Wednesday, March 31, 2010

NASCAR words and phrases that must end

The one thing I truly love about living in the Volunteer State are the four distinct seasons. We get to enjoy winter, spring, summer, and fall. Its also our privilege and obligation to gripe regularly about the current season and pine for the seasons to come.

I think NASCAR TV coverage has become a bit like Tennessee's seasons. When FOX is covering the races, we all complain and wait anxiously for TNT or ESPN to come on the scene. But then when the season of Ken Squier or Jerry Punch returns, then its "oh my, how soon before Mike Joy and those guys are back?"

With FOX (Cup) and ESPN (Nationwide) back on the air and a handful of early-season races already broadcast, its line-up of commentators has reminded me yet again of several words and phrases that simply must be eliminated from the lexicon of NASCAR TV coverage.

The Rabbits (all the time)
  • Bad fast - DW, Larry Mc, Steve Byrnes
  • Bad loose - Larry Mc
  • Bad boy - Jeff Hammond, DW
  • Boogity, boogity, boogity - Nuff said
  • Reach up thar, and pull them belts just one more time - Ditto
Mid-packers (frequent but not incessant)
  • Rocket (sometimes Rocket Ship) - Numerous announcers and drivers (originally created by Buddy Baker on TNN as a lispy "rocket thip")
  • Shootout style - Larry Mc, Kenny Wallace, Randy Pemberton, Jerry Punch, John Roberts - From what I've seen on FOX and ESPN so far this year, this one fortunately seems to be fading. I may soon be able to classify it as a "start and parker" for 2010.
  • All heck breaks loose - Rusty Wallace (Rusty, George Carlin told us the 7 words that can't be said on TV. "Hell" wasn't one of them.)
Start & parkers (the occasional but annoying)
  • Junebug - DW
  • Hisself - Larry Mc
  • [Anything said] - Hollywood Hotel's Jeff Hammond
Honorable mention
  • Know what I mean? - Kyle Petty - this one is more of a verbal tic than an overused, self-serving phrase. But KP does say it ... a lot.
This is just a short list of what comes to mind. Comment here about others to add to the list.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Separated at birth - Kasey Kahne

Kasey Kahne...and the Fred Astaire-voiced Special Delivery "S.D." Kluger from the Rankin-Bass Christmas show classic: Santa Claus is Coming to Town:

I mean I'm just sayin...


Monday, March 22, 2010

Bristol Ramblings

A coherent themed blog entry be damned. Its time to Ramble On about Bristol! Why not start the video and groove to a Zep classic as you continue to read.

Combine the following ingredients into a NASCAR jambalya and what do you get?
  • Jimmie Johnson's 4 championships, late 2009 wins, and early 2010 wins
  • Dale Jr.’s continuing losing streak with few signs he's about to end it anytime soon
  • The economy - including continuing limits on corporate sports marketing/entertainment expenses
  • Continuation of 3 night overpriced minimums on hotels
  • High ticket prices especially as compared to corporate-sister track Charlotte
  • A faceless Nationwide series
  • $3/gallon gas
  • A re-designed track surface that rewards side by side, multi-groove racing and eliminates the need for a bump and run to make a pass.
I'll tell you what you get - empty seats and plenty of ‘em at one of NASCAR’s bellweather tracks. NASCAR, ISC, and SMI all have to be concerned about how long this flat to downward attendance trend is going to last. I think I'm safe in saying the acid test for NASCAR is attendance at Daytona (500), Bristol, Texas, Indy, and Charlotte (600). The 500 and 600 have been down for the last few years, and Bristol finally failed to sell out this year. It will be interesting to see the crowds at Texas and Indy.

Regarding the last point above, I don't put a lot of stock in it personally. I think the multi-groove track is great. Its more like old school Bristol. But a lot of nouveau fans who only started watching Bristol during the Earnhardt, Rusty, and Gordon years think the one-groove, bump-and-run track is the old school. They are wrong, but I think they are also some of the ones who haven't returned since the re-design.

When is someone gonna “bully up” and take on Jimmie Johnson? He can’t be beaten fair and square in the preparation, performance, or closing areas. So is it gonna take someone getting fed up enough to dump him or ugly him up a bit? First you’ve got to catch him I guess, and then you have to face your sponsors and the oval office if you choose to act that way. But you’d likely pick up a bunch of fans in the process.

I’m not advocating wrecking him. I’m simply saying it seems one of the few logical choices yet to evolve. The guy has won 4 straight Cups. He has zero rivals and has had zero feuds. Sponsors of other drivers have got to be pulling their hair out seeing Lowe's get all the attention. Left unchecked and with Chad on the pit box, Jimmie quite possibly could leave the King and Earnhardt in his dust with his future Cup championships.

