Texas 500

It's been hard to come up with a UCAP for this year, especially when I compare it to last year's garage passes. Never-the-less, I've tried to do a little something after each NASCAR race I've attended, so here it is. Hubby waited around to buy tickets again this year, so Mom and I finally took it upon ourselves to acquire some. Needless to say, they were all "sold out" by the time we got to it, so we were forced to get them from those thieves who call themselves "Ticket Brokers". We paid over $200 a seat for tickets that normally sell for around $118. I nearly choked, but I wasn't about to let a Texas race go by without me in attendance. On the Thursday before the race, one of Mark's contacts at the ad agency offered him two Luxury Suite tickets again-- the only catch was that HE had to use one of them himself. Unfortunately, he was already committed taking his Cub Scout Webelos Den on a camping trip, so he had to let them pass.

Mom and I didn't spend nearly as much time out at the track as we have in previous years, and since there wasn't a lot new to report, this UCAP will be pretty light on text. I did, however, get a new Panasonic LC40 digital camera for Christmas, so I tried my hardest to fill up the extra 128MB memory card just so I could prove to Mark that digital is a lot cheaper than film. After some heavy-duty use, though, I'm hard pressed to say which I prefer. Although it's expensive to buy and process all that film, I do still love the quality and control of my ancient Pentax SLR. Plus the battery on the digital is not sufficient to last a whole day at the track -- a bug which bit me twice on this race weekend. As for the quality of the pictures, I'll let you decide.

Thursday, March 27

We didn't spend much time at the track this day. Mom came to town the day before and we had several errands to run. We did wind up out at the track eventually, where we shopped along the midway. I was looking for Dale Sr. and Dale Jr. window flags, but didn't find any I liked. Actually, I did like several of them, but $20 is way too much for a window flag. I also wanted a Dale Jr. baseball cap. All of my caps have the traditional plastic snaps on the back, and those never fit my head right, so I really wanted one with a slide adjuster. The caps at Junior's trailers were not very attractive, but I did find a really nice looking one (Chase Authentic, probably last year's hats) at a generic stand down the way.

We also stopped by the speedway office to pick up a pair of infield passes. Mom had just resigned herself to nothing but the grandstand tickets, but I persuaded her that we'd have more fun if we could go in the infield for Friday and Saturday. Besides, I had my new camera and I really wanted to test it out on some familiar turf. While we were at the track, there were several military fly-overs -- I'm assuming they were practicing for the real thing on Saturday and Sunday. As we were leaving, I caught this Apache helicopter taking off for one of its flights.

A recent UCAP in the RASN-M Usenet newsgroup featured some unforgettable daily "moments". I liked the idea, so with due credit to "djlong" for the idea, I thought I'd add a few to my own daily recap.

Extreme frustration: Not being able to find the American Flag that clips on my car window. (I just saw that thing the other day. I know it's here somewhere).

Feeling really dumb: Buying a new flag to replace the one I couldn't find, only to have it blow off on the interstate when we rolled down the windows. (Don't ask, we don't know what we were thinking.)

Wondering "what the hell?": Being told we could not exit the track parking lot at that particular gate and then watching as the "guard" allowed a vehicle full of cutsie bimbos through.

Oh, Cool: Watching the Apache helicopters land and take off from the track helicopter pads after a series of flights over the speedway.

Friday, March 28

If you've read any of my previous UCAPs, you've been regaled by the tales of our attempts to get to the track in time to see the haulers go in. I won't bother to give you my excuses this year, suffice it to say that we were late, very late. I dropped Mom off at the gate to the South Tunnel so she wouldn't have so far to walk, and parked the car on Wallace Lane (near the North end of the track). This is one of our favorite parking spaces because it's easy to remember (Mom's a Rusty Wallace fan, you know), plus it's easy to get out and head the right direction when it's time to leave.

It took me quite a while to walk all the way back to the tunnel entrance, especially since I was stopped several times and asked for directions (to the restrooms, to the parking, you name it). Not to mention that I had to stop to get a good look at the F-16 the Air Force was assembling on the midway. (Someone said that people were actually asking how they landed it there, not realizing that it rolled off the truck.)


I also got stopped by one of the security guards at the entrance to the Busch Garage. He noticed my Dale Earnhardt jacket and was dying to show off his Birthday present from his wife -- underneath his safety orange vest he was wearing a suede Dale Sr. jacket that was truly gorgeous.

