. We’d never been to a NASCAR race at that venue so we were awaiting the magic that we know to exist.
Race day traffic starts early. We got to the Blakeslee exit off of Route 80 and cars were stopped, lined up bumper to bumper by 9am. Like the Martinsville race in 1992 that I attended, the race day traffic going to the race was jovial, festive, and pleasant. The tiny Pennsylvania town embraced the swelled traffic and tried to capitalize on it with signs from water for sale to NASCAR memorabilia and parking. In fact, the pivotal decision of the day would be where to park; either dump the car early and walk to the track or try to park much closer. We opted for trying our luck and parking closer to the track, a fateful decision.
In the post 9/11 world, security was heightened at the race. A difference from the 1992 race we attended was a slew of see through back packs that grew out of the backs of race goers. Once in, we saw the endless field of haulers selling driver gear. The #3 was still prevalent among the haulers and race fans. Names like Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kurt Busch were among the teams selling well.
Once we met up with our online friends, fast friendships offline grew. We clicked immediately and headed to the filming of the live Raceday program on Speed hosted by John Roberts, Jimmy Spencer, and Kenny Wallace. They were sponsored by Home Depot who was still Tony Stewart’s sponsor. During commercial breaks the guys would throw orange plastic construction hats into the crowd. My son’s favorite driver after Jeff Gordon was Tony Stewart so when one came flying my way, I was determined to catch it. I leapt into the air higher than this white woman had ever jumped before and snagged the inner lining of the hat. Momentum had the hat still moving when a beefy man to my back left grabbed it. I had not let go as this hat was mine. I looked at the giant and said, “NO.” I was not going to be denied what was rightfully mine. My mother’s tone intimidated this man which was a relief to my husband who, when he recalls the tale, didn’t want a redeaux  of when Cale Yarborough taught Bobby Allison a lesson at the 1979 Daytona 500 by beating his face against Bobby’s fist!
We knew this event was an once-in-a-lifetime experience so we bought seats in the same section as our online friends, contest winners from the site we all visit. It was fantastic with lavish seats, numerous private restrooms, and a fabulous buffet. The race, exciting from start to finish, saw Kurt Busch dominate the day, but cars 2 through 15 dicing it up constantly! I particularly recall Dale Junior, during the last caution, came to pit road so his pit crew could change a shock, which they did without going down a lap!
Earnhardt Jr.'s Pit Crew performs on pit road - 2007 Pennsylvania 500 - Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR
Upon the completion of the race the mass exodus began, but we wanted to hang with our friends longer. We shopped at the haulers. My husband purchased a prized “Parking for Michael Waltrip  Racing Fans Only” sign signed by Michael Waltrip himself. We said our goodbyes, promised to stay in touch (which we most definitely have) and began the long walk back to the car. Like not drinking/having caffeine four hours before bedtime, it is not recommended to drink anything at all during race day at Pocono, because it takes an eternity to get to your car, get out of your space, get into the lane to exit, and to get to Route 80. A trip that normally takes little over an hour stretched to an excruciating 3+ hours in which I had to pee for ALL of it!
Going to my second live NASCAR Cup race solidified my fandom in the post-Earnhardt era. I came back to NASCAR with the intentions of finding common ground with my husband, try out my hand at writing, and make a new community of friends. All that and more has come to fruition. And now, with a few twists of fate, I’m making a living through NASCAR. Going to a live NASCAR Cup race fifteen years after my first one is yet another reason why I love NASCAR.

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