Not quite the rain-out we had in 2002, but this year's spring race had some wild weather extremes, to be sure. In Texas, we have a saying, "If you don't like the weather, wait 5 minutes, and it will change." Spring is a bit volitile here. A little more than a week ago, it was 80°, beautiful and sunny. Last weekend, it was cold -- we even saw some snow flurries! So it warmed up a bit, but then came the thunderstorms. And in Texas, thunderstorms mean hail and tornados. I think we got a little bit of everything during race week.
When Rusty Wallace retired, Lennox continued their sponsorship with the new driver of the #2, Kurt Busch. Last year, we weren't much interested in getting Kurt's autograph (I'm not sure why), but we decided we should this year. For some reason, Lennox had their Employee Race Day on Wednesday instead of Thursday. Good think Mom comes to town on Tuesday now!
After getting Kurt Busch's autograph, we crossed the metroplex to hit the track and pick up our infield passes. I was sort of kicking myself for not picking them up the week before, but I just hadn't though about them until it was too late. Luckily, there weren't any real lines this year (maybe because we were there on Wednesday instead of Thursday?), so we were in and out in record time.
As we were driving up the highway, we had a great view of the track. We've often talked about stopping to take some pictures, but we never did. We didn't have anything else we really needed to do, so we decided to just drive around the track and get some good pictures. These are from the shoulder of some of the surrounding highways.
I can't believe that we FINALLY made it to the track EARLY! We left the house around 4:00 am, and arrived at the speedway around 5:00. The last few years, that timing would have been pushing it. We really expected some of the haulers to be on the move or getting ready to head into the garage. But as we pulled into a parking space in one of the free lots, we could see that all of the haulers were still dark, and the speedway didn't have anyone setting up to direct traffic into the infield. The infield cafe wasn't even open yet. That meant we had plenty of time to get a good spot and get set up.
We wound up down by the gate into the Cup garage. There still weren't any officials or track personnel there to direct traffic. In fact, the trucks didn't start moving until nearly 6 o'clock! We thought we had some great spots to take pictures, but we quickly figured out that it's REALLY DARK down in the garage when the trucks are coming in. They don't have spotlights set up like they do coming into the infield tunnel. So all of our pictures were relying entirely on the flash for light. The pictures aren't bad but they're not all that great, either. They're just different from what I've had before. I also didn't have my trusty film camera with me at all this year. I decided it wasn't worth the extra weight.
We were close enough to the haulers to touch them, although we didn't dare do so. But we did notice that one of the trailers seemed to be dragging. Another fan standing nearby explained that it was due to the air shocks or something. It looks like the trailer is cutting into the tire, but it's not, and as the weight of the trailer shifts, so does the air cushion, which makes for a very stable ride.
Another thing we noticed was the way the trailers were lining up in the garage. I recalled some confusion last year when we were trying to find certain driver's stalls in the garage (they didn't have the signs up), and they weren't where we thought they should be. In past years, the haulers went into the garage in points order with the first garage space being reserved for the previous year's champion. The came in order 1st through whatever, alternating which side of the garage they parked on, so that all the even numbered positions were on one side of the garage, and the odd numbers were on the other. This year, when they came in, they were in a different order, so that all of the top 23 (or so) went in side-by-side on the north side of the garage, and everyone 24th and down went to the other. I'm not sure what the exact cut-off was because I don't know how many stalls there are in the garage, but I do know that the 7 car was the last one to get a garage stall on the north side. I don't know if this was a good thing or a bad thing. Yes, it was nice that all of the top 20 were there on one side, but it also meant all the fans were crowded around that side as well.
After a while, we decided to head out to the midway to do some shopping. Mom drove out first on her new cart, and we would follow as soon as we caught a courtesy golf cart. But the cart ran out of juice at the top of the hill and we had to get a handicap golf cart to pick us up and take the cart back to the car. There we were, yet again with Mom having to walk all day.
Returning to the midway, we were disappointed to find that none of the trailers were open at 11:00 am, when there were fans milling about everywhere. We had to wait even longer for the concessions to open so we could buy some lunch before heading back to the infield. I don't remember the midway EVER opening so late in the day before. It's usually opening by 9:00 every other time we've been there.
Lunch sucked. By the time everything opened and we found what we wanted, Cup practice had already started. Mom and Stephanie grabbed a corndog. I made the mistake of wanting one of the Philly Cheesesteaks I had last fall that was so good. I also got some cheese fries. But since practice had started, we decided to carry it down into the infield to eat it. But we had a hard time getting a cart to stop and pick us up -- they just kept going by empty. By the time we got to the infield, the food was cold and gross. I didn't even eat half of it.
Trying to wolf down our food during practice, we missed most of the cars going through. By the time we'd given up on eating, it had started raining. We stood around and watched the teams cover their cars for a while.
Then Mom heard them say over the radio that the bad weather was coming sooner than expected and it would hit the track within 30 minutes. We decided to head for the infield cafe to figure see if practice would be cancelled, but Mom flagged down a golf cart to go to the car, so we decided to just leave. We figured there was no way they were going to finish practice or qualify so there was no point in staying.
We stopped at the corner Texaco on the way home, and it seemed there were more merchandise trailers there this year, but they didn't have very much. Still no sign of the guy with the zopini charms. We didn't have anything better to do, so we went shopping. After we got home, we found out that they had actually evacuated the track due to the bad weather, so we were glad we left. Tornados touched down in several parts of the metroplex, and there was some really large hail (grapefruit sized) in some areas. The sky got a little scary around my place, but we were undamaged. I was more than a little worried about Mark and Steven, though, as they were camping with Boy Scouts just south of Dallas because they took the boys to the drag races at Texas Motorplex at Ennis.
