Despite fan favorite Danica Patrick being sidelined so early, the race continued.
As part of the experience, and wanting to relay the common man part of racing to our readers, I spent part of the race walking around the grounds and gaining different perspectives. It was a fascinating experience. It was amazing how many people were not even watching the race. Many were milling around the vast area where the vendors sold everything from French fires in a dog dish to overpriced clothing.
It was in this area where we witnessed those Budweiser girls. The scantily clad females were either intoxicated just like those guys sitting at the tables in the audience or they were really bad dancers. I guess either way, the purpose was served as the booze was flowing and the guys were smiling.
In other areas, the car dealers were showing off their wares. That one made me realize how NASCAR was formed and its true roots where people would buy cars based on who performed well at the track. Back in the old days, this was a central part of NASCAR. Today, the cars are all custom built and only have shells that look like a Chevy or Ford, complete with decals that resemble headlights. Apparently, the old ways may still work as many people were checking out the latest Corvette or Mustang.
At one point, we stopped and sat for a spell near one of those huge daytime televisions. There were a lot of people taking in the action on that screen. In fact, we got caught up in it for a while. We were in the area of turns six and seven, so you could see the cars racing by and watch it on the screen. Again, fascinating to hear in the background what you are watching on television.
After a while, we headed back toward pit road to watch the conclusion of the race. I’m still convinced we walked 10 miles that day, but it was well worth every step.
Back in pit lane, we walked a short distance and noticed a bunch of people standing in one place looking up. Even the pit crew members in that area were looking up. What they were looking at was one of those big screens. You see, even they have no other way of following the action so the television becomes crucial.
As the race wound down, like almost all races, the action heated up. Drivers Carl Edwards and Brad Kezelowski were battling it out for the win. One would lead and then the other would lead and it was back and forth. You could hear the fans yelling with every move.
Also like most races, there came late caution periods, meaning the final restarts were going to be intense.
They did not disappoint.
Edwards managed to obtain the lead and out came another yellow. When the green flag waved, the two banged around through the first part of the course. At one point, it looked like Edwards was going to lose the lead, but somehow he staved off the challenge and out came the white flag. He held of Kezelowski on the final lap and took the checkered flag.
What a race.
As part of the media credentials, we were able to take in the activities in victory lane at Watkins Glen.
Nicole took her place on the risers which make up the photographer’s area and in came Edwards to accept the laurels of the day.
As he got out of the car, the whooping and hollering began. He jumped out of the car and raised two fists in the air. The cameras were flashing and it was pretty much organized chaos.
When asked about how intense it was in those final laps, Edwards quipped, “Intense in all capital letters.”
That probably pretty much sums up what it’s like to drive a race car that fast for that long of a period of time.
The victory lane celebration was very fascinating to watch. As in most sports, it’s all about the sponsorship and NASCAR might be the king in that respect. Edwards was sponsored by Subway, so there were sandwiches for everyone. The race was sponsored by Zippo, so there was a unique trophy with flames and jokes about lighters.
Because there are so many sponsors, photos of everyone have to be taken wearing various hats. These are things you don’t see on television, but they are the reality of NASCAR, especially in a tough economy.
At the conclusion of the celebration, the Champaign is popped open and the spraying begins. What we noticed was nobody was drinking the bubbly, just spraying it on everyone else. Of course, these are the good old boys of NASCAR, so a cold beer was probably waiting in the wings.
Once all of the excitement has settled down, we decided to once again take that walk to find some sort of souvenir for our son. We had promised a Danica “something,” and we ended up at her exclusive merchandising trailer. We found a T-shirt for what seemed a reasonable price and then headed back to the media center where Nicole had to turn in her vest.
It was at that time I began to think about the people who work at Watkins Glen International.
From our first experience early that morning, everyone had been nothing but courteous and nice. It must be an intense job working there, especially on the biggest weekend of the year. You have to deal with everything from minor glitches to vultures who think they are above everyone else and you must cater to their needs.
The people at Watkins Glen pulled it off like true professionals. Wherever we went, they were kind and helpful. If I’d ask a dumb question, they would give a smart answer. At one point, we were talking out of the pits and one of those people with whistles said, “Took box from Pit 1 behind you, keep going.” I turned around, and he said, “And they don’t steer very well.”
That was a funny yet helpful moment in a very long day.
Once the day was done and we were ready to head back to the car, the one glitch of the day happened. When we first arrived, we were given a ride to the media center because our car was quite a ways off where they had us park. When we asked if we could get a lift back, they said it would be a while because they had nobody available. There was a sports car race about to start, they said, and everyone was helping with that event.
So we decided to head back to the car on foot. About two blocks into the hike, that kind bus driver from the morning opened her door and said, “Media?” We nodded and she said, “Get in, I’ll get you back.”
We jumped at the chance, as did several others she kindly picked up, and we are forever grateful. I put a few bucks in her tip jar and did so smiling. I find it interesting one of the kindest people I met that entire day was the bus driver. It was also interesting she was one of the first and last people we saw at Watkins Glen that day.
Whatever the good folks at Watkins Glen are paying her, it’s not enough. She’s a great ambassador for your business and I hope you recognize the people like her who make your operation world class.
After having finally slept from the experience of last Saturday, there are a few observations which come to mind regarding the big picture.
One has to do with something that goes way back in my life – racing.
Since my youth, I’ve been a huge racing fan. Just love the motorhead kind of experience.
What I found so fascinating for myself was the fact despite seeing so many of these celebrity drivers and even others like Jack Roush, the one thing which kept drawing me in were the cars on the track.
Sure, I was caught in seeing Danica Patrick, but even then, I could not take my eyes off of the cars racing down the front stretch.
When you watch it on television, you just don’t get the sense of just how fast these cars are going. They are screaming down the front stretch and then gearing down and slamming on the brakes to go into the first turn.
Even through the double turns on the other side, they were flat-out flying.
I always laugh at people who say anyone could drive like that given the chance. That’s such arrogance and, well, stupidity. It takes a special soul to strap into one of these tin cans with a big motor and drive 170-miles-per-hour just inches from a wall. Sure, I could say all day I would be able to do it, but I’d be fooling myself.
These are brave souls who risk their lives each and every second they are on the track. Until you see if live and in person, you just can’t get the feel for how fast it is and how quickly things can go wrong.
In the end, this was a great experience and I can’t wait for my next chance. I realize this series hasn’t been traditional in the sense of “covering a race,” but I hope it has brought some insight and maybe a little humor into the perspective or racing.
I would encourage everyone to at least give it a shot and attend a race at Watkins Glen. It’s a beautiful setting the Finger Lakes region of New York and it’s just a lot of fun.
That should be the bottom line for any entertainment experience, and this did not disappoint.