There are glorious days to go to a race. The warm breeze and gentle sunshine light up all the right corners of the track. Children tug at their parents’ hands in an effort to go visit the show car. The t-shirts are just your color with that random driver on the front that never gets enough media exposure. Even the burgers in the concession stand haven’t reached that mid-afternoon rubber quality yet. It is a wonderful day.
And then there are days that dawn like this past Sunday, just before the 5-Hour ENERGY 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Even at 7AM, the fog promised an afternoon of humidity and thunderstorms. In practice and qualifying, Jeff Gordon’s car had performed like a speed boat in sludge, and then been smashed like an accordion thanks to Clint Bowyer. Oh, I know. It was really his crew member’s fault, but when you’re staring out at a perfectly awful hot, hazy humid day with the promise of severe thunderstorms due to arrive with the green flag, charity is not your friend.
However, the day was not lost. Not yet. At 9:30am, we met up with some fellow tweeters (twitters? tweetsters?)and were joined by local racing hero Eddie MacDonald. The New England fan’s love of modified racing was shared amongst us. Encouragement was offered to the pilot of the No. 32 Drafting Demons machine. We snapped a few pics and went on our day smiling and full of hope.
Hours later the pleasant morning had vanished in a miasma of summer heat. We staggered over to the grandstands, sweat soaking our clothing and clouds darkening the northern horizon. With thousands of others, we huddled beneath the gleaming aluminum stands, ignoring the pre-race festivities, in hopes that we could survive the first brutal day of summer. New Hampshire fans know that when it gets hot, the track gets slick and the day will likely be filled with caution breeding cautions. It was best to keep our energy reserves in check in order to last all 301 laps.
Just when we were sharing our mutual memories between the two of us of other July races that had been rain shortened in terrifying thunderstorms, a wonderful thing happened; our fellow fans joined in the conversation. Noting my husband’s T-shirt, they asked had we been to Bristol? Weren’t the hills brutal out there? A half hour flew by, and now it was time to climb up to our seats. We waved goodbye to our new friends, and re-entered the arena full of perspiration. Gasping upon attaining our seats, our longtime seat neighbors shared greetings. On the other side was a new pair. He was smiling (Smiling? In this heat?) and stated out loud, “This is great!”
“What? The weather?” I muttered.
A few people laughed.
He shook his head and gestured down on the start/finish line. “No! Look at this! It’s perfect!” He enthused about his seats, the beautiful day, his parking spot, the price of the tickets…it all hit me. This was the joy of a first timer.
I took a breath and looked down on the drivers going by in the back of the pickups, clearly visible from our seats. My new neighbor was right. It was a great day. The cars glistened under the sun, pit road was filled with pre-race jitters, the loudspeakers rattled on about past records and what today would bring. Our old neighbor carried on about Kyle Busch’s year. Behind us, the Canadian contingent further ramped up the positive attitude.
Suddenly the sun wasn’t as bright, the heat not as oppressive and the benches not nearly as hard. The magic was taking over. We found the newly decaled No. 32 at the end of pit road and wished Eddie MacDonald a good race. We all popped open our water bottles and toasted a great day at the track.
And the powers that be must have heard all the joy that suffused the Magic Mile, for miraculously those forbidding clouds continued to scud by just to the north all through the afternoon. Storms raged across the Granite State all day and into the evening, but it wasn’t until late at night that we felt those raindrops. The mythical vortex worked! We had a great race day!
Sometimes we get jaded. Sometimes we know life can’t possibly be as good as our memories color those scrapbooks. And sometimes it just takes the eyes of a new friend to remind us just how good we’ve got it.
I’ve known it for a long time, but Sunday reminded me that NASCAR fans are the best.
1994 Inaugural Brickyard 400
Win number two for Jeff Gordon. He has called it one of his most important wins throughout his career. For NASCAR Nation they saw a young driver snare his second Cup win at a track he considers his backyard. We may never see such a crowd ever again for a NASCAR race. I wouldn’t want to imagine to traffic for getting out of there. This one truly belongs in the Hall of Fame for Great NASCAR moments.
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