I've pretty much lost interest in Saturdays and Busch races. There are so many Buschwhackers in the field it just makes me mad. By the way, did you know that the term Busch-whacker came from our beloved RASNM newsgroup? Mike Joy (yeah, the guy from Fox) used to be a regular poster there, and he brought the phrase over when he started announcing on Fox. If you're interested in checking out the newsgroup, go to http://rasnm.carracing.com/.
I digress. Oh yeah, I was telling you how I don't really care to go to the track on Saturdays any more. Between the Buschwhackers, the weather, my tired and aching feet, etc., I've been less and less inclined to go. But Mom is more interested these days because of Stephen Wallace, so this year I talked my daughter, Christen (who's now grown) into going with her. They hung around for Cup practice, but the weather had turned so bitterly cold they refused to stick around for the Busch race.
Now before you start laughing, you gotta understand folks, we're often still wearing shorts in December around here. We're not used to cold, and our coats got put away weeks ago. For us, this was cold.
Life is so much better when you have a good route to the track! Stephanie and her husband, Todd, figured out a northern route several years ago, and it's always served them well. With that in mind, we decided not to leave at 4:00 in the morning on race day, but to sleep in a while and leave at 6:00. I was a bit nervous about it, but they were right! We got to the track without any hassle, and there were still lots of good parking places up near the front of the lot. Of course, we were fortunate that Mom's doctor finally gave her a handicap parking pass, so we got to move on up to the paved parking at the gate where we wanted to go in.
We tried to get Mom to call for the handicap golf cart, but she wasn't ready yet, so we wound up walking around the midway a while. I was looking for some of those pants/pajama pants that look like checkered flags. I needed them for a costume contest. I'd seen them out there every year, but now that I needed a pair, I couldn't fine one anywhere. We finally gave up and sent Mom to call for the golf cart, but by then we wound up having to wait for the cart to arrive.
We got to such a late start that we decided to go directly to the driver's lot in the infield to get a few pictures and autographs. We stopped by the infield cafe on our way, but there was no radio show. That was disappointing as it's always been a great place to get autographs and pictures.
I didn't take many notes while we were standing out there, the pictures pretty much tell the tale, but I did note a few things I thought were interesting, like:
Last fall, since we were stuck in the infield, we brought along rolling backpacks to tote all our gear. It worked out really well, so we brought them along again this race. We dragged them around all weekendI almost thought twice about bringing mine on Sunday, just because it would take up so much room in the stands, but I was reluctant to give up any of my extra gear I carried in it (camera, binoculars, scanner, rain gear, etc.) Plus, it had been so cold the day before, we decided to bring blankets with us. But Stephanie talked me into bringing it, so I did. It wouldn't have been so bad except it was a total pain in the butt to drag/carry it through the infield tunnel and then up through the grandstands to our section in the nosebleed seats. I have since vowed to bring it along only if I can take it back to the car or at least take the long way around to the grandstands and chain it up down below. It was just too much of a pain going up and down with it, and it took up way too much room under our seats.
Did I mention that we were in the nosebleed seats this year? I don't know what the deal was, but Lennox gave us some of the worst seats I've ever had at that track. It was really weird, too, because some of the Lennox people were in seats many rows below us and the seats are purchased by Lennox in a block. The only thing we could figure out was that Lennox waited too long to buy the block of seats this year. Usually they send out the email to employees quite a bit earlier than they did this year.
And did I mention that we were in the wrong seats? When Stephanie and I came up through the infield tunnel, we found mom in the grandstands. She had left the infield about 30 minutes earlier on one of the handicap carts. We sat down beside her and started to unpack and get comfortable. But just before the race started, a couple of guys came up with tickets for our seats -- Mom had sat down in the wrong row! The two men offered to swap seats with us, so they moved down to where we should be, and we thought it was settled until another couple came along and we were in one of their seats as well. Mom wound up moving down to the row with the other two men (why didn't we just get up and move when we first figured it out?!).
A few interesting things came up on the scanners during the race. We all three decided to go in together and rent a Nextel FanView scanner. Wow! What a cool deal! The one word of advice I have, though, is to limit your scans to just <b>one</b> driver! Since Mom was in the row below us, Stephanie and I set it up to listen to 4 of our favorite drivers: Dale Jr., Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, and Matt Kennseth. While it was fun getting to hear several different teams (someone was talking almost all the time), it got really confusing because you'd have to look to see which team was talking. It made it nearly impossible to catch some good scanner bites worth repeating. Here's a few that we did catch:
Lap 218 - Harvick: I'm telling you there's something wrong because the rear end goes right in Turn 3!
Lap 240 - Dale Jr's team: Pit road is open! Pit Road is open! That'll be right there on your left, Junior!
There was also someone belching on the air. At first, I thought it was just squelch or something, but then we decided it was someone intentionally belching. You'd hear them key the mic, belch very loudly, and then close the channel. Unforunately, it would happen so quickly that it took a long time to track down which team it was. We finally figured out it was someone on the #29, but we don't know who.
I don't think they ever mentioned it on the TV, but after his wreck, Junior got into the #5 car to finish the race. Pretty dumb of Busch to leave the track so soon.....
I have to say that I was prepared for disappointment. I always go the race hoping my driver will win (that would be Dale Jr., in case you didn't know), and it hasn't happened in a long time. But even though Junior was out of the running, I must admit that those last 10-12 laps were some of the best racing I've every witnessed first hand! That was some really close racing folks, and the entire speedway was on the edge of their seats. The whole place went pretty wild with the last pass. And it was kind of neat that the winner of the innaugural race is also the first person to be a repeat winner.
Anyway, that's about it for the UCAP. We didn't hang around long after the race was over, and the trip home was pretty uneventful. It'll be nice when Mark can go to a race again -- I miss my Borgbilly Burgers! Be sure to check out some of our other UCAPS!