A week and a half ago, I accomplished a very momentous first. It’s something that’s probably on quite a few bucket lists.
I went to a NASCAR race at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.
This was not on my personal bucket list, just to be clear.
I went with my husband to celebrate his father’s 60th birthday (which was actually in the summer, but this particular race was the one he chose to see/worked with our calendars/was “easy” to get to compared to other tracks (I have my doubts about that last bit).
Honestly, I’m not sure how I forgot to include NASCAR in my “list of things I dislike or used to dislike because of my parents.” My dad thinks NASCAR is one of the most boring sports on earth (I say “one of” because I just realized I’m not sure of his thoughts on curling). And this is a man who will happily spend all Sunday watching golf. And I easily accepted this line of thinking. The way I see it, the only “exciting” parts of a NASCAR race are the crashes, and if you’re really sitting there rooting for those to happen, you’re kind of a horrible person. That’s like rooting for a horse to break his leg during a horse race.
Also, I’m really the last person who NASCAR fans would want anywhere near a NASCAR race. I’m not into talking politics and such here, but let’s get it out of the way: I’m a liberal environmentalist who strongly believes in gun control and laws banning smoking in public. I hate macro brews — not just the taste (or lack thereof), but everything they represent as businesses. I don’t believe in standing and removing caps when they sing “God Bless America” at sporting events (it’s not our friggin’ national anthem, people). Oh, and I was raised Catholic but currently feel uneasy about organized religion in general.
So my mindset leading up to our trip switched between that of a naturalist about to study a group in its natural habitat to a writer doing research to genuine curiosity and attempts to keep an open mind. Obviously, this was for my father-in-law’s birthday and we hadn’t seen Husband’s parents since last year and I was determined to maintain a positive attitude and not be a selfish, immature brat.
I have some social skills, people. Or at least some “don’t be a complete jerk” skills.
But I was still confused when I was up at 6:00 am Sunday morning to get on a bus at 7:30 so we could get to the race track around 9:00 for a race that started at 1:30 in the afternoon. And that’s where our story begins…
(I’m now referring mainly to the massive group text I had going with my dad and brothers to keep them informed on the events of the day).
Best I can tell we are in the middle of nowhere, except for a small airfield and a field of RVs that literally stretches as far as I can see. People camp here all weekend for the race.
We approached the track entrance. I’m told that there’s lots of “activities” and things to see and do leading up to the race. I’m about to find out that most of those things are in the infield section, which requires an extra $50 ticket. Husband and his dad are offered those tickets for free from a kind gentleman. He only has two extra, though.
We walk by a line of huge trailers selling souvenirs. They’re dedicated to different drivers and I get the idea to pick up a Christmas gift for my aunt, who’s a legit NASCAR fan. I ask my dad (via the group text) if she’d want a purple Danica Patrick t-shirt or a pink camo Jeff Gordon hat (she hates both of those drivers, so this inquiry is mostly in jest). I’m pretty sure my dad isn’t awake yet.
I’m informed that Jeff Gordon is still driving and this is his last season. This truly is news to me.
My brother in Chicago is the only one texting me back as he is the only one awake. He asks for a report on the beers people are drinking. I see mostly Bud and Miller signs, some Coors signs. Quite a few Shock Top stands. There’s supposed to be a beer garden somewhere with taps from two Alabama craft breweries. We also packed in our own soft-sided coolers with plenty of local brews. (Husband and I got some six-packs from Back Forty Beer.)
I gotta say, if NASCAR gets anything right, it’s allowing people to bring their own food and drinks — including alcohol!! — into their stadiums (race tracks? speedways?). We were allowed one soft-sided cooler per person that would fit under the seats. We just couldn’t bring glass or hard cups or “things that could be thrown.”
First Confederate flag sighting! It’s actually a two-fer — an older guy wearing the flag on both his hat AND his tank top. Side note, he really couldn’t pull off the tank top. For that matter, most of the men here wearing tank tops should have taken an extra minute or two in their closets this morning.
Husband and his dad make use of their gifted infield passes. His mom and I spend the next hour walking the entire length of the concourse. There is nothing up here but food/drink concessions and souvenir stands.
My mother-in-law and I are still walking the concourse. At one point, a golf cart drives past us, clearing a path for an SUV. A few minutes later, we walk up to a crowd gathering around that SUV. I assume maybe someone got hurt and the SUV is a medical vehicle. Assuming this, I think poorly of the people holding their phones out to take pictures. Instead, the door to one of the luxury suites opens and some security guards walk out. The crowd presses closer and more people hold up their phones.
