Back Seat Driver goes trackside at Texas

Photo by Lisa Janine Cloud for Skirts and Scuffs

I've never seen or felt anything like it.
When 43 cars streak past you at 200-or-so mph, just yards away, it takes your breath away. At least it did mine.

Standing in the Turn Two grandstands at Texas Motor Speedway, watching a NASCAR Sprint Cup race live for the first time, I had the next-best thing to a religious experience. Seeing a race on television and standing.right.there. are two completely different things. The camera slows the appearance of speed to a degree you simply cannot appreciate from your La-Z-Boy. And you can "Crank It Up" all you want, but your best theater surround-sound system will never remotely approach the roar of a pack of 865hp engines as they thunder into the the high-banked turns of The Great American Speedway.

One of the Media Center assistants called it a "highly-organized traveling circus." And make no mistake, TMS president Eddie Gossage does his level best to live up to the "No Limits" sentiment emblazoned around the track. From Kyle Petty on a real, live, bucking bull to a goat-dressing contest to concerts by Foreigner and Trace Adkins, plus various other sideshow/midway-style amusements, race attendees were treated to quite the experience.

But for me it was all about the cars, the drivers, and the teams that put them on the track.

Images that stand out in my mind:

That first glimpse of the speedway when emerging from the infield tunnel. I knew it was huge, but was not completely prepared for the impact of enormity of the track and grandstands.

Seeing the cars speed out of the garage onto the track for practice.

Walking through the garage hearing the engines rev while prepping for tech, walking away with my ears buzzing.

Coming out of the garage area with smell of exhaust fumes clinging to my clothing and burned into my nostrils.

Walking down pit road, watching the crews ready their equipment for the race. Seeing their commitment to their jobs regardless of what team it was or where they stood in the points.

Standing on pit road during the invocation and national anthem, directly under the path of the flyover and right behind the National Guard contingency.

Hearing the "most famous words in motorsports" and the corresponding roar as forty-three engines fired.

Marveling at how fast the cars moved off pit road.

Watching, hearing, feeling the final pace lap increase in intensity as the leaders came out of Turn Four to take the green flag.

Standing in the grandstands, feeling the cars fly past. Seeing how close they actually were to each other and holding my breath as they hurtled onto the backstretch, wondering how in the world they would ever be able to keep from hitting each other.

Standing behind pit road, right across from the Start-Finish line, to see the white flag fly and only a matter of seconds later seeing the winner cross the line in a blur of color.

Of course, this particular race experience was enhanced by the storyline. The top two in points battling for the win. The challenger delivering on his promise to make things difficult for the points leader. The marketing-savvy promoter playing up the event as if it were a heavyweight boxing match.

Yet even without that storyline, the sheer drama of the entire spectacle was, in the true sense of the word, awesome.

I've been following NASCAR since 1998. I couldn't tell you how many Cup races I've seen broadcast since that time, but I can tell you this: I'll never watch a televised race the same way again.

I will also tell you that the Texas AAA 500 will not be the last race I see in person.

I'm hooked.
Back Seat Driver goes trackside at Texas Back Seat Driver goes trackside at Texas Reviewed by Janine Cloud on Tuesday, November 08, 2011 Rating: 5