As fanatical NASCAR groupies, Bill and I manage our vacations to include a race every other year. I must admit that at first it was difficult to understand the point of driving 500 miles around an asphalt track. More mysterious was why some tracks were one half mile, others two point six miles. Some tracks were shaped in an oval, while others were full of zig-zags and called a road race. With the longest season of any sport, from mid-February to mid-November, fans face race-car depravation during the off season.
Thanks to the loving patience of a man who spent four hours for thirty-six weekends planted in front of the TV, I began to understand the strategy and skill of the NASCAR drivers. Once hooked on the sport, I picked my favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and dove into the full experience.
We attended the Richmond race this year. Bill planned the trip a full year in advance. He purchased the best seats, ordered special passes so we could stroll on the racetrack before the race. Got us passes to the pit, where the race cars receive their final tune up and official inspection. He even found a lunch for us to attend where drivers would be speaking.
The Richmond race was scheduled for 7 in the evening. We arrived eight hours earlier to take advantage of all the events. After locating a parking spot, we took the three mile hike to the grounds. The die-hard fans were already in full celebration. Thousands of grills were aflame. Many attendees were on their third or fourth beer. Games of catch, loud music, and happy fans readied themselves for the event.
Our first challenge, locate the semi-truck full of memorabilia. Each driver had their own truck. The line of vehicles, three deep, ran outside the stadium for the full mile and a half. Naturally, we found ourselves racing up and down every line at least twice. Finally, we located Bill’s chosen racer, Ryan Newman—time to purchase a new t-shirt.
The next three hours we visited the pits, twice, the track three times, and spent two hours trying to locate the place for our lunch. Finally, around three thirty, we sat down for a light meal—beer and hot dogs. My breakfast of yogurt had long since vanished. Racing around the outside of the stadium in the hot sun had left me dehydrated. I skipped the beer and selected Water.
We took the trek back to the track for one last peek at Ryan Newman as he spoke to the crowd who purchased the experience of being close to him on the track. Bill smiled as his hero walked out onto the stage and shared his passion for the sport.
Finally, it was time to take a seat in the stadium and warm up for the race. Our seats were perfect—near the top and right in front of the finish line. Once settled into our cushioned seats, Bill went to the concession stand for a beer.
While climbing up to our seats, I began to feel dizzy. Heights were not my favorite thing. Then my stomach began to churn and sweat dripped off my forehead. By the time Bill returned with his cold beer, I knew my lunch was about to come up. Turning to him, shaking in agony, I said, “I’m going to throw up.”
He paled. “Can I take you back down the steps?”
“Sorry. I won’t make it.” Then I grabbed the large bag that held his new tee, and….
After emptying my stomach, Bill lovingly helped me down the steps and walked me back to the car. We drove back to our hotel room and watched the race on TV.
Was it the sun, the hotdog, or something else? We’ll never know. But being crazy for NASCAR, count on seeing us at a race next year.