So where could such a rival come from:
  • Kurt won’t do it. He's spent the last 3-4 years getting the Penske Polish. He's already had his ears pinned back surgically. He's certainly not going to go through that again by rough driving over the 48.
  • Denny Hamlin can’t do it. He tried a year ago at Martinsville only to get out-muscled by JJ when the chips were on the table. Plus, this year the 11 team can't finish the job on the track - much less affect someone else's day.
  • Jeff Gordon has too much at stake to do it. He's now one of the elder stateman and has an equity stake in the team.
  • Smoke has too many conflicting priorities to do it. He may have the temper and passion to do it. But doing so would negatively and severely affect his 'technical alliance' with Hendrick Motorsports.
Montoya, Harvick, and maybe Keselowski may be the only ones with the stones to do it. Bobby Allison reached his boiling point in the early 1970s. He said he was tired of Richard Petty getting all the breaks and the wins. So he spent a large part of 1972 finding Petty on the track and roughing him up about as much as he could. Later in the 70s, DW risked being the bad guy and ascended by running his lip and saying he was going to knock the King off his throne. Where is the mouth today that’ll say the same thing about JJ and then back it up?

Best lame excuse I've heard in years: Greg "The Possum" Biffle claiming his radio cord was unplugged from his helmet. He supposedly couldn't hear his spotter which in turn contributed to his drifting up and hooking bumpers with Mark Martin to end's day.

Second best lame excuse I've heard lately: Happy Harvick claiming JoLo was "chop blocking" him in Saturday's Nationwide race. So he couldn't wait anymore and did what he had to do. Or something to that effect. One of my sayings my wife hates is "Well, it is what it is." She'll holler at me "that doesn't make any sense at all." Well, Harvick was in the news all weekend for sound bytes that also didn't make much sense at all - yet paradoxically were understood by everyone.

I’m glad I didn’t go all the way to Bristol, spend the money, sit in the rain, and then watch the 48 win again. I enjoyed my time in Vegas a few weeks ago despite Johnson's win. And I’m afraid I may well see him win yet again at the 600 in May – even if the track is no longer named Lowe's Motor Speedway. No way would I have wanted a tri-fecta of personal misery.

So Darrell Waltrip blamed the attendance woes partially on the weather? Geez, is this guy even remotely sane anymore? Does he honestly think today’s races have a large walk-up attendance segment? Jaws, this is 2010 man – not 1973. And for the love of Pete, would someone, anyone duct tape his hands under the desk. The constant pen handling and/or thumb-wars on TV is almost as unbearable as "boogity, boogity, boogity".

During my trip to Bristol last year, I really enjoyed the old timers race – even if it was a mis-matched field. I cheered lustily for every driver introduced having watched most if not all of them during my youth. I felt a bit embarrassed other fans - those who even chose to stick around after the Nationwide race - didn't show the same enthusiasm for the legends who returned for their entertainment.

Having drivers like Sterling and Rusty compete against 70+ year-olds in cars they prepared themselves wasn’t right. This year’s edition was better balanced as the drivers weren't allowed to bring their own cars; however, Larry Pearson’s and Charlie Glotzbach’s injuries make me wonder if we’ll see the legends race return. I pray Pearson's and Chargin' Charlie's injuries will heal with time.

Source: TheDalyPlanet's Twitpic

Truthfully, while its cool to see these old fellers run Bristol, me thinks perhaps the race should return to a slower, flatter track like the ¼ mile flat surface at Texas or Charlotte.

Here's one idea I've got to help ensure the races continue and the drivers are better protected. As the Nationwide cars begin their transition to their own version of the COT, it seems to me a perfect dumping ground for otherwise perfectly good cars would be for the old timers race. The Nationwide cars are bound to be safer than those things the old guys have run the last two springs. Plus the engines would be far more capable of running Bristol speeds and not give up within a few laps of being tested. I realize no one likely wants a 72 year old running the same speed as the Nationwide or Cup cars, so maybe the engines could be restricted with a plate, reve limiter, etc. while still keeping the durability for a short run.

Each time I see today's Bristol - whether it be in person or in that great panoramic TV shot from between the turns, I'm reminded of just how far this little track has come. Though the track first opened in the early 60s, I didn't get to go until I was in college in 1986. I was at the spring race to see Rusty Wallace's first win in the #27 Alugard Anti-Freeze / Blue Max Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2 owned by Raymond Beadle. The car had a beautiful paint scheme on top of a rotten looking stock car body.

Check out turns 1 and 2 from this 1987 shot. Hey dude, who stole my stands?

Source for above 3 pictures:

On that spring day...much like yesterday...and March 2008 when I was rained. A lot. I'm pretty sure Noah had the pole. We paid $18 on race morning for an SRO ticket and stood on a hillside of the back stretch where all those magnificent stands and terraces are now built. We couldn't sit because of all the rain and mud.