Then Jeff Gordon walks out and is escorted to the SUV.
I have to admit, that’s pretty cool. And no, I didn’t get a picture because I didn’t react quickly enough. ::hangs head in millennial shame::
Also, right after this my dad wakes up and finally joins in on the group text. I’m pretty sure he had upwards of 70 texts to read through. And I see my first (and, surprisingly, only) Trump 2016 shirt of the day.
My mother-in-law and I realize there’s a whole area outside the track that has some of the “activities” we were told about. Plus the “Super Fan Shop” which is about a dozen huge tents of souvenirs. Husband and his dad meet us and we go down there. Luckily we have in-and-out privileges with our tickets.
My dad tells me to buy a Dale Earnhardt Jr. souvenir for my NASCAR-loving aunt. He’s also requested “the most redneck souvenir they have” for himself, so I’m keeping an eye out for that.
So. Many. Jorts. Husband and I have a fairly in-depth discussion over whether or not people are rocking the “jorts and cowboy boots” look as a stunt or if that’s how they actually like to dress.
We finally find the beer garden. I get to try a Raspberry Berliner Weisse from Trimtab Brewing and it’s tart and fruity but pretty tasty. And pink.
There’s a huge Chevy display area. I get to sit in a Corvette for like seven seconds. That’s pretty cool.
We go back in and head to our seats. I confirm what I noticed earlier, which is that there is not a single drinking fountain anywhere to be found. We no longer feel so smart about bringing reusable water bottles. Husband and I debate whether or not businesses and stadiums and such are required to provide free water.
A reverend prays before the national anthem. Confirmed: I am definitely not in California anymore. The race is dedicated to Jeff Gordon and we’re told to cheer for him. I wonder if he can actually hear any of this in his car. They also fly a stealth bomber over the track after the anthem, which is the third pretty cool thing of the day.
They start doing laps around the track. I ask Husband if they’ve started already. He says no, they’re just warming up. They play, appropriately, “Sweet Home Alabama.”
Now they’ve started. We’re sitting 18 rows back, sort of in between all the pits and the start line. As they start, what seems to be ash and flakes of campfire debris fly over us. I think someone behind us is smoking and blatantly disregarding the “SMOKE FREE” zones (like most of the smokers here today), but no, it’s debris from the tires and track itself. It’s very loud and smells like diesel and rubber.
It’s really loud about once every 50 seconds or so. We can’t see the cars at all while they’re on the far side, then they come by again and it’s really loud and then we can’t see them and they come by again. According to the video screen, Gordon’s in the lead. They keep turning left.
I’ve been texting with my mom about what redneck souvenir to get my dad. We settle on one, and after about 50 laps, I go up to the concourse to get it. At some point, Joey Logano takes the lead. I have no idea who that is.
Husband and I get up to go to the bathroom and get something to eat. The line for the ladies is shorter than the mens, which is nice. I have to go to an ATM in order to buy pizza (love that they can put up hand-drawn signs saying “ORDER HERE” and “PICK-UP” over the two windows but not one that says “CASH ONLY”) and the young bro in front of me is really excited to have a positive balance in his account.
They’re over halfway done and driving under a yellow flag. This means they keep going but drive a little slower. Which means the race keeps going but gets a little more boring.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. pulls into the lead. People get really excited. I notice that when drivers are in the pit, they rev their engines and speed off while their crew is still pumping gas. This seems really unsafe. They also seem to purposefully lock up their back wheels so they skid out a bit as they leave the pit.
They’ve put up, like three, more yellow flags in a row. I can’t figure out if they still count laps when they’re under a yellow flag. I can’t figure out what calls for a yellow flag. I can’t figure out how many more laps to go since they’ve exceeded the 188 that I thought was the total. I’m pretty sure they’re just going to keep putting up yellow flags and not let the race actually end until Jr. or Gordon will win.
They announce the race is over and that Joey Logano is the winner. I’m not sure how or when it ended and people seem unhappy about the result. I understand why we weren’t allowed to bring in hard or heavy things that could be thrown.
Apparently another driver may or may not have wrecked on purpose to end the race so Logano would win. After Husband explains the end of the race to me, I compare it to a baseball game ending on a replay review call of a balk. As in, the most random and least climactic way possible.
I am still not a NASCAR fan.