By the time I got to the infield cafe, Mom informed me that I had missed Michael Waltrip. A local radio station was interviewing him and he stopped to give a few autographs when he was through. I missed it entirely! We meandered around a bit, finally winding up at the concession stand near the Busch garage. I needed some coffee and breakfast. I wound up with a $2.00 cup of used coffee grounds, a $4 breakfast sandwhich, and a $4 homemade fried pie. The sandwich was aweful -- one piece of toast was not toasted, the other was burnt, and the eggs looked like they'd been under the heat lamp since yesterday. I ordered an apricot fried pie, but wound up with peach -- it was delicious. Mom got a cherry one, though, that was none too appetizing. While I doctored my coffee, several people came up behind us to get sandwhiches and pies. We were chatting with them about the terrible sandwhiches and the great pies. Mom recognized one of them as Busch driver Kevin Grubb, but she didn't say anything until he was gone. I don't keep up with Busch very much, so I didn't recognize him. He was really friendly, though, and we were really surprised that he was buying breakfast from the concession stand. I guess we shouldn't be, though, because we've often seen various drivers, oweners, and crew chiefs in the infield cafe buying breakfast and coffee. I guess not every team provides food for the team.

Mom wanted to go to one of Rusty's merchandise trailers to find out about an autograph session they were supposed to be having there. That left me to hang around the garage area by myself and get a few photos. One interesting thing I spotted were the teams buying ice. Usually they have to drag their dolly down to the ice truck, but some clever person thought to bring the ice to the garage. Notice in the photos that the teams are paying for the ice in cash. I would have thought there would be an "account" or something.

I also got a chance to talk to some of the Marines from the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth who were manning the gates to the garage. No, that's not me in the photo -- lots of people stopped to talk to the Marines, another indicator that NASCAR fans are some of the most patriotic folk around.

After a while, I needed to use the restroom and refresh my coffee, so I headed back to the infield cafe situated between the Winston Cup and the Busch garages. When I walked in, I noticed that another someone was being interview by the radio station. Eddie Gossage was there, and two others. I stopped to see who it was and recognized David Starr. Then I nearly fell over dead when I spotted Kerry Earnhardt sitting between them. Needless to say, the restroom could wait. I waited around for the finish of the interviews while I took a few pictures, then Kerry started signing autographs -- probably one of the coolest things that happened to me all weekend. After Kerry signed my Qualifying Day ticket, he moved off with one of the radio guys to record some promo spots for the station. (You know, the kind that starts with "Hi, this is Kerry Earnhardt, and you're listening to..." As he crossed the room, he spotted two kids who had just walked in and were staring wide-eyed at all the goings-on. He paused, introduced himself to them, and talked to them a bit before he moved off -- truly one of the classiest things I've seen a driver do.

When Mom came back from the midway, we hung around the infield for a while before heading for the grandstands to watch qualifying. We stayed through most of qualifying, but left before it was over to beat Friday rush-hour traffic back home.

Best scanner bite: Dale Junior was barely audible over his helmet mic, and his crew was having a hard time hearing him. (Paraphrased, because I took sloppy notes and don't remember exactly what they said)

Crew: You're too quiet. Your mic's too far away.
Jr: (inaudible)
Crew: Yell!
Junior: (yelling) Is that better?
Crew: Yeah, it's better when you yell.
Junior: (laughing) Good, I'll yell at you all the time, you son of a bitch!

Biggest shock: Tony Stewart's car being impounded by NASCAR. News of that sure caused a stir at the track!

Biggest waste of money: The delicious smelling philly cheese steak ($6). Smell is not everything! The meat was mostly fat and gristle, it was smothered in bad nacho cheese sauce (isn't it supposed to be a white cheese like Provolone or somehting?), and they didn't drain off the excess water/grease, so the hoagie roll was completely SOGGY. Took about 3 bites and threw it away.

View the pictures in this HTML slide show.

Qualifying Day

Saturday, March 29

Texas weather is always unpredictable, so we came prepared for rain and a little cold, but it was way colder than we had expected. I spent all day Friday trying to keep my arms and my ears warm. I'd worn a long sleeved shirt over my Dale Earnhardt tee, but the wind was bitterly cold. I decided I needed a sweatshirt and some kind of ear muff/head band. I wanted to check out all the vendors across the highway (off track property) , but Mom needed to stand in line at Rusty's trailer to get tickets to the autograph session that would immediately follow happy hour. So I dropped her off in the parking lot and went on my own.