Eventually the rain cleared out, the track was dried, the crowd roared, the race began, and Rusty claimed his first of many wins on the Tennessee half-mile. My ankles were killing me in class on Monday from standing up all afternoon on Sunday. My toes were pointed down about 25 degrees on the bank behind the concrete "stands" forming a day-long obtuse angle from my lower leg to my foot.

On to Martinsville. Hope you enjoy it. Tell me how it ends because I'm not gonna watch it. Its one of the 48's best tracks. I've seen enough of him this season to last a lifetime - no sense in giving up 3 hours of my Sunday afternoon for more of the same. The shame of it, however, is my wife has a Lowe's gift card from Christmas she wants to use for a storm door. So while I plan to avoid the Marty race, I may still find myself face to face with all-things Lowe's this weekend. Argh, just shoot me now.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Memories of March 15, 1992

March 15, 1992, was a great day in the annals of TMC Racing Experiences. We were in Hampton, GA for the Motorcraft Quality Parts 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (having been recently renamed from its original Atlanta International Raceway).

The race was the first of seven Cup races I made in 1992 - a high water mark set for me that still stands. It was the King's last season as a driver, and I wanted to attend as many of his Fan Appreciation Tour races as possible. I was fortunate enough to hit the spring Atlanta race, spring Bristol, both Talladega races, the Pepsi 400 at Daytona, the fall Charlotte race, and then back to Atlanta for the season finale - the Hooters 500, a race some arguably claim is the greatest NASCAR Cup race of all time.

My friend, fellow Schaefer charter member HOFer, and recent Vegas wingman was a college bud of the PR guy for Brett Bodine's Quaker State team. PRG hooked us up for the Sunday race and suggested we make our way to Atlanta a day early. We spent the night on the town Saturday. Because it was the weekend closest to St. Patrick's Day, bars were already serving green beer. In our case, the joint was still hurts to think this, much less type draft Busch beer.

I'm not exactly sure how much green Busch was consumed. (As we all know, tangling with "green busch" of any kind is generally not advisable.) But I am pretty sure at one point on St. Paddy's weekend I almost changed my name to Too Much O'Country. We crashed in PRG's hotel room at some point. My friend and his wife were in one bed. PRG was in the other bed. And I woke from the spot where I landed Saturday night - on the floor - with a throw pillow under my head.

PRG had 2 hospitality passes for the 3 of us. So we had to work some magical sleight of hand for all of us to walk through the tunnel, stroll past guards who may have been recent graduates of the Barney Fife School of Surveillance, and into the tent. But we did it.

I didn't give then or now a flip about Brett Bodine. He was a less-than-average driver then and more recently was a key contributor to the much maligned Car of Tomorrow Today. But our tickets were comp'd, Saturday night's green Busch was paid for, I didn't get cooties from the hotel carpet, and we were in the hospitality tent. So hey! Bodines for everyone!

I'm pretty sure Brett never appeared at his own tent. If he did, we missed him while milling around elsewhere. One of the places we went was the Snickers/Dick Trickle tent next door to the Quaker State tent. He qualified 2nd for the race and did appear to sign autographs for his peeps. We were rebuffed a time or two by some stern little wench manning the entrance to the tent simply because we were wearing Quaker State swag vs. Snickers. You believe dat? And unlike track security, she was actually checking credentials. As she took her break a few minutes later, however, *sloop* we poached our way in after all, got in line, got our hats and postcards, pocketed a few candy bars, shook hands with M&M/Mars reps (How ya doin'?, This is a pretty cool set-up ya got here. We're big fans of Dick Trickle - thanks for sponsoring him.), got our autographs, and chatted him up a couple of moments. Dick Trickle may have the name everyone snickers at, but he was just a super guy to us that day.

From there, PRG escorted us to the garage area. He was the only one with an official pass. But we tried to look the part and used the "press the flesh" with big crowds to our advantage and once again slid past security. We were then in the garage area.

My head was on a swivel. We saw Ned Jarrett, Joe Gibbs, Dale Inman, Felix Sabates, Dale Jarrett, and others I've forgotten. No King and no Earnhardt sightings though.

We didn't want to draw attention to ourselves and attempted to stay largely out of the way. I also limited my picture taking. (Remember not that long ago how stingy you were about taking pictures when film was used? Now folks will snap off a dozen digital pics of the same piece of tourist-trap crap without a second thought.) Fortunately, I was able to squeeze off a couple of photos that I still enjoy:

One of Kyle Petty's Mello Yello Pontiac:

Alan Kulwicki, who went on to become the 1992 Cup champ and then was killed in a plane accident in April 1993. RIP Underbird.

