Sometimes working for a big company has it's perks! Late in 1998, Mark went to work for a prominent advertising agency as an audio engineer. Lucky for us, this same ad agency did some of the promotions for NASCAR's 50th Anniversary. Someone in the office wound up with tickets, and two of them trickled down to us! Imagine our surprise when they were delivered and we found that they were for the LUXURY SUITES!
I still think that the ultimate
NASCAR experience would be camping in the infield with a garage
pass, but I have to say that our little foray into the FINA tower
of Turn One runs a close second. I took loads and loads
of pictures (hey, the GOOD camera was working this year!), and
there's a lot to tell you about. So sit back, get comfortable,
and stay a while!
Have you ever stood in line to get Dale Earnhardt's autograph? We did.
My favorite driver made his annual appearance at Frank Parra Chevrolet on Thursday night. I never got a head count on how many autograph seekers there really were, but rumor has it that more than 5,000 people attended in 1998, and that there were close to twice as many this year. Gauging by the line we had to stand in, I wouldn't doubt it.
The "Man in Black" was scheduled to appear between 6:00 and 8:00. We got there a little early, only to find that others had been lining up since NOON! After waiting in line for nearly three hours, the powers that be shut it all down. There were still at least a hundred people in line ahead of us, and countless others behind. We managed to find our way to a side exit where he came out, but there were so many people, and his body guards were herding him along so fast that I never got a good picture. Oh well, next year, I will be there at noon, too!
On Friday, we went to practice and 1st Round Qualifying. There were quite a few more people in attendance this year than last. I took quite a few pictures that day, but that DARNED fence just gets in the way. And of course, the safety crews won't let you get anywhere near it so you can shoot around it! Steven wasn't much interested in the cars this year. He had a tiring morning at Kindergarten. Here's how he spent most of the afternoon:
I took several rolls of film,
but only a few of the photos could really capture those cars as
they speed around the track. Here's a few of them:
Mom had switched from Jeff Gordon to Rusty during the previous year, so we skipped the last two or three cars qualifying so we could beat traffic out and get to a Rusty Wallace appearance on time. Rusty was scheduled to be at Cowboy's in Arlington, a country western bar. Dad (yeah, I think he felt left out last year) and Mark said they were going to meet us there. We got hung up in traffic despite our rush to leave, and apparently, Rusty did too, because he still hadn't arrived when we got to the club.
This autograph session wasn't nearly as cool as the FORD Fan Appreciation Party they threw at the Convention Center last year. We couldn't find a line (and we asked several of the club's employees, who didn't know either), so we decided to take a ride in the NASCAR simulator. They had it set up for two drivers (both driving the #2 car, natch), so Mom and I both climbed on. I started to get the hang of it after a lap or so, and was making some pretty good headway, but LORD, don't EVER let my Mama become a NASCAR driver! She wrecked every car on the track! I only wrecked twice, both times when I came up on some multi-car collision she had just created! I finished in the Top 20, she wound up 38th. It sure was a lot of fun, but I don't think I'll EVER race with HER again. LOL
Rusty was about 2 hours late arriving at the club. Waitresses and bartenders were trying to keep the fans happy by passing out Rusty Wallace key chains every few minutes. I must have stuffed a half dozen or so of those things in my pockets. They kept telling us he was hung up in traffic, and all we could think of was "why didn't he take a helicopter from the track to the club, his PR people should have KNOWN you can't get from the track to the middle of Arlington in 30 minutes during RUSH HOUR TRAFFIC!" For what it's worth, I don't know that you can get from the track to the middle of Arlington in 30 minutes with NO traffic. Oh well, poor planning, I suppose.
But that's not the worst of it. We waited in line for what seemed like an eternity. Rusty was being very generous with each fan, signing autographs and posing for pictures with most of them (you know, the arm draped around the shoulder kind of thing). Under normal circumstances, this would have been REALLY COOL, but when your event is so poorly planned that you show up two hours late, it is decidedly NOT COOL, because you sign less autographs that way. That's not to say that I like the "cattle drive" they normally put you through at these sorts of things, but I really think that if he had just signed the autograph and moved them on along, everyone there would have gotten one.
As it was, with just 4 people in front of us, they decided to close it down. This AFTER about 10 people cut in line ahead of us and and the security guards/bouncers let them. He was there another 10 minutes posing for pictures with the BIMBOS from the country radio station (can you tell I was pretty hacked off?). So we didn't get his autograph this year either. That left us 0 for 2. But luck was giving us the faintest smile since Rusty had to walk right past us to leave the bar. Mom was the closest and he inadvertently brushed up against her. Now she swears she'll never wash her arm! And I managed to get a few photos with the instant camera (too dark for the Pentax).
We decided to go to the Busch race on Saturday. And I'll have you know that I root for the Busch regulars, NOT the Winston Cup drivers that dabble there. Mom and Dad had infield passes for the whole weekend, and not to be left out of any fun, I bought one for myself.
While we waited for the race to start, Mom and I thought we would go take a peek into the Winston Cup garage. Not a whole lot to see, but at least there weren't a lot of by-standers getting in the way of the view.