The Texaco that was hosting all the tents is catty-cornered from the track at the intersection of I-3E and Hwy 114. I thought the easiest way to get to it would be to cross under I-35 at the over-pass, then I could just turn right into the parking lot. Unfortunately, the local police had the intersection barricaded and the only way you could go was a u-turn back onto the interstate. There were about ten cars in front of me who were obviously trying to do the same thing, so when they turned onto a little dirt road, I followed them. The road headed back south where it joined up with Hwy 114, and there was a cross-over to a paved road that ran behind the gas station. We all crossed the highway with no problems, and I found a place to park while I shopped.

After finding a suitable ski cap and sweatshirt, I got back in my car and headed back across the highway to the dirt road. But no sooner did I get on it, than one of the cops pulled me over. According to him, it "used" to be a service road, but it wasn't used any more and he wrote me a ticket! Now, you must understand, I'm no city girl. I grew up in rural West Texas. I know a dirt road when I see one, and this was a real dirt road. There were reflectors marking the corners, the shoulder stripe was open at the entrance to the road, and the track itself was wide, smooth, and well worn. Not to mention the fact that at least a dozen or so other cars had turned down it going both directions and the police allowed it to happen. So why did he choose to stop me? My guess is they have quotas (real or imagined, they all have them), and unsuspecting tourists is a great way to make your money for the month. Chances are, most of the people they will pull over are from out-of-town and will pay the fines, etc. rather than come back and appear in court to fight it. It was a road, of that I've no doubt. But the hassle involved in proving it in court would be far more inconvenient than the $155 it cost to get deferred adjudication and 90 days probation. Really ticks me off though, because I haven't had a ticket in years.

After that, I was in a foul mood, but I cheered up when I got back to the track. I had to hunt down Mom (scary thought in an area that big with that many people) because she wasn't where she said she'd be. Fortunately, her lucky blue sequined cap stands out in a crowd, so when I asked the guys at the Rusty Wallace trailer if they'd seen her, they knew that she'd headed down the midway for another Rusty Wallace trailer about 15 minutes earlier. I did eventually find her, and we went to the infield to watch Happy Hour. Mom was disappointed because after she'd waited around to get tickets to the autograph session, they'd come back later and cancelled it.

We spent the rest of the morning meandering in the infield. I had to stop at the concession stand and get another one of those delicious fried pies -- this time it was apricot, and boy was it good. We found a decent spot near the fence in Turn One, and took a few pictures there before a really nice couple offered to let us stand on their scaffolding to shoot over the fence. That was GREAT! They had a great idea: they had made a wooden box cart with wheels which they bring to the track early on and chain to the fence. They just leave it there, holding their spot from day to day. It contained all the necessities like lawn chairs and blankets, etc., so they didn't have to haul them back and forth every day. Race fans must truly be some amazingly honest people -- anywhere else, someone would have cut the chain and gotten away with a bunch of gear. Here's one of the pictures I took from their box:

We tried several other places in the infield, but really, if you're going to shoot the cars going around the track, you need a good clear spot where you can "lead" the cars a bit. Unless you have either a great telephoto lense or something tall to stand on, you might as well forget it. We gave up at the end of Happy Hour and left -- didn't even stay for the start of the Busch race.

Nice surprise: Speedway personnel zipping around in covered golf carts doing random acts of kindness. One stopped to give Mom (who walks with a cane) and I a ride from the North Tunnel around to Gate 2 (where we were parked). We saw them giving rides to other people all weekend. Very nice touch, and MUCH appreciated!

View the pictures in this HTML slide show.

Happy Hour

Sunday, March 30

A lot of people think we are crazy for getting to the track so early. We've actually considered camping at the track, even though I live just a few miles away. We'd probably do it, too (the whole family loves to camp), if it weren't for children needing to be driven to school and such. At any rate, we generally leave the house around 4:00 AM, arriving at the track something less than an hour later. This allows us to beat all the traffic that starts pouring in soon after our arrival, and guarantees us a good parking space as close to the track as possible. Many people will argue that it's better to park further away so you can get out quicker, but Mom's got an old knee injury that gives her trouble when she has to walk too far. (She swears the injury is Darrell Waltrip's fault -- we were at the track one year and she saw him, but she wasn't watching where she was going and stepped off in a hole, twisting her ankle and knee.)

Not long after our arrival, several other people parked around us and started setting up "camp". When it started getting light and the neighbors started getting noisy, we decided it was time to head for the grandstands. The track gave little American flags to everyone who came in.

We had GREAT seats. Our view looked straight out onto the pits, with a fair view of Turn 4, and the individual folding chairs beat the dog out of the "bleacher" sections below us.