Joe Gibbs in his 1st season as a car owner:

Bobby Allison (and I didn't notice this until just recently when I scanned the pic - Smokey Yunick is in the background!):

It turns out our race tickets were pretty bad. Free - but bad. Our seats were down low just a few rows off the fronstretch wall as they came out of turn four. Remember - this was before Atlanta was re-configured to resemble Charlotte and Texas. At the time, it was a true oval.

We got peppered by grit all day long. Also, our ears had all sorts of black rubber gunk in them from tire marbles. At first, we didn't really notice it as the sun started setting after a long day at the track and we trudged towards the car. But once we stopped at a Wendy's on the way home, I started gut-busted laughing at my friend's wife whose ear was packed with shrapel from Goodyear tires. It looked like a hearing aid formed to her ear - a Goodhear if you will.

A couple of other folks met us at the seats - friends of my friends. In exchange for free tickets, they agreed to bring lunch sandwiches for everyone. Once the race began, however, we realized these folks were truly race rookies.
  • One, they were jazzed because we were sitting so low. The dude was smiling from ear to ear like Smiling Bob from the Extenze commericals. They thought sitting low at a race was comparable to sitting at Fenway Park behind home plate. They didn't understand we'd have a hard time seeing the whole track - much less get sandblasted.
  • Two, they didn't bring sandwiches as they'd promised. They brought sandwich FIXINS'! Loaf bread, mayo, ham, bologna, cheese, etc. Here we were trying to watch the race and also prep a sandwich in our lap - all the while noticing flecks of something in our mayo spread and wiping other grit out of our eyes. It definitely wasn't freshly ground black pepper. That was the crunchiest damn baloney sammich I ever ate in my whole life. I couldn't even wash it down with a Schaefer because that tradition didn't begin until two months later!
The race itself stunk. The early laps were pretty good. Atlanta has always been a fast track - its own design and the current one. However, Bill Elliott in his first season aboard Junior Johnson's Budweiser Ford wasn't all that competitive early. At one point, he drifted back about mid-pack and stayed on the track an extra lap or two while others pitted. Once all the lead lap cars cycle-pitted (except Elliott), a caution flew. Unbelievably, Elliott was able to pit under caution, and every other car was pinned a lap down. From there, Awful Bill cruised to victory.

The Georgia contingent loved it. We all just shook our heads - partly of how Bill's poor running car stole the race and partly to try to shake some of the race grit out of ears and hair. To make matters worse, the Petty cars weren't much of a factor. Kyle eked out a top 10 finishing 8th. The King strolled in 16th. Yet despite Elliott's win at his "home track" and the lackluster performance of the Petty cars, it was still a memorable race weekend.

Not long after this race weekend, PRG left the Quaker State team and racing altogether. He went into business for himself owning and operating Subway restaurants. My bud and I were beneficiaries of his leaving. PRG sold us his Uniden Bearcat scanners for a fraction of what it would have cost us retail. Mine still works like a charm, and I still take it to races to this day.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

NASCAR in Vegas - Stuff I forgot

After posting blogs for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, I realized a few things had fallen through the cracks. Hopefully this entry will catch the lion's share of the remaining memories.

On Friday after plenty of Schaefer and Miller Lite, we stumbled by the Coke Zero promotion booth. Two giggling PYTs offered us a free sample of Coke Zero. We were grateful, but I wondered out loud if the Jack Daniels' promotion booth might boost it a bit. One of them laughed, said they probably would, and pointed us to it "over there". We mis-read her finger-pointing directions and ended up at the regular JD concession kiosk vs. the larger-than-life, can't-miss-it (though we did) JD tent. We told the dude the Coke girls said we could have a free mix of Jack. He said we could for eight dollars a shot. What???? After a good bit of "aw, c'mon mannnn" and "help a brotha out won't cha?", he looked to the right and to the left and topped us off. Nice!

We spent much of Saturday and Sunday repeating the key line from this great scene of Oh Brother Where Art Thou. DO...NOT...SEEK...THE..TREASURE...

We must have said the line a thousand times, and it was as funny to us the last time as it was the first time we said it. It was an inside joke at the expense of another friend of ours. He didn't make the trip, but he lived vicariously through our phone calls, pictures, texts, and tweets.

And hey there oh friend of ours. I know you read this blog. We hate you had to learn you'd been punk'd this way. can explain. Ya see...

This advertisement in the underground passageway headed to the Neon Garage pretty accurately described our Saturday night / Sunday morning adventures.

When we got to the track Sunday, my bud said the first thing he wanted to do was get something to eat. Said he was starving. Truthfully, I didn't think I was that hungry - until he explained. "Man, I ain't had nothing to eat since yesterday afternoon." That comment didn't make a lot of sense to me since surely...I mean... didn't I? ...but...noooo, really?... wait.

