Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Self-Indulgent All-Star Memory

The year was 2000. The month was May. The day was sunny. And I was riding in a extended cab Chevy Silverado to the All-Star Race in Concord, NC.

I'd never been to a NASCAR race before. I didn't know a restrictor plate from a pit board. I didn't know what all those numbers on the scoring tower meant. Heck, I didn't even know it WAS a scoring tower. All I knew was I was young, having fun, and in the company of my South Carolina buds who believed with all their might and main that NASCAR was "the greatest sport in all the world."

When we finally agreed on a place to park the truck, I hopped down and was flabbergasted at the acreage of vehicles as far as the eye could see. I was floored by the mobs of people funneling toward the track, like so many hordes of ants. I was wide-eyed over how just the sight of their favorite drivers made the fans cheer, scream and wave their arms like maniacs. It was louder than an N*Sync concert. And crazier too.

Not long after the race began, I realized I had a lot to learn. Namely, that if you don't have a favorite driver, you may as well have stayed home and donated your ticket to someone who cared. In my group alone there was a Mark Martin fan, Bobby Labonte faithful, a Jeff Gordon believer and a cuckoo for Dale Earnhardt Jr. So I determined to pick a driver fast...or I'd be doomed to live as an outsider when we returned to the Carolina Midlands.

With not an ounce of a clue, I settled on Joe Nemechek, since the announcer said he hailed from Florida. But when I started cheering on my new favorite racer, a pudgy man behind me tapped me on the shoulder and said "Honey, nobody but nobody roots for Joe Nemechek." I smiled sweetly and begged to differ. I still do today.

With the race winding down, a tanned blonde dude on the row in front of us stripped off his tank top and began waving it over his head like a drunken male stripper, while loudly extolling the virtues of Ricky Rudd. An image forever stamped in my mind's eye.

Dale Jr ended up winning that night. And, as soon as my best friend collected herself, we all headed to Bobby Labonte's souvenir hauler. Lucky for us we did. While we were making our purchases, the very walkway we had traversed on our way to the track collapsed, injuring fans--some critically.

It was several more hours before I fell into bed...3 a.m. to be exact. I was nursing blistered feet, a mild sunburn and an exhausted brain. But I had learned quite a lot about the realm of motorsports, my friends and even myself. And just before dozing off I had to admit: "NASCAR IS the greatest sport in all the world."

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