Thursday, April 14
We'll, he finally did it. Bruton Smith finally managed to get a second date for Texas. And with that date came a lot of restructuring of the NASCAR schedule. Our beloved Texas 500 was moved to mid-April, and I must say, it was a change for the better. Gone were the cold, dreary skies, the rain, and the urgency to soak up enough NASCAR to last a whole year. The weather was beautiful, and we took everything at a much more relaxed pace than previous years, knowing we could come back and do it some more in November. We can't wait.
Lennox sold tickets to its employees again this year. They also hosted a meet and greet with Rusty Wallace, and of course, Mom, Stephanie, and I went. It's so much more relaxed to go to a sponsor's autograph session than to try and catch drivers at public venues. They allowed us two autographs per person and took a polaroid for us. Of course we took a whole lot of pictures ourselves.
Lennox Employee Race Day
We spent the rest of the day running errands before we headed out to the track to buy our infield passes. I usually buy them via phone several weeks before the race, but I dropped the ball and the speedway won't sell the passes over the phone during race week. We wound up standing in line for an hour to get them (not knowing that we could buy them at the infield gate!) and decided that next year we would ALL remember to buy them in advance. They also charged us an unprecidented $70 for the passes. We nearly choked. I remember paying $50 in 1997, or $55 during race week. The past few years I think it was $60, or $65 during race week.
We were really disappointed to learn that Qualifying was bundled with the IROC race this year. In the past it had been sponsored by local business, so we could get in for free or at most $10. Not this year. The Dallas Morning News sponsored the whole day, and tickets were $40 or $30 with a coupon from the paper. I would have liked to stay for the IROC race, but no one else really cared, and after paying $100 for race day tickets and $70 for infield passes, there was just no way we could afford it.
As we were leaving the track, we spotted the haulers parked in their usual spot, waiting to enter the track Friday morning. We stopped to take a few pictures. A couple of guys came walking out of the parking lot and said they had walked right up to the haulers and talked to some of the drivers. We were too chicken to try.
My cousin, Clifton, and his wife, Jennifer, got to town around 10:00 PM. They are big Dale Earnhardt, Jr. fans and were excited to be attending their first NASCAR race. They also informed me that Clifton's friend, Richard, and Jennifer's mom, Joan would arriving Friday evening. Apparently, they got some free tickets somewhere and needed a place to stay. Needless to say, we had a full house.
Friday, April 15
The PLAN was to go to bed early and leave my house around 3:00 AM to make it to the track in time to watch the haulers go into the infield at 5:15. Unfortunately, we didn't get to bed until after midnight, and we woke to the sound of Stephanie knocking on the door around 2:30. I was so tired driving out to the track that I missed my turn off I-35E and had to back-track. Luckily, though, we made it to the track on time, and wound up parking by the speedway office because the inner ring road was completely blocked off (more on that later).
Mom brought the runabout cart so that she wouldn't have to walk everywhere. You may recall from past UCAPs that she injured her knee at the speedway several years ago (required surgery) and she's had trouble with it ever since. Unfortunately, when we assembled the cart, we couldn't get it to run. Mom was going to have to walk all weekend and she didn't even have her cane for support.
We had a better spot to take pictures from than in previous years, but the earlier time (they went in at 6:00 AM until last year) and the time change meant that it was still dark, so I guess the effect of the sun coming up in the distance is a photo I'll never catch. It's still pretty neat to see, and it draws a crowd, so I guess we're not the only loons up at that hour. The transport drivers seem to enjoy seeing everyone there, too, because many of them honk and wave.
Haulers enter the infield
After the haulers went in, we walked down into the infield for a while. There wasn't much going on at this hour, so we decided to take the opportunity to move the cars to the free parking lot before we got towed. Some day I'm going to take a pedometer with me to the track. I have no clue how many miles I wind up walking during race week, but I should have burned enough calories to be thin as a rail by now.
On the way back to the infiled, we discovered the courtesy golf carts. Mom and I rode in one last year, but we didn't realize that Nationwide Insurance sponsors the carts and offers free rides to anyone who wants one. One cart took Stephanie and I from the car right down to the garage gate. After that, we started noticing them everywhere -- white golf carts with blue awnings and a Nationwide logo. We took them everywhere for the rest of the weekend, which really helped to save Mom's knee.
We hung around the garage for most of the morning. We did take one trip back out to the car to dump some gear. It wasn't so bad knowing that we could just hitch a ride on one of the carts. That's probably the best fan perk Bruton Smith has ever added to a track.
The speedway grounds had changed a lot since last year. Over the south tunnel was a pedestrian and vehicle bridge. I'm not exactly sure what it's purpose was. It did provide a safer place for pedestrians to walk around the outside of the grandstands, but I don't know why they had vehicle traffic going over it as well -- it runs parallel to the roadway. Another big change was that all traffic around the speedway was routed to the outer ring road. The inner ring road was baricaded on the west side of the track to add a third row of merchandise trailers to the midway. Only golf carts were allowed access to that part. The west side of the track was closed to all traffic except vehicles with camping passes. Explain to me why you would block off one of your major roads when traffic is as bad as it is at Texas? I think I'm going to have to write another email to Eddie Gossage.
One purchase I made at the track turned out to be the coolest gadget I've ever bought there. There were several stands selling inflatable stadium cushions. Anyone who's ever used a stadium cushion knows they are only slightly more comfortable than the seats themselves. These were really cool, though. They come in a handy pouch with a carabiner you can clip to your belt or fanny pack. Three or four breaths easily inflates the cushion and they were pretty easy to deflate, too. And BOY were they comfy. At one point, I got really tired, so I just laid back on the grass at the entrance to the garage and used the cushion for a pillow. I had a great little nap. We used them again during qualifying since we weren't able to go up into the stands. We found a nice spot in the grass between Turns 3 and 4 and sat on the cushions. If you see the cushions, they were well worth the money. They were $10 each or 2 for $15. We all wound up buying one by the end of the weekend.