This was my first race in the rain (it always rains SOMETIME during race week, but it had yet to raid DURING the race). Luckily, Texas weather is crazy enough that I usually come prepared for anything. Plus, that's about all they'd talked about on the news for days. Unfortunately, when it rains, it gets cloudy, and when it gets cloudy, it gets dark. In all my preparedness, I forgot to get any low-light film for the cameras, so had to make due. In the battle between shuttle speed or light, shutter speed won, because I knew a slow shutter could never capture those cars. Unfortunately, it got dark pretty quickly, and few of the shots I took passed my scrutiny.
Once I've had a little time to
"live with them", I may decide to put some of the other
pictures up. We'll see....
We got late start for the track Sunday morning. Traffic to the track was already bad at 6:00 AM, as we knew it would be. Even our little-known Farm Road was bumper-to-bumper for over 15 miles.
When we finally got there, Mark decided to sleep in the car while Mom, Dad, and I made use of our infield passes. We set up our lawn chairs in Turn 4 as we had done the year before, and then headed for the garage area. Then we decided to head over to Turn One to check out the view.
Near the Pedestrian Tunnel, we found an entrance into pit road. We decided to take advantage of it (since it wasn't manned by security guards) and slip in for a quick picture down pit road. Fortunately for us, a couple of guys who had also been standing there decided to check it out and found that it was open to us as long as we didn't disturb the pit crews. So we went on in.
Walking in the pits was GREAT! We took a long leisurely stroll, snapping photos of all our favorite driver's pits and some of their crew.
Here's a few pictures of the 2 car's pit. I'll have more just as soon as Mom sends me her pictures. We even got one of her with a member of Rusty's pit crew!
Jeremy Mayfield is another of our favorite drivers.
Mike Skinner's Lowe's pit was interesting. On the ground, his crew had thrown a pile of used lug nuts. We bent over to examine them and one of the crew members told us we could have them if we wanted. Since they had already been on the car, they had to dispose of them, but they just hadn't figured out what to do with them yet. Needless to say, Mom and I loaded up the pockets of our rain jackets.
Here's some of the spare parts the 31 team had set aside in case of emergency.
Kenny Wallace is another one of our favorites. Here's a few shots of the Square D pit.
And here are some of the 55 car's tires.
Of course, we can't leave out Bill Elliott.
And then there's The Intimidator's pit. Several of their crew members were busy in the pits.
This crew member was generous enough to pose for a picture with me. Unfortunately, I don't know who he is. Do you? If you know who this is, please email me!
Okay, Okay, I'm getting a lot of flak for not including my own picture, but seriously, folks, you DON'T WANT ME TO! LOL! A teenager, an 8-year-old, and twelve years of marriage (the current one, that is) have put a little age on this face. I haven't had a REAL picture taken in years! BUT (yeah, I have a big butt, too, LOL) I'm hoping to have some done real soon, and I'll add one somewhere to the site when I do.
There were lots of interesting things to see BEHIND the pits as well. Here's a shot of a tire specialist adjusting tire pressure.
By the time we left the pit area, it was starting to fill up with curious fans, and I decided it was time to go find Mark. The suites were getting ready to open, and I wanted to check them out.
Our suite was located in the FINA tower, which is the last group of suites at the end of the front stretch, positioned right atop Turn One. The taller building beside it is the Speedway Club (Bruton Smith's latest attempt to attract "upscale" race-goers). To get to the suites from the infield, you can use a narrow pedestrian tunnel that is buried under the track. Call me claustrophobic, but that tunnel was kind of scary! Looking up at the ceiling, you could see where the sheet metal was punctured and bits of concrete were crumbling through. I also imagined that the sound inside the tunnel would be quite deafening when the cars are passing overhead. Either way, I don't think I'd want to go through it while a race was going on!
The view from the suites was GREAT! From where we were sitting above Turn One, you can see the whole track! Here's a few pictures just to give you an idea!
When we got up to the suite, they had a continental breakfast waiting for us. All kinds of muffins, breads, and danish, along with coffee and spirits. The suite also came with a few pit passes to be shared among the occupants. We decided to take advantage of it. In the mean time, Mom and Dad found a better place to sit. Mom's the one with the red umbrella, marked by the big red arrow.
By the time Mark and I got back to pit road, it was crowded with onlookers. Of course, we had to get pictures of some of the things I missed on the first pass.
Okay, okay, enough of this silly stuff. How 'bout some pictures of CARS!? We caught several of the teams heading into and out of inspection. Here's a few of them.
Well, that's all the shots from the pits. For now it's back up to the suites to watch the race!
As I said before, the suites are an incredible experience, and one that we will likely never be able to do again. Food and drink all day, with some of the best food. Mmmm......
For lunch it was Prime Rib and Cajun Chicken, along with fresh green beans, twice baked potatoes, a selection of wonderful breads, and a delicious marbled cheesecake for dessert. We finished our lunch just in time for the race to start.
I took a lot of pictures, but from that height and with the cars going so fast, it was nearly impossible to get anything really breath-taking. I've got a few of the better ones here.
Well, that's all folks. Don't forget to come back for next year's recap!