Dang, he was right. I had a corn dog about 2 PM Saturday afternoon. From there until 11:30 AM Sunday, it was all liquid "nourishment". Once inside the track, I skeptically saw this sales pitch:

It served its purpose. But folks, let me tell ya. Vegas may know gambling, glitz, and purty gurls - but it doesn't know barbeque. It looked and tasted like Alpo slathered with Bulls Eye BBQ sauce on it. But it hit the spot in the moment, and it may have been the best $8 we spent all weekend. Once I got the taste washed down with a quickly warming Schaefer, it was go-time for the race!

We caught sight of this twosome in front of us at the Nationwide race. We weren't exactly sure what was going on here. Clearly they didn't listen to their mother while growing up because everyone's mom has that whiny voice guidance: "Don't put that plastic bag over your head. You'll suffocate to death."

We couldn't tell if they were:
  • afraid of a few drops of rain
  • "sealed for your protection" (can never be too careful in Vegas)
  • avid fans of Eric McClure and his sponsor
After Saturday's Nationwide race, we headed for the Stratosphere to have a drink with the spotter for the Tommy Baldwin Racing entry. You may recall TBR fielded a car driven by Mike Bliss and sponsored by Kardashian Fragrance. The spotter is a former neighbor of my friend. We challenged him to deliver Kim Kardashian as well. We'd buy her a drink too, right? After all, who wouldn't want to hang with her? I'm not so sure its funny for you to read about it, but it was funny for me sitting in the car as my friend barked at the guy: "we'll be there soon - but you better get that Kim chick there man." Kim Kardashian - Stratosphere - spotter for a start-and-parker. Um, yeah. Right. Sure.

In Saturday's Nationwide race, Tony Eury Jr. had to talk Danica through just about every single lap she ran. Where to go, when to pit, where to line-up, what fans to run, what switches to toggle, etc. While she didn't seem to have a clue what she was doing and was learning on the fly, Tony Jr. was a super coach to her. Also, I enjoyed listening to the scanner and learning as a fan.

Most Cup guys are not much fun to scan anymore. The drivers, crew chiefs, and spotters know what is going on. Plus, they know others are listening and tend to keep radio chatter to a minimum. As a result, most of what you get is stuff like:
  • Green, green, green
  • Inside, inside
  • 3 wide - you're in the middle
  • Clear
That's it. Rent the Racing Electronics scanner for a day, and that's about all you'll get for your money from most teams. So hearing open dialog between Danica, her crew chief, and the spotter was a pretty neat change.

Daytona 500 champ Jamie McMurray had a race sponsorship by McDonald's. Notice Jamie's name over the window.

By the way, is it just me or does it still sound odd to say "Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray"? Not near as weird as saying "Daytona 500 champ Derrike Cope" or "4x Cup champ Jimmie Johnson", but its still strange nonetheless.

Once in the Neon Garage, I wanted to seek out the garage bay of the #43 of A.J. Allmendinger. Once there, I was a bit stunned. As with the phrase "Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray", standing before a "Richard Petty Motorsports Ford" still doesn't quite compute.

The Vegas strip at night is something truly to behold. I've been to Vegas plenty of times before, but the scene at night still makes me shake my head in awe each time. The only things I've seen personally that compare is Times Square in New York and Picadilly Circus in London.

As we packed and left the Excalibur for the airport, we realized we committed a huge beer faux pas. We overbought on Schaefer. The plan was for more trackside fun and sharing of the Schaefer experience. As it turned out, that wasn't our destiny.

Pre shoe bomber, liquids could be brought aboard a plane. But thanks yet again to those fundamentalist ragheads for ruining a good thing because we can't do so anymore. So we had to leave the Schaef behind. However, we tried to leave a little memento for the room maid. We hope she got a good laugh and some free beer out of it. Sing it with me!

Oh Schaefer tree,
Oh Schaefer tree,
Drinking lots of Schaefer made us pee.

My friend and me.
Enjoyed Vegas with glee.
We will so terribly miss thee.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

NASCAR in Vegas - Sunday

After a Saturday evening (and lengthy portion of Sunday early morn) of Vegas activities, we headed to the track for the main event: The Shelby American Sprint Cup race.

This was my first NASCAR race to attend where the race name didn't include a number - whether it be laps, miles, or kilometers. From the time Watkins Glen returned to the schedule in the 1980s, their race name has always been "[Sponsor X] at the Glen". But I've never been there (though I want to go).

Last year's race was the Shelby 427 I think - named for a Ford engine. This year's race was just the Shelby American. By dropping the number, NASCAR and the speedway kind of hid the fact from everyone the race distance in 2010 was shorter than in 2009.

It was just as well because the race was boring enough with the length they ran. With the way Jeff Gordon stunk up the show, I would have been OK with them calling it The Shelby Delaware and running a 25 lap heat race.