Stephanie was listening to Fox on her scanner and they were reporting that the cars would be impounded after qualifying, even though the speedway's website said there were two practices scheduled for Saturday. That put a real kink in our plans because we usually spend Saturday at the track watching practice. We didn't find out that the cars weren't impounded until it was too late, so we didn't go to the track Saturday at all. Clifton, Jennifer, Richard, and Joan went, though, and gained a whole new respect for NASCAR drivers. I have to laugh because the day before, Clifton kept saying, "I could do that" and "I could be a driver". After the Busch race, he admitted that even the driver who comes in 43rd is no one to sneeze at -- they're all good, and they all deserve our respect.
Good food of the day:
You're not missing anything: Gyros and Cheese steaks (they were terrible)
Word of mouth: Smoked onion burgers (spicy)
Shopping for fan gear: Across the street at the Texaco
Sunday, April 17
Why is it that we never get to bed early like we say we're going to? We stayed up 'til 1:00 visiting with our company only to wake up at 4:00 so we could leave the house by 5:00. We lounged around in the parking lot for a while before taking a stroll through the midway -- aparently the carts aren't opperating at the crack of dawn. We were disappointed to find that the local radio stations didn't have a broadcast setup in the infield cafe. This has always been a great spot to sit and watch for drivers every year. Last year there were two radio stations set up there. This year there were none. We spent the rest of the morning watching the crews and catching glimpses of drivers returning from hospitality obligations.
The stairs out of the infield tunnel into the grandstands are very steep, and Mom had been on her feet all weekend. We tried to find a cart, but after waiting several minutes without seeing one, we got in line for the tunnel. I thought we'd never make it to our seats.
One interesting note about the grandstand tickets: on the stub section was printed "Mission Impossible" and over that was printed "Complete", like a rubber stamp. We decided this MUST refer to SMI's attempts to get a second date for Texas for the past 8 years. It was kind of funny.
The race was exciting, and we all had a great time, even if we were a bit sunburnt. Scheduling the race a few weeks later in the season made for some beautiful weather. Most people showed up in shorts, and we quickly decided it was too warm for the race jackets and long pants we usually wear. Our seats were pretty good, except for the pole we always seem to get stuck behind, and at least there weren't any jerks in front of us who stood up for the whole race. We were just 4 sections off the start/finish line and just under the suite overhand, so we could see the whole track and were in the shade most of the day. Since Lennox only allows 4 tickets per employee, we had to buy some of the tickets through another employee, so Mom, Clifton, and Jennifer were a couple of sections over and up. Joan and Richard's tickets were for the Busch race, so they had to buy backstretch tickets for Sunday. Joan said Tony's engine blew right in front of them and the fire looked really bad. They were pretty worried when he leaned up against the infield fence and passed out.
I listened to Dale Jr. on the scanner all day. The team kept making modifications to correct his loose in/tight off car. Every time he'd tell Pete Rondeau that it was worse than before, the crew chief would just say "10-4". Junior kept asking his team to talk it out with him and find something that would make the car better, but they weren't even telling Junior what changes they were going to make at each pit stop. Towards the end of the race, Junior lit into Rondeau saying something to the effect of, "Talk to me guys. I keep telling you what's wrong and asking you to talk it over with me, but all I get is '10-4'. Are you even listening to me? We need to talk this out and figure out what we can do to fix it." He accused them of being close-mouthed to keep other teams from hearing and Junior told them it was pointless and stupid. Rondeau said that Junior chewed him out the week before for talking too much, so he was just doing what Junior wanted. They went back and forth for a few minutes without ever discussing what to do about the car. I think Junior just finally gave up. All said, I think Junior did a good job of making a top 10 performance out of a less than stellar car. That team is still struggling, and it seems to me that it's not going to be resolved any time soon. They just aren't working like a team yet.
Junior also complained about Micheal Waltrip and Mark Martin holding him up on one of the runs. He said something like, "I don't know why they're doing that. I always let them go when they're faster than I am." And after being held up by Sterling Marlin on several restarts, Junior's spotter (Steve Hmeil?), told Junior to watch out for the "four-oh, you know what a pain in the butt he can be."
After the race was over, we headed back to the vehicles for some tailgating. We brought along goodies for burgers and all the trimmings. It was nice to sit and relax and eat, all the while laughing at the idiots who think they can get out if they leave as soon as the race is over.
In the whole time we were making burgers and eating, the cars in our lot never moved. Several of them gave up and drove to the next road over (where traffic WAS moving). They got out pretty quickly after that. We could see traffic moving on every road out of the track -- only the parking lot we were in was at a dead standstill. This makes the third time the lot at Gate 2 was blocked up. We decided to park off Gate 4 next year. Todd and Stephanie left about an hour after we finished eating and were home about an hour later (via Gate 4 parking lot). We looked out and saw that all the other lots had emptied (except for the tailgaters), and there was our lot -- still full. After about another hour, our lot started to clear out and we headed home. It didn't take long once we hit the pavement, but boy were we tired. On the way out, we noticed that they had someone directing traffic out of all of the other lots except the one we were in. Go figure.
Best food of the day:
Nachos Grande, $7 for a HUGE plate with beef, cheese, pico de gallo, jalepenos,
and sour cream.
Rip off: Cokes and water are now $4 instead of $3
Doh! Moment: Taking a big swig of Coke only to discover that it was the half-empty water bottle everyone was using for an ashtray. YUK!
Well, that's all for the April race. Check back here for a UCAP from the November race at Texas Motor Speedway, otherwise known as
The Impossible Dream