The Frontstretch: Life At the Track: So THAT'S What a Mirage Looks Like by Toni Montgomery -- Tuesday May 9, 2006

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Life At the Track: So THAT'S What a Mirage Looks Like

Toni Montgomery · Tuesday May 9, 2006


For a few years, some friends and I have been doing girl’s week at the races and traveling to different tracks. We may not be the Desperate Housewives, but it’s always an adventure when we travel. Two of us are from the neighboring East coast states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, so we usually travel together, while the other two, from St. Louis, travel as a pair and meet us at our final destination.

In 2004, it was Phoenix International Raceway for our newest undertaking: camping in the infield. We booked the whole thing, motorhome and all, as a package that also included tickets, pit passes, and a parking pass. Jackie, one of our St. Louis members, did the booking, so she was responsible for bringing all of our necessities along to Phoenix.

We always manage to book our separate flights to arrive as close together as possible, so we all showed up within an hour in Phoenix, grabbed our rental car, and headed to the track and our home for the week. On the way, Jackie was getting all of the paperwork together that we would need to check in to our motorhome and going through her checklist to make sure everything was there. Lease? Check. Truck race tickets? Check. Busch race tickets? Check. Cup race tickets? Check. Pit passes? Check. Parking pass? Uh"¦parking pass? It’s got to be here somewhere. Now Jackie and I, who were in the back seat and closest to the luggage, are hanging over the backseat searching through her bags for the parking pass. No dice. Just then, Jackie recalls looking for something in the envelope just before leaving her house and taking the parking pass out to get a better look. It never went back in the envelope. We are in Phoenix driving down the highway in our rented minivan, and the pass to get it into the track is in St. Louis. Unfortunately it’s not like we can go back and get it, so we decide to press on and figure it out later.

When we get to the track, since it is the first day and everyone is just arriving, we don’t need the parking pass to get the car into the track. We are allowed entrance with just our passes, but we will need the parking pass to get back in and out with the car later. We ask for a replacement at the track when we check in for our motorhome, but they aren’t able to do anything at the moment. They tell us we’ll need to check with the ticket office the next day. Fortunately, we are camped just inside the tunnel entrance, and there is a ticket office right on the other side of the tunnel.

The next morning, although we’d like to watch some practice, we go to get this parking pass straightened out as soon as possible because now we are technically parked inside the track illegally. We go to the ticket office outside the gate, but they tell us they can’t help. They make a few calls and come to the conclusion we might be able to get a replacement pass, but we will need to pick it up at the credential office. Where is the credential office, you ask? It’s outside the main gate located between turns one and two, about halfway between the gate and the main entrance from the road. That’s a far cry from where we were, by the outside of turn four.

We have a bit of a walk ahead of us, but there’s no choice because we can’t take the car. If we take it out but don’t get a new parking pass, we can’t take it back in. We’d rather be stuck with our car than stuck without it. The people at the fourth turn gate tell us the people at the main gate can point us in the right direction for the credential trailer when we get there, and we set off for the main gate.

Now, Phoenix is a one mile oval, but that distance multiplies when it comes to walking around the outside of it, so we have a good haul just to get to the other gates. Finally, we find someone who is able to point out the credential trailer for us. It looks like a tiny little white box out there in the middle of the desert. It turns out when you are driving in the main entrance, it is a fairly convenient stop off on the way to the track. When you are walking out from the track, it’s a different story. So, we set off across the desert. This thing was so far away it looked like one of those oasis mirages you see in the movies. We kept on going, one foot in front of the other, across the Arizona desert. Thank God it was November instead of August at least. About halfway out, I started to visualize a horse under me so the walk wouldn’t seem so rigorous. Certainly, pretending I wasn’t the one doing the walking helped at least a little bit.

We finally got out there, and… success! We got another parking pass…but now we have to walk all the way back to turn four and through the tunnel to deliver it to our illegally parked car. This time, we took the main road back in so we could mosey around the souvenir trailers parked outside the main gate. After a rest to do some window shopping and another walk back around the track to turn four, we arrive back to our motorhome and our rental car which is"¦GONE! Not there. Completely and totally vanished, without so much as a note to tell us where it might be.

Now, what are we going to do? We are stranded in the Arizona desert with no way out. And the rental car people are probably not going to be happy that we have misplaced their car. We go by the motorhome that serves as the office for the trip package folks, but those people are nowhere to be found. Then two of the other members of our group set off for the ticket office again to see if they might have any leads to the whereabouts of our car.

Forty five minutes later, it is a welcome sight to see our car coming back in with its parking pass prominently displayed. It turns out that it wasn’t the pass that bit us entirely, but also where we parked the car. We put the car in front of the motorhome, which was actually another slot for someone else. With no pass to indicate who our car might belong to, and us nowhere to be found because we were walking across the desert to the credential office, the track towed it to a holding lot across the street. We got it back free of charge and with the tidbit of information that no one had bothered to tell us before. Parking pass or not, we had to cram the car into our motorhome square (there were actually squares painted on the ground).

I wish someone had told us that before we all had to have a heart attack. We’d been in Phoenix and at the track for two days and hadn’t managed to catch even one practice or qualifying session, but we were finally ready to enjoy ourselves. And we sure did…but that’s a story for another day.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
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©2000 - 2008 Toni Montgomery and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

Jackie Johnson
05/10/2006 07:32 AM

Thanks Toni….but at my age a little CRS is expected, right?


Contact Toni Montgomery

Recent articles from Toni Montgomery:

IndyCar Race Recap: MAVTV 500
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IF you want to know more about Toni Montgomery or to see all of her Frontstretch articles, check out her archive and bio page.