Friday, March 7, 2014

My First NASCAR Race

March Madness Writing Party 2014

Today is the first day of March and it’s raining.  We have cousins visiting from Wisconsin for the NASCAR race at Phoenix International Raceway.  The cousins are escaping the cold and snow in the Midwest only to come to the cold and rain in the desert.

The cousins have a love affair with NASCAR.  They are loyal to their favorite drivers and buy the products that are advertised on their cars.  On the flip side of that, the cousins will shun the sponsors of the drivers they dislike.  Lowe’s, not Home Depot.  Crown Royal, not M &  M’s.  If their favorite driver changes teams, then it’s Home Depot, not Lowe’s, and they burn all their hats and shirts and buy new ones – loyalty to the end.

I went to my first NASCAR race 6 years ago.  We pulled into the parking lot at 9:00 am.  The race wasn’t scheduled to start until 1:30, but there was serious tailgating to be done.  We set up our day tent and flew our drivers’ flags, trying to outdo all the other flags flapping in the wind.  Then out came the Bloody Mary’s, pickled eggs, and hot sausages while hubby set up the grill for the burgers.  On my way to the J-John, I noticed some other tailgaters who had gotten a head start on us and were already in the alcohol awesome mode.  They were cooking brisket in a big black smoker – and when I commented how good it smelled, they invited me to eat with them – tempting.

It was finally time to parade, or stagger, depending on how well the tailgating went, into the gates to watch the race.  The cousins were equipped with all the proper paraphernalia that NASCAR groupies need to have.  Inside a clear backpack were headphones, a scanner to listen to the drivers talk to their crew, spare batteries, water, and peanuts.  I did not have the headphones, so I was totally bored after the first 148 laps.  I convinced my daughter that we needed to go shopping at any one of the 109 semi trailers selling merchandise for everyone’s favorite driver.  As we walked down the steps and stood by the railing by the track, 46 cars drove passed us going 190 miles an hour.  They looked as though they were one red/green/blue/yellow blur as we blinked and they were gone.  The roar of the engines rumbled the stadium, and our entire body.  I guess it was worth the climb to Row 45 where the rumble is lessoned somewhat.  I made a note to myself to be sure I had headphones at the next race because the little orange earplugs just didn’t cut it.

As we walked around, it was like being at a carnival, and we enjoyed people watching almost as much as buying a Number 99 t-shirt.  It’s hard to believe the cousins enjoy this redneck sport.  They are as white collar as they come and all in management.  Their persona just does not fit with the Harley Davidson crowd sporting tattoos, beards, and long grey ponytails.

The more I learned about NASCAR, the more I realized it was not just making 300 left-hand turns at nearly 200 miles an hour.  The cars are mechanical wonder machines that can house a driver safely for 4 brutal hours.  The pit crew can change 4 tires and fill the tank with fuel in less than 15 seconds.  The drivers can cruise at 180 miles per hour inches from the cars in front and to the sides of them.

The rain let up enough so the first race of the weekend was able to run 168 out of 200 laps today.  We sat in the 45th row and under a canopy, which was a blessing when the rest of the fans scrambled out of the rain.  One of the cousins let me use one of his headphones so we could listen to Trevor Bayne talk to his pit crew.  The race ended when the rain wouldn’t stop, so we went home to finish our tailgating.  I’m glad the cousins come to Phoenix for the NASCAR race so I can learn more about this fascinating sport.

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