Our plans were to arrive at the track bright and early to tailgate with other fans. That's our M.O. at just about every other race we attend. But our M.O. also includes packing the coolers the night before, loading the truck, and hitting the rack at a reasonable hour - three things we didn't do on this trip.

As a result, we got a late jump towards the track and were greeted with the inevitable volume of race traffic - many folks who most likely were out until the same hour as us.

At many other tracks I've attended, most of the parking isn't controlled by the track. Entrepreneurs and volunteers often staff pastures, small businesses, and roadside shoulders selling parking for $10 - $20 per vehicle. However, Vegas controls its own lots (from all that we could see), and there was zero charge for it. Props to Bruton Smith for that decision!

Once we parked, I reached for the cooler. My head and stomach said "no" but my heart and race tradition screamed "Yes!". A couple parked next to us were from Reno, but they were originally from New Jersey.

When she saw me pull the Schaefer sign from the trunk, she said "Shayfa? That's a northern beeah. I haven't seen a Shayfa beeah in yee-uhs." When I retrieved four of them from the cooler for all of us to share, she exclaimed "OH MAH GAHD, it really IS a Shayfa!" She quickly started drinking it and then laughing between sips like a teenager sneaking her first brew and wondering if she'd get caught. We had her autograph our Schaefer Ring of Honor sign.

After sharing one with our new friends, I retrieved a second Schaefer to drink as we walked and packed two more in my gear bag to smuggle into the track. Knowing this would likely be my only visit to a Vegas race, I wanted to have one in the parking lot AND another as the race itself began.

After a night of Vegas, though, neither of us were moving too quickly. The first Schaef went down better than I thought it would. The second one was a major challenge as we walked. Because outside beverages can't be (legally) brought into the track, we had to finish it off before entering. Whether it was the beer getting a bit warmer or the fact I was running on 7 cylinders I don't know, but that final 2 ounces was some of the roughest beer I've ever had the displeasure of consuming.

We got to our seats in the Richard Petty Terrace just as the command of "Gentlemen start your engines!" was given. Unlike Saturday, the weather was perfect. Clear, blue skies - warm temps - a nice breeze - and an incredible mountain vista in the background of the track.

The view behind turn 2:

The view behind turn 3:

I settled in and turned on my scanner to listen to PRN, A.J. Allmendinger, Tony Stewart and a handful of other drivers with reputations of chatting a bunch - either with legit information about the car or with colorful descriptors about the day's events. Once those engines fired and my head started to pound though, I was kind of wanting to find a frequency streaming some relaxing Miles Davis jazz.

The race itself? Terrible. One of the worst I've attended. Jeff Gordon jumped out front, stayed there, and built a monstrous lead. Everyone else soon dropped in single file and stretched around the track.

Kasey Kahne had a reasonable day for Richard Petty Motorsports and finished 9th.

A.J. Allmendinger's weekend pretty much stunk from the time they unloaded the 43 until they put it back on the hauler. At least his car looked cool in the Valvoline retro-look.

Here he is behind the pace car - before they gave him the wave-around to make up a lap. Sadly, this was as close as A.J. would get to sniffing the lead.

After the pot hole incident in Daytona, NASCAR surely wanted to put that incident to rest. Instead, two races later Vegas had not one - but two - cautions for a faulty caution light. I'm not sure now well it was explained on TV. From what we could tell, the race had a caution, followed by a green, followed by an immediate caution again because the yellow light never went off and the green on (forgive the fractured grammar - it was tough to watch and understand much less explain). This happened twice. Bizarre.

The Kim Kardashian-sponsored car driven by Mike Bliss didn't run too many laps before Bliss scrubbed the wall. This prompted the PRN Radio announcer to re-name the sponsor Kim Carcrashian.

The only real excitement of the race (other than the little catfight between the two Chip-N-Dale, Inc. drivers) came with less than 40 laps to go when the final pit stops took place. We decided we wanted to be near victory lane regardless of who the winner would be. So it was off to the Neon Garage where we watched the final 20 laps and the quickly-settled battle between Hendrick teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.

It was a conundrum for me. I really enjoy seeing Jeff Gordon lose, but I've equally tired of seeing Jimmie Johnson win- particularly at those races I've been fortunate enough to attend. Yet, you can't help but give kudos to the 48 team. Jimmie may well have to end his career before I begrudgingly give him his due. But Chad Knaus? I'm ready right now to say he is indeed amongst the top 5 crew chiefs of all time and maybe the best ever.

Even with a ton of people already surrounding victory lane, we surprisingly were able to stake a pretty good position along the rail in the upstairs concourse overlooking the ceremonies. I had a birds' eye view of the #48 as Jimmie did a screamer between the barricades to victory lane.

