Cheryl Walker · Monday February 28, 2005
My son, Joshua, and I recently returned from a trip to Florida to enjoy the Daytona 500. We also turned it into a vacation, one that I figure we will be paying for till at least the next two Daytona 500s; but isn’t that the American way?
Joshua was a special guest of Artie Kempner, Producer of NASCAR on Fox Sports, and all-around terrific and giving gentleman. Mr. Kempner has given Joshua some racing memories that he can share with his children and grandchildren, and helped fill some voids in Joshua’s life that would otherwise be holes the size of Talladega Superspeedway times ten. We have tried many times and many ways to show Artie how appreciative we are of such generosities, but he always hushes us up and tells us that if we had fun, then that’s his reward.
‘Fun’ is definitely what we had, so Artie should be feeling mighty satisfied. We watched most of the races from inside a SPEED broadcasting area beside the famed Hollywood Hotel, where the crew expertly commandeered the cameras that ‘float’ over pit road (it was really amazing to watch how they coordinate these great shots). We had an amazing view of the start/finish line from this booth, and were able to keep abreast of all happenings on the track by a television broadcast as well. What a treat for two diehard fans.
As V.I.P.s, we were also given garage passes, items that most NASCAR fans think are as hallowed as a Dale Jr. autograph. It is an extraordinary feeling to be perched on the wall on pit road, and see the likes of Joe Gibbs, Kyle Busch, and even Ernie Irvan walking past. Or walk past Martin Truex Jr.’s crew working hard on the No. 8 Chevy, or see the cars going through the inspection area. It’s a heady, exhilarating experience. Because it’s usually too loud for conversation, Joshua and I have developed a point-and-smile form of communication that is quite easy to understand. If this is in addition to a grab for the camera, then something really cool is happening, or someone ultra-special is walking by.
It was on the day of The Great American Race that Joshua and I were once again hanging around pit road. Michael Waltrip had the last pit road position, with Kenny Wallace next-to-last. It was near his pit wagon that we sat down for a brief moment, to watch the stands filling up across the track before us. The ‘Aaron’s’ decal was prominently displayed, and two long flexible poles stuck out from it (one for handing in the driver his drink, and one that holds the team’s pit board sign). As Joshua sat enjoying the pre-race excitement, one of the signs unexpectedly came loose, and hit him right on his head.
He first looked surprised (in a rather sad way), and then the tears came. Because he is almost 17 years old, that really ticked him off that he was crying in front of thousands of people, so he buried his head in my shoulder (and he probably hated having to do that even more than publicly crying). I felt his head, and, indeed, there was a lump forming.
Unfortunately there were no crew members present, but even if there were I don’t know what they would have done. I had to walk a long way to The Fan Zone to find ice, seemingly the nearest place to get some. A woman selling Budweiser beer took one of her plastic gloves and filled it with ice for me, and I appreciated it very much. It did look really odd, though, carrying this ice-filled glove back to pit road.
Joshua shoved it under his brand-new Daytona 500 ball cap, and told me it felt good. I was glad to see a smile on his face, when people gave his ‘ice glove’ a funny look.
I’d like to mention that several NASCAR fans roaming pit road came forth to see if Joshua was okay, and even returned now and then to keep checking. The kindness and compassion of NASCAR fans is not a legend.
At least three of those NASCAR fans made the comment, “Aw, you ought to sue Kenny.” One of them even added on, “"¦ He’s rich.”
I will give them the benefit of the doubt, and believe that they were kidding. At least I hope so.
We Walkers aren’t the suing types; and we also enjoy the pit road access, and would never do anything to give reason to the NASCAR higher-ups to suspend that.
And as far as Kenny being rich enough to sue? Something tells me that, despite what some fans may think, he doesn’t smoke rolled-up C-notes and have mattresses lined with cash. I am sure he has more money than I do; but I don’t want any of his, thank you very much.
Joshua will be happy to tell anyone who asks that while it hurt, and the lump was there till the next day, it was a small price to pay for all of the other wonderful moments he experienced in a warm, sunny Florida, at The World Center of Racing.
And now that the pain is gone, he’s turned it into a sort of ‘Lemme-show-you-my-Daytona-scar’ kind of thing. sigh You know how males are.
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