The Frontstretch: That's History! NASCAR's Checkered (Flag) Past, One Story at a Time: Parking Shots by Amy Henderson -- Thursday April 28, 2005

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It seemed like a big chunk of last Saturday’s Busch race at Phoenix was taking place in a big parking lot, what with the red flags and all. That got me thinking about parking lots in general, and parking lots at the racetrack in particular. Which reminded me of several great stories.

What’s different about these stories compared to most of the stories is that they really happened. Okay, that came out wrong. ALL of the stories in my column really happened. I hope. But these, with the exception of the first gem, really happened TO ME. Really. I’m not making them up. After you read them, you’ll understand; who would WANT to make them up?

The first parking lot story is a famous one and the traffic jams before and after races always make me think of it. During the first Southern 500 at Darlington, tire wear was an issue. So much of an issue, in fact, that many teams found themselves without any tires left. So, they improvised. Back in those early days, stock car racing actually involved stock cars, and so the cars parked outside provided an obvious, if felonious, solution. Problem over, the race continued to its conclusion.

Now, I’ve never returned to my car (or more recently, my truck) to find the tires pilfered by some desperate race team in need of just one more set. But it seems as though, for some reason, all my best racing stories have taken place in, or on the way to, a parking lot. I’m not sure what kind of statement that makes about me. I’m not sure I want to know, either.

My racing buddy is usually my Aunt Kathy, and the two of us have really had some stories to tell over the years. One of our first parking lot adventures was one hot summer night at New Hampshire International Speedway (the scene of the crime for most of these, in fact) after a late get-together after Happy Hour. Anyway, by the time we headed back up the hill-and if you’ve ever been to Loudon, you know which hill I mean, out back of turns three and four, that big sucker-it was pitch dark out. “C’mon, we’re parked over there,” I said.

“No, we’re not; we’re over there,” Kathy objected. Uh-oh. Suffice it to say we eventually found my car. I stress eventually.

A couple of years later, same parking lot, Kathy and I had arrived early on Sunday and followed the helpful directions of approximately nine million parking attendants (none of whom, by the way, ever make an appearance AFTER a race) to the spot they wanted me to park. I’m an agreeable sort, and happily obliged. Except, when I tried to stop in the indicated spot-nothing doing. No brakes. None. I stomped on the emergency brake in time to keep from running over the parking attendant. Poor elderly man, I’m pretty sure that might have been the fastest he moved in a while. That was a long day, too. A rain delay lengthened the race, and our ride home, the police chief from a local town who helps out with track security, was on duty for a couple of hours after the race. Bob Bahre did ask us if we were alright when he spotted us waiting in the track offices later. Much later. But the police chief did have a shortcut to try on the way home. We only got lost once.

These stories are seemingly endless. There was the time, by sheer coincidence, that I ended up parked NEXT TO the person I was supposed to meet up with at NHIS, and whom I’d never laid eyes on in person before that day. There was the inebriated and enthusiastic Travis Kvapil fan at Milwaukee who insisted on a picture because “You’re hot!” (flattering, but taken with a grain of tequila salt). Kathy and I carting the driver stand-up up the hill at Loudon, and then trying to fit it in my car, because it didn’t fold. It poked me in the ear all the way home, and four guys made fun of my driver choice before offering me several beers.

Then there was the rain/hailstorm that drenched everyone thoroughly about 5 minutes after a Busch race at New Hampshire. Apparently, for some fans this merely extended the entertainment. “Look, a wet t-shirt contest!” exclaimed one guy happily. And the couple, he in a Jimmy Spencer t-shirt, she in a Kurt Busch top, walking happily, hand in hand, just weeks after their drivers’ highly publicized conflict came to a head. And the guy wandering through the RV lots at Charlotte impersonating a rooster at 4am.

And last but not least, there’s my seeming penchant for running into drivers in parking lots. Um, bad choice of words. I have never run into a racecar driver or anyone else, for that matter. I have had a parking space stolen by one, though. Let the record show that I was the one going the right way in the one-way parking lot, by the way. It was the driver who wasn’t. I won’t name names, but it starts with Kenny and ends with Wallace. The other driver I unexpectedly scared up in a parking lot was, coincidentally, also a Wallace, this time Mike. My cousin and I were searching the floor of my car for something important, found it, jumped up, slammed the door, and came face to face with the driver in question. I’m not sure which one of us jumped higher or went the other way faster.

OK, so I’m not really sure how these fit in with a history column. I just wanted to tell them because they’re funny. And I’m sure that elsewhere in fandom, others are making their own history, in the form of unforgettable moments that we all love to remember and share. Once upon a time, oral tradition was the way that history was shaped and passed along. Maybe that was the best way to do it. Maybe then, that’s why I share my stories. Maybe, after all, that’s history.

Note: If you have any fun or memorable racing experiences to share, drop me an email-I’d love to do a future column about them. Come on, you know you wanna!

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