After the "hat dance" and tons of press pictures taken, Jimmie quickly moved to his left to join Speed TV's Victory Lane show with John Roberts, Kyle Petty, and Kenny Wallace. We moved along as well. I was able to snap this pic of Kyle using his cell phone to take a pic of Jimmie. Great timing on my part because Kyle then tweeted that very picture.

Source: @kylepetty on Twitter with his Tweetphoto

Once the victory lane hullabaloo wound down, we made a final trip around the Neon Garage. Here's a view of the start/finish line of an emptying track:

Four Richard Petty Motorsports haulers:

Finally, we exited through the infield tunnel and headed lazily towards the parking lot. Along the way, we were passed by several haulers getting ready for the long trip home. Among them were rigs for Montoya, Newman, Elliott Sadler, and Kasey Kahne.

It took us a good long while to find our car. If I could make a recommendation to the track, it would be to install reference markers. All the lots look the same - they are all flat and covered in fine rock. For a while, I thought we were going to face the daytime version of the nighttime car search two days earlier when the Pontiac was hauled away. After roaming around a bit aimlessly for a while, I thought about changing my nickname from toomuchcountry to Moses because it felt like we'd been wandering the desert for 40 years.

But shortly thereafter we found it. The race had been over for about 90 minutes, but traffic was still at a standstill. It made no sense to force the issue. We still had iced Schaefer in the trunk, and I had my iPod with a Vegas-tailored playlist of tunes. So we popped one, queued the tunes, and spent time lounging on the hood and in the front seat with eyes partially closed waiting for the right opportunity to head back to the hotel.

From there, it was time to clean up and head back ... somewhere. Following a shower and change of clothes, we decided the excitement of Vegas had taken its toll on us. We ate dinner at the Luxor and went to Paris to meet a fellow Allmendinger fan. (Read her blog about her Vegas experiences as well and follow her on Twitter @dingerworld. She's been a race fan for a long time, but she was a race rookie and a Vegas rookie and had a great time too.)

Beyond stepping out for those new happenings, we opted out of further yada yada yada as we had a plane to catch on Monday. All good things must come to an end.


Friday, March 5, 2010

NASCAR in Vegas - Saturday

After Friday's arrival, an afternoon at the track, a towed car, and an evening in Vegas, we started Saturday with two logical destinations: (1) Breakfast at IHOP and (2) a re-load of Schaefer at Lee's. Check that - we actually went to Lee's for beer first. Then we got a short stack of cakes, eggs fried over well, bacon extra crisp, and a pot of stout coffee.

After breakfast and the B-double E-double R-u-n, we had to make the obligatory stop for a photo-op at the most famous landmark in Vegas.

From there, it was back to Las Vegas Blvd. for the 10 mile haul out to the speedway for the Sam's Town 300 Nationwide race. Turns out, Sam's Town is some sort of off-strip hotel/casino and not that big ass club store where you can get a boat load of frozen steaks, a pallet of Cokes, and an upright popcorn machine. Who knew!

At first, the drive down the strip is pretty cool. Bellagio, the Eiffel Tower at Paris, the grandeur of Venetian, the swankiness of The Wynn, and even the novelty of the Stratosphere. But from there, Vegas gets...uh interesting...and then pretty skanky.
  • Oh hello wedding chapels.
  • Well that's cool, folks can get married with Elvis and Tim McGraw stand-ins.
  • Tattoos while you wait - a novel concept. I'm sure that business model is going to slaughter the mail-order service.
  • The world famous Palomino Club - hmm, I wondered where you were.
  • Convenience stores selling 3 quart bottles of Icehouse beer for $4.99.
  • Quite possibly the largest flea market I've ever seen - covered from one end to the other with local Hispanic residents.
  • The Golden Nugget, the Silver Nugget, and even Jerry's Nugget!
Soon, we were back at the scene of the crime. Perhaps against better judgment - but relying on the assurances of parking volunteers - we parked in almost the identical spot as we had just 18 hours earlier.

Off we headed to get our scanners updated for the 2010 season, preview the crowd, check out the lines at the Danica trailer, and stop by the Speed stage. Good timing for us as Speed was taping NASCAR Smarts - perhaps the single worst piece of NASCAR programming ever to air... except of course when one is there and can yell out "whooooo!"

The Vegas episode pitted Kyle Petty and Rutledge Wood against Mike Wallace and...uh, yes that's him...Carrot Top.

Did I mention NASCAR Smarts may well be the worst piece of NASCAR programming ever to air? Well, perhaps aside from any TV interviews over the years with Ward Burton. Anyway...

We found our fantastic seats in the Richard Petty Terrace only to be greeted moments later by rain as driver introductions took place. Not surprisingly, the driver getting the greatest volume of cheers was to start way back in 30th-something place - Miss Prissy Britches herself.

