That was Hunter's comment, when he learned that I was at the NASCAR race at Talladega yesterday. For years, I have failed to understand the fascination with souped up cars going round and round for 500 miles. Give me a good college football or basketball game but leave stock car racing to the those other people.
Until yesterday I had probably watched NASCAR on television for less than 10 minutes, even though I have lived in the home of Bobby and Davey Allison and Neal Bonnett for almost 20 years. Yesterday I saw a race live from "Gentlemen, start your engines" to the checkered flag.
First, let me say that the track is huge. It's a 2.66 mile oval, and the grandstands stretch from turn four to turn one, with boxes above the lower level of the grandstand and an upper deck above the boxes. We were in Suite 3, which came with a complete bar, a buffet breakfast and seating for at least 30 to 40 people.
After breakfast, we carried our Bloody Marys down to the track for a tour of Pit Road. I was fascinated with colorful attire of the racing fans. Unlike a college football game where one color predominates, a NASCAR race is a multi-colored event, with fans decked out in the colors of their favorite driver