Amy Henderson is taking a break this week to relocate to Race City USA. She will return with her usual wit and insight in next week’s edition of Holding a Pretty Wheel. In the meantime, enjoy this classic that originally ran in March 2007.
I’m not going to talk about NASCAR this week. Well, I am, but not in the way you might think. What I mean to say is, I’m not going to talk about the rules, the politics, the Car Of Tomorrow That Is Now Today (COTTINT?) or why Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I’ve heard enough of all that. For the record, the new rules are, ahem, interesting, I am not going to write in Brian France for President in 2008, I have no problem thus far with the CoT, and I like Junior. However, with the backlog of stories appearing all over the place about these very same issues… I’m just not going to write about it.
No, this week, I’m going to take a second to write about what is right about racing; the people who, on all levels, make the sport what it is today. Some of the best stories you may never have heard of come out of not just the drivers, not just the owners, but even from you… the fans.
Race fans, for the most part, are the greatest group of 100,000 of your closest friends you’ll ever spend a Sunday with. I’ve met some really fun people over the years, some of whom have become close friends. It’s easy to strike up a conversation with the stranger sitting next to you. Well, except for that one guy, but he was strange. I wish I had a photo of the couple I saw a few weeks after Kurt Busch and Jimmy Spencer‘s celebrated feud a few years back. They were probably in their late 20s, holding hands and obviously very much in love, all decked out in the gear of their respective favorite drivers. The fact that her allegiance was to Busch and his to Spencer did nothing to dampen their moods.
Then there was the day it began to rain and then hail about five minutes after the end of a Busch Series race, and the young man who took it like an optimist. “Cool. Free wet t-shirt contest,” he remarked to his friend.
Of course, other fans aren’t the sole reason people come out to the track every Sunday. It’s the owners and drivers that take center stage, and in honor of them, here are a few wonderful odds ‘n’ ends stories I’ve accumulated through some of my travels in the garage area:
I love watching the teams work on the cars. I readily admit I have no idea what they’re doing, but it’s interesting. I try to stay out of their way, way out of their way. They’re busy, after all, and don’t need to be distracted. But I got a little unwanted attention at Darlington last year, courtesy of the sunburn I’d acquired. My fault; I’d forgotten sunscreen, but I didn’t think it was that bad. Honestly. But maybe it was, because as I was walking up pit road before the start of the race, a familiar voice spoke from just over my shoulder, “You really got burned there, huh?” I turned around to find Jack Roush, who, by all reports never talks to anyone before a race, and doesn’t know me from Adam. Maybe it really was worse than I thought.
Well, it was definitely worse than I thought. Two weeks later I was back at the track for the Coca-Cola 600 as the guest of the same team I’d been to Darlington with. I was on top of the car hauler watching practice when our crew chief came over to get the time sheets or something. He stopped, right in the middle of the garage row, and pointed up at me admonishingly. “Did you wear sunscreen this time?” he hollered to me. I assured him that I had, and he went back to work. So much for going unnoticed.
Speaking of getting noticed, the first thing fans look for at the track are the drivers we all love; or love less, depending on your particular taste… like Earnhardt, Jr. Well, I almost ran over none other than “Mr. Better than Sliced Bread” himself with my truck. Why? I was trying to park it in a spot more suited for a Mini Cooper. I was once again the guest of my Cup driver friend, and by circumstance, he didn’t have a personal vehicle at the track, so I was able to use his parking pass and park my old, less-than-pristine truck in the drivers’ motor coach lot. Junior was next door that week. I looked up from making sure I didn’t hit the motor coach I was parking three inches away from and the neighbor was about a foot from my bumper, not paying attention. Luckily, I didn’t hit him (imagine me as the most reviled person in NASCAR history if I had), and as an added bonus, my truck made an excellent spot to store his golf cart cover.
Lest anyone think that drivers aren’t human, here is a reminder that they are: even the Nextel Cup champion can get lost trying to find a restroom at the track. Pit road before a race is a busy place, and this was at Charlotte, where it can be a madhouse. It was the same week of the aforementioned sunscreen incident, just before the Busch Series race. Our current champion’s car was staged in front of our pit. The truck from driver introductions dropped him off, and he promptly ran for the nearest pit road porta-potty (driver intros must have been reeeally long), which was across the garage access road from our pit, protected from traffic by kind of an ell of chain-link fence. The driver, who shall remain nameless (but it starts with “Jimmie” and ends with “Johnson”), missed the turn, overshot and tried to correct the mistake without looking obvious – all the while still running, clearly in a hurry to get where he was, well, going. It didn’t work, though, because he A) had the “Oh $#*%” expression of someone who just got lost on the way to the porta-potty, and B) had to turn around – still running, mind you – to get there. The funny thing of it all is the knock on Johnson is that people think he’s “too perfect.” In fact, he’s totally human, caught in the hilarity of moments like this one.
Man, I love racing.