Now, look closely at that expression if you can. Or maybe you saw her on TV. She easily had the longest souvenir trailer lines, easily got the loudest reaction of all the drivers, and got almost unanimous cheers vs. jeers. Yet, she smugly gave the flippant Queen of England wave and moved on. I haven't seen a face with less of an expression since my own when someone asked me "hey man, would you prefer a punch in the gut or a poke in the eye?"

Once it became apparent the race was going to be delayed because of the rain and track-drying efforts, we headed for what is arguably the coolest aspect of the Vegas track - the Neon Garage.

Once inside this controlled area, we were able to view all of the Cup garage bays, listen to bands covering classic rock hits, monitor the track drying progress on a million big screen displays, see the action around the team haulers, get all the concessions and souvenirs you could want, etc.

Perhaps coolest of all was recognizing we had the opportunity to be front and center near victory lane once the races ended. Here's the "before" shot:

One trend I'm really enjoying in this early part of the 2010 NASCAR season is the embracing of the past. Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett were brought to Vegas for multiple autograph sessions. (Sadly, we missed them all.) And restored cars of Junior, Ned, David Pearson, and Fireball Roberts from the 1960s were on display.

The Volunteer state of Tennessee was well represented. I was there representing Middle Tennessee, and old school dealerships East Tennessee Motor Company and Chattanooga's Furlow Cate Ford were on David Pearson's 1969 Torino and Ned Jarrett's #11 from 1965, respectively.

With all the complaining today about the COT, aero push, cars not looking like recent race cars much less stock cars, etc., I thought these little details of Junior Johnson's 1963 Chevy were interesting:

Fuel filler on rear of car with conventional gas cap:

Factory window cranks:

Driver's side door mirror:

After digging the old school cars, we toured the garage area looking at the current cars. Here are a few examples of what we found.
  • A.J. Allmendinger in the famed #43 running a Valvoline retro scheme reminiscent of Mark Martin's Valvoline days with Roush.
  • Kasey Kahne's Bud Ford - amazing how much better he ran and finished after returning to the all red scheme vs the white Olympics theme.
  • Tony Stewart - Until you've seen in person the Old Spice red metal flake color on Smoke's car, you haven't seen perhaps the sharpest color on a race car since the combination of Petty blue and STP's fluorescent competition red on the #43 of the 1970s. A photo can't do it justice.
The other car we wanted to check out was the entry fielded by Tommy Baldwin Racing and sponsored for the weekend by Kardashian Fragrance. One, my friend was once a neighbor of a guy who works for TBR so we wanted to keep an eye open for him. Two, the whole Kim Kardashian scene intrigued me.

I'll be the first to admit I really didn't have much of a a clue who she was, why she had a show, why she was famous, etc. Seriously! I don't know her. I don't know the TV show. I have no interest in it at all. Until I found this picture. OK, so she's now got my attention thank ya very much. Mercy.

After seeing her and the Chevy upon which her image was emblazoned, I quickly reached the conclusion Kim has some pretty awesome "front end geometry" and a pretty incredible wing out back.

Knowing the car was painted pink and pimped out a perfume, I guess its only appropriate it was driven by a driver named Bliss. Far better choice to represent Kardashian I suppose than someone named Curtis Dysfunctional III.

After seeing what we wanted, it was time to return to the grandstands and watch the Nationwide race once the track was ready. Plenty of seats were available so we decided we'd park in the seats near the start-finish line.

The race was a much better one than Sunday's Cup race. Part of the reason is the design of the cars. Another reason was the urgency of the drives to race to the half-way mark. More rain was in the area, and most thought the track would soon get drenched again.

Sure enough a caution flew after half-way, and tons of fair-weather fans thought that was the end of it. But we could see some clearing and held our seats. Plus, I've waited through more "weather windows" at tracks like Charlotte, Talladega, Bristol, and Darlington than I care to count. A bit of rain in the desert wasn't going to deter me from staying until they finished or called it.

The race did indeed go back green, and NASCAR was successful in running all the laps. Kevin Harvick had a beast of a car - especially as he sailed through turn 4. He overcame a bad pit stop earlier in the race, and his #33 Rheem Chevy took the checkers under the lights.

As soon as the checkers flew, we immediately headed for the Neon Garage to stake a viewing position. We were pretty fortunate to get in a good position for some victory lane photos.

After the victory lane celebrations ended, we crossed back to the grandstands and strolled to the parking lot through the now-empty Richard Petty Terrace. The speedway folks did a very cool thing by labeling all the pillars with images from the King's history.

From there, it was time to clean up and head back to the strip. Following a shower and change of clothes, we visited the Stratosphere and multiple establishments in Caesar's Palace before returning to Excalibur. Along the way, yada yada yada took place and we struggled to answer the bell for Sunday morning.