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A Day of Thunder

Posted by Ark_Razor on March 28, 2011 at 3:02 AM



And now for something completely different........



On the old site, some of you might have remember my post a couple of years ago called A Night at the (Ice) Opera where I wrote about going to the Men's World Championship Figure Skating Final at the Staples Center. Well, today, I've got a similar post.



We wrapped up the weekend orgy of my oldest son's 11th birthday party with a trip down the road about 60 miles to Fontana where I went to my first NASCAR race- the Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400. Both of my boys are huge NASCAR fans. They've been to several races in SoCal; but this was my 1st.



In short, believe the hype. I grew up on the fringes of the Confederacy. About the only two things that mattered then were SEC football and NASCAR. SEC football is pretty easy to understand. NASCAR? Well, I figured it was making left turns for 3 hrs. Justice is not done with that description.



While not a Super Speedway, the 2 mile oval does lead to fast racing. We had a lot of things going for us today.



1. It had been raining for the last 3 days in SoCal. We prayed that it would not rain for the race. What started as an ocean mist when we left became an overcast sky at the start of the race, which slowly cleared as the race went on. Conditions were ideal for fast racing- cool and dry.


2. The Fontana track is a pretty new track, 1997. Last year, stands were somewhat empty. This year, they were full. I mean full to top to bottom for about 2/3rds of a mile.


3. We had Pit Passes with our package. Some primers on how to attend a NASCAR event. We followed most, but not all of these.



a. Bring your own food. We brought Subway sandwiches purchased the night before and put in the fridge.

b. Bring a ticket lanyard, or else shell out for high-priced one.

c. Remember that the Pit Passes allow you to stay in the Pit area until AFTER the cars are brought out and the drivers introduced!

d. Get your PP validated BEFORE you get into the Pit line!

e. BRING EARPLUGS or headphones (you can rent radio scanners which came with our ticket package). Some of these people have got to be crazy to not have hearing protection.


4. Our seats were great. We were 10 rows from the track (there's about a 15 foot walkway before the rows start) and about 100 yards past the finish line. My view was unobstructed for the entire track. My kid's view was not, but they were not deterred.

At Fontana, 15 rows would have been ideal. Close enough to feel and experience the action, but far enough away to see the back stretch. There were video screens and a PA radio feed of the race. Were right in front the Standing Pole and saw the Pit area clearly.


5. There were only 4 cautions the entire race, Laps 75, 102, 170, and 185. There were ZERO wrecks. Two of the cautions were due to debris. One was b/c of a blown tire, and one was when a driver hit the wall a bit too hard and had to limp off the track.


6. The race was thrilling.


I remember back in the mid 70's, I worked the family ranch by myself in Texas for the summer. One of our neighbors took pity on me and invited me to see dirt track racing on a half mile track about 20 miles away on Saturday night. These were stock cars racing the dirt tracks, not that new fangled stuff. I was thinking as the cars roared 3 wide down the track to start the race and going into the corner, "My God. These people are going to all die in the first 30 seconds!" That didn't happen, but you get the idea. The experience hung with me.


I noticed a ton of plates in the parking lot (free parking) that had license plates from the Stars and Bars. Makes me think they are NASCAR fans for the circuit. Several announcements were made about getting your tickets for next week in Martinsville, VIRGINIA!


The crowd pretty much is what you would stereotypically expect at these events. Blue collar, ruffian appearance. Plenty of tattoos, tank tops (on a cold day) etc. Not a lot of kids like mine there. Plenty of food in the parking lot with the grill etc. Plenty of rock (not country) music, NASCAR, state, and confederate flags also flying.

I was in my element (don't tell my wife that) b/c these people knew their sport and took it seriously. TONS of racing clothing. Think hockey sweaters and hockey games. Now replace that with racing jackets, sweatshirts, t-shirts, and caps of their favorite drivers.


We got to our seats as they were finishing up driver introductions. Kyle Busch got the biggest pop of any of the drivers (both boos and cheers). After Richard Marx delivered the anthem with a two jet fly over, slow speed at a very low level, Christian Slater said, "Gentlemen, start your engines!"


When those engines started growling with an assortment of throaty roars, I knew something heavy was going down. I can best describe it as a chill of anticipation hit me. 43 high speed metal monsters pulled out onto the track and started their warm up swerving and forming their starting grid.

During the warmup laps those cars came about 50 feet from me in a huge pack. I could feel the noise in my body. The announcer said, "Study these cars while you can b/c they won't be going this slow again once the race starts."


While the noise was loud, and I knew I would wear hearing protection, I wanted to hear these cars w/o plugs for the opening lap (singular). Hah! Everybody was on their feet and cheering for the 2-3 warmup laps. Then......


