Before we had our daughter, who is now 25, Sundays were spent at home tuned to the distinct sound of stock cars circling a track. That’s when I caught up on my chores, and Jamie watched NASCAR on TV. I didn’t have to sit beside him on the couch to be caught up in the race. We always joked that Sundays were spent at the Church of NASCAR.
We know exactly where we were and what we were doing when a fatal collision during the final lap of the Daytona 500 in February of 2001 took Dale Earnhardt’s life.
Call it a bucket list to-do because it certainly was. Check. We went to a race! On November 11th, 2018, we drove to ISM Raceway in Phoenix. We left Black Canyon City just after 6 am. The parking lots were already filling up when we got there an hour later. We made our way inside to the INfield to see the open-air interactive garage. Walking through the new pedestrian tunnel to the infield we saw history projected onto the walls and the ceiling. Jamie filmed a clip of Dale Earnhardt holding a winning cup from Victory Lane.
We could watch the drivers walk the red carpet to the Driver’s Meeting, or listen to the Driver Introductions in the area between pit road and the track. They were giving away Matt Kenseth bobbleheads to the first 200 fans in the INfield. We didn’t get ours signed, but we were early enough to get one each.
We took a seat in the Miller Lite Beer Garden for driver interviews happening live before us. A gentleman from Preston, AZ, asked if he could sit at our table. He was an older man, very amiable. He said he was from the “B” country and explained that Canada is the “Eh” country, and Mexico is the “Si” country. That makes the United States the “B” country. Haha!
We took our seats to watch the beginning of the race. We were by the start/finish line and directly in front of the leader board showing the driver positions. We could see corners 1, 2 and 4. I don’t think there is anything that feels like speed does when over 40 stock cars race by in the span of a second.
When Stage 1 of the race was completed, we returned to the INfield and stood by the fence right in front of Kyle Busch’s pit area. We experienced a number of teams come in under green and yellow flags. We enjoyed being there much more than being in our seats.
Before the end of the race, we decided to beat the traffic out. Many others had the same idea. We were tired, but certainly not hungry. I had a foot long corn dog from one of the vendors by the gates, and Jamie had a large sausage on a bun. We stopped for groceries in Anthem on the way back to camp and treated ourselves to some kind of frappuccino mint drink. Like I needed a buzz after all of the excitement at the track!
Talking with Bob, our friend from the beer garden, was a marker of how far I’d come in our new life. A complete stranger sat with us, and my introverted self was okay with conversation. I found the noise from the track exhilarating. And the smell of meat on vendor grills was enticing!
We met many lovely people during our month in Arizona. At the RV park, we struggled to have any peace with the young family next door to us. They were in turmoil continually in their small space. I woke one night to a fight and heard the husband getting kicked out. Other neighbours became our friends. The beautiful sunsets, watching the sun rising over the hills and the cacti on our morning walks, chatting with Elizabeth and Basil and Fred; our time there was full of wonderful moments.
We never regretted taking the time to watch a sunset or a sunrise.
I was a little sad about leaving before the end of the race, especially since we were right in front of the winner’s pit area, but our energy levels were dangerously low and traffic leaving the event was heavy. We both agreed that seeing the races on TV is the way for us to experience NASCAR. I got to see Kevin Harvick lead during Stage 1, and that’s something I will always remember.
Unless you want to pay a lot of money for food, bring your own in.