That’s right; you’ve read the headline correctly… Rolling Sloane heads to NASCAR and not some F1 race through a Mediterranean city-state surround by some socialist backwater (France).
I do suppose a little background information is in order… I got a text from my father asking if I wanted to attend a NASCAR race to which he had been invited. I replied yes, immediately, so I was now set to attend the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway in Virginia with my father and some of my parents’ friends who happen to have a rather impressive Mercedes-Benz collection. Yes, there were some incongruences starting to come out at this point. However, the final Saturday evening in April was set to have me and 100,000 others watch two F1 fields worth of cars circle a relatively short track, and you can bring in a soft-sided cooler as long as there’s no glass or knives.
With G&T’s in a can not having yet reached America, a couple of Tetra Paks of mediocre Cabernet Sauvignon and a couple of plastic wine glasses were in order for our during the race cocktails. The other 150,000 people in the parking lot (American for car park) were not loading up on Tanqueray. Bud seemed to be the beer of choice, but Coors Light and Bud Light were also set to be consumed by the millions. Rolex or Timex, it mattered not, because we were all there to watch a race. Time to enter the Meccano-like stadium, and we had rather good seats.
After the prerequisite prayer, singing of the Star-Spangled Banner, rather pathetic fly-over by volunteers in WWII era trainers (The USAF and US Navy had airbases a few minutes away, but ‘Obama cut all the crap we f#$%ing liked’ according to the man in front of me), it was time to go. We donned our ear protectors, turned on our scanner/radios, and they were off on the formation lap. I was pulling for Juan Pablo Montoya, the only man with a shot at a lifetime triple-crown of motorsport, and my father for the girl (Danica Patrick). From the beginning I looked to have chosen wisely.
The race itself wasn’t the most exciting of races for the first 300 or so laps since there had been a fight between pit crews the night before, and everyone was on their best behaviour. There were quite a few cautions, and we had an excellent view of the pits. This is where the action is in a NASCAR race, since they use manual fuel fills, have a limited number of crew members, and rely on drive feedback rather than sophisticated telemetry data to make changes to the car. The re-starts themselves were where the race was won and lost, and unfortunately for my little side bet, Montoya, who had the lead, lost the final restart in an effort to not crash.
Apparently having the fastest car with the best driver doesn’t always win the race, which is rather American if you think about it. I’m not sure all of the passed-out rednecks particularly cared, and I would avoid walking under the stands for fear of what’s leaking (melting cooler ice, spilt beer, or oh crap I need a shower). However, walking around the track a few feet from packs of cars whizzing past at 180+ MPH is a sensation you’ll just have to experience for yourself. If you’re ever asked to attend a NASCAR race, just go. Even if you have major issues with motor racing, the people-watching is off the charts… Who cares if you could be at some steeplechase or the Monaco GP, right?