As I unpack from my NASCAR weekend at the track, there’s a single lingering thought that remains – I had fun. Oh fine, the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 was not the most entertaining of races run this year. But I’m not really talking about the specific event, but the overall reason I and thousands of other race fans fill their coolers, program the scanners and feast on questionable cuisine at tracks across America. There is something valuable to be found in the experience of ‘being there’ beyond seeing the polished white smiles of the weekly network broadcasts from the comfort of your living room.
There’s the stunned wonder of a new race fan, and the experienced nod as you pass another with the aged t-shirt and ticket lanyard. Crews weave their way through pedestrian traffic toward the tunnel. Vendors hawk their overpriced wares. Helicopters arrive with a wealthy regularity. The entire facility hums in a constant state of anticipation from Monday morning right on through the moment those Cup engines rev up coming to the green. However, it’s not all about the big show.
On Thursday night we wandered through the Global Rally Cross garage and chatted with some of the crews and drivers. Those little cars might sing a tad higher and actually have doors – but they are still racecars. A shared vocabulary exists between the stock car world and these tiny tuners. The NASCAR crowd is willing to learn about new rules, specs and grudgingly admit that a Dodge Dart is a worthy machine of the label of racer. And the X-Gamers looked around at the jam packed infield and want to see what else might be happening today. But that’s just in the garage.
Later, when the rally cars took to the track – and the air – that gleeful feeling you discovered the first time you went to your local quarter-miler was found again. OMG. And apparently I wasn’t alone in my stunned revelation. Juan Pablo Montoya wandered in the GRC pits during Saturday night’s meet seeing what it would take to get involved in the sport. Casey Mears and Jimmie Johnson were also spotted glorying in this latest addition to a racing weekend.
Once again, I spied that shared moment between the multimillionaires and those of us who can barely afford the $35 to come see our heroes in person. At the heart of it all you recognize one common value shared among the officials, teams, spectators and media; racing is fun. And not fun as in I spent an afternoon playing Monopoly fun. But heart stopping, jaw dropping, intense, focused and I’d do it again in a second excitement. Whether it’s buying a ticket, a team or climbing behind the wheel of car, the racer in each of us finds a way to be a part of the wonder. That was what I considered on Saturday.
However, as the Sunday afternoon wound on under the blistering July sun, I pondered the existence of the now waning sensation of happiness. And it would seem, so were the drivers. Jeff Gordon wasn’t terribly happy with his pit calls, Kyle Busch grumbled about his speeding penalty and a certain lap-down driver swore he could see a massive amount of debris in turn 3. Besides these predictable utterances, there were two other voices that brought it all home to me.
On the grumpy side of the scanner, everybody’s favorite snarky driver Kurt Busch couldn’t find one nice thing to say. Any car within sight was an impediment, those on his inside were ruining his day and those behind him had no business being on the track. He very much sounded like the guy in the grocery store who is busy shoving a spoiled gallon of milk down the manager’s throat and most everybody else wants to run away. Kurt was not having a good day… I don’t know if Busch ever does.
But the track is not eternally full of gloom. On the parade laps, never was I so happy to hear the distinctive twang of veteran driver Ken Schrader pipe up in my scanner. And it seemed he was pretty happy to be there. Besides the frank discussions of what needed to get repaired to keep his Federated Auto No. 32 on the track for the entire race, there were also lighthearted remarks about the No. 42 team and their multimillion-dollar budgets. It wasn’t a bitter comment, but one that indicated Kenny was just pleased to be in a Cup car and going the distance. If somebody else had the millions, good for them. Kenny was racing today!
No, not every minute of a race weekend is full of rainbows. But the primary reason we race is for the love of the sport – all of the sport. For the dirt on the windshield, steamy summer nights and unleashed horses. It’s easy to identify somebody who has been bitten by the bug when walking around the pits, just look for the ear-to-ear smile. They most assuredly are having the most fun to be found in the world.
Well, maybe except for Mr. Busch. There’s just no explaining that.
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The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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