Mom wanted to get her seat and stay put, but I was still playing with my new camera, so I decided to head for the infield. The crowds were pretty thick around the garage area, and the drivers were starting to head out to the Hospitality Village, so I hung around there to get a few shots. Later, when the drivers started coming back, we spotted Robby Gordon. Now, Robby is not one of my favorite drivers. I've often thought of him as a hot-headed, thinks-he's-better-than-everyone punk who needs to go back to open wheeled racing. But he did something that changed my opionon of him for the better. When his golf cart pulled up to the gate to the motorhome area, he had the driver stop, and he got out right there at the gate and started signing autographs. No other driver did this. Every one of them to a man drove right on through to their motorhome, and many of them ducked or hid from the fans or travelled in vehicles with tinted windows so no one could see them. Not Robby. He stopped of his own accord and gave autographs until everyone who wanted one got it. He didn't have to do it, no one else did, and to me he's a better man for it.

When I was sure I wasn't going to get any more pictures or autographs, I decided to head back. On the way, I stopped at the concession stand to buy another one of those wonderful fried pies. This time I got a pineapple and an apricot (for later). The tunnel was completely choked with people heading back up to the stands. I overheard someone say that when the race starts, there are often still people stuck in the tunnel, trying to get to their seats. I believe it. If I'd waited any longer to leave the infield, I might have been stuck there, too. As it was, it took me nearly 30 minutes to get through the tunnel and into the grandstands.

I decided to walk along the wheel fence to see what I could see. This is about the only time the track officials will let you walk down there. I took a lot of pictures along the way, and once or twice I even got to get up close to the fence to get a good shot of the cars lined up on pit road. Here's a photo of some officials guarding the gate onto the track at the start/finish line. The guy in white was really nice and posed for another picture I've included in one of the slide shows.

The rest of the morning was pretty uneventful, although we were very impressed by the great showing of American Patriotism by the fans in attendance. The giant flag in the shape of the USA sort of confused us, though. When they first started rolling it out, we thought it was torn, and we were appalled that they would use a torn flag (flags in poor condition should ALWAYS be retired respectfully). It took us a bit before we saw that it was supposed to look that way.

I won't recap the race itself -- there are far better ones elsewhere on the internet. But I was listening to Junior's radio frequency for most of the race, and I did hear these interesting tid-bits:

Getting ready for a pit stop: His Crew Chief was asking what kind of changes he wanted for his next stop.

Junior: I don't know. I'm just the driver, dumbass.
Chief: Just wondering if you would like (unintelligible)....
Junior: I don't know. I'd have to try it. (something else unintelligible). You've got enough boys in that pit, you oughta figure something out.

Discussing another driver after pit stops: I'm not sure who they were referring to. I didn't make note of what lap this occured on, and I saw nothing on the video tape that helped figure it out. I'd love to know who they were talking about....

Chief: He's an asshole... That's why we don't pit beside him.
Junior: Well, be an asshole back. Go throw a punch or somethin'.

Later, after a lengthy caution:

Junior: Man, I am flat bored.
Junior: What's the point of cleaning off the race track? We're just going to dirty it up again.

Discussing Nemechek: Wish I knew what they were referring to here, sounds like they were insinuating the 25 team was cheating....

Junior: Hey, Tony Jr., that 25 car... the roof bar on the roll cage is angled downward.
Eury Jr.: 10-4. They build their own chassis... (unintelligible) ... tricked out like that.

View the pictures in this HTML slide show.

Race Day

Best buy for breakfast: Homemade fried pies ($4) at the infield concession stand. I tried Peach, Apricot, and Pineapple, and they were all delicious. The cherry didn't look very good, though.

Best buy for lunch: Roma II, a great little Italian Restaurant in Carrollton, has a concession down near Turn 4 behind the grandstands. For $5 you can get a Stromboli that is just out of this world.

Cool moment of the day: Feeling (yeah, you could hear it, too) the approach of the B-1 Bomber during the pre-race fly-bys. What an awesome machine. made the whole grandstands shake. No stealth there.

Jerks in the grandstands: There's always at least one around you.... This one was a couple, apparently their first race. They stood almost the whole time, which meant we couldn't see a darned thing until they decided to sit down. Would have been okay if we could have stood up to see over them, but alas, they were too tall. But really, if that's the worst of it, it wasn't too bad.

Doom, Despair, and Agony on Me: We didn't stay around for the Legends race. Since we got out of the track parking lot so quickly last year, we thought we'd head on home. It didn't quite work that way, though. Here's the text from the letter I wrote, explaining what happened. Needless to say, I wasn't a very happy camper.

Letter to Eddie

Well, that's all for this year. Be sure to check out our other UCAPs! Last year's has lots of great pictures from inside the garage!

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