Out of turn 4.......

The pace car heads for the hills like "I'm getting the He!! out of here!"

Sugar Ray Leonard stands in the Finish Line control cage and waved that green flag to start the race.


Fury unleashed.

The ground shook. I mean it shook. I've been in earthquakes. It was earthquake worthy. The sound swept through my body like a wave of energy. The noise got so loud I had to put the plugs in my ears. It was easily the loudest thing I've ever heard. Fortunately, I had my plugs 2 inches from ears just in case.


So much of the event's excitement is sensory. The noise vibrating through your body. The colors of the cars, the sensation of speed. If you remember Daytona or the Dega, you can hear that rumbling of the cars going by, then you hear the distant shrill revving as they go down the backstretch, them some silence, then a gradual amplication as they come by again. Magnify that about 20x from TV. I just can't describe it.


Then there is also the issue of 43 cars going 170+ mph literally inches from each other and about 50 ft from you, all the while they are a couple of inches from a retaining wall. If you haven't seen a car going by you, much less a pack of them at 170 mph close to you, I can't describe it. It's disorienting, exciting, and mesmerizing all at once. While we can debate whether auto racing is a sport, it certainly requires exceptional hand/eye coordination.


In terms of the race, Juan Pablo Montoya had the poll and was trying to win his first oval race on NASCAR. He used to be F-1 and has only two open track wins. He wasn't much of a factor after 10 laps.


Kyle Busch has been on a hot streak and he quickly passed the 7 cars in front of him to take control of the race. He dominated and opened up a 7 second lead. Even after the first pit at about 31-35 laps, he dominated. Then I discovered something.....


People that attend these events don't want crashes. They want re-starts.


Got to have that thrill of pack racing (re)start. And it is a thrill.


Tony Stewart took a quick stop at lap 62-65 with only two tires. He took the lead. Busch took it back by the first caution at lap 75. Stewart took it back from the Pits. It didn't matter much though, Stewart was not a factor after the second caution at lap 102. Teammate Ryan Newman also fell by the wayside.


In the meantime, Jimmie Johnson, he of SoCal origin with this being his home track (he had won NASCAR races in 5 different months here and was looking to add March to his collection), had worked his way up through the field and finally got into the Top Ten at about lap 120. He was in the Top 5 at about lap 150.

Then there was another SoCal driver who had this as his home track also making noise. Nobody could match Kyle's car when it ran in long stretches. However, there was a caution at lap 170, and then another at lap 185. The six leaders did not pit at lap 185. Setting up a wild 10 lap finish.


The winner did his donut right in front of us!


Oh, and the trophy is huge. A partial surfboard with a Woody . How cool is that?


So, it ain't playoff hockey; but it's worthy of your in person consideration. I can guarantee you that it is a unique experience to say the least!



Categories: NASCAR/Racing Blogs

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Reply vapor5
7:37 AM on March 28, 2011 
ark- After viewing Nascar as a :"foreign sport", I attended six straight races @ Dover over a three year period from 1998 -2000. After one race, I learned why it's a redneck sport cuz I should've worn sun block and long pants(soot).

Yep, pit passes are great and walking the incredible angle (Banking: Straightaways, 9 degrees; turns, 24 degrees) of the Dover Monster Mile deepened my respect for the drivers and their crews.
Also, it's the only sport (I think) in which a driver can be fined for being late to a pre-race prayer meeting. Jimmy Spencer was addressing us in a hospitality tent and apologized for his need to leave for a prayer meeting.

I liked sitting higher up.

I don't follow it as closely now.

I agree that the fans know their sport. Rooting for a driver increases the fun. I was a huge Dale Jarrett fan.

BTW, nice blog!
Reply the immortal scurds
9:31 AM on March 28, 2011 
hahahaha! from men's figure skating to nascar? that's got to be a first. i'd like to see them combine the 2. put rudy galindo, clown costume and all, and johnny weir in full flame in the winner's circle handing out flowers and kisses to well everbody.
Reply Ferociousjane
11:13 AM on March 28, 2011 
Warm and wonderful birthday wishes to your son. Glad you enjoyed the experience and shared it with us here.
Reply Galfur
7:35 PM on March 28, 2011 
I second the birthday wishes to Lil Ark. Sounds like you guys had a ball. Congrats on that.

I had a neighbor used to race figure eight in the midwest and we'd go down in the pit. Can't imagine how cool that was for a NASCAR event.

Ever try the nitro events? We do Norwalk, Ohio every year for their "Night Under Fire". People watching is as much fun as the machines at these events.

Good stuff Ark. BTW, I'm back in your neighborhood the next few nights. Staying in Torrance, hanging out in Huntington Beach. LA this week, Vegas next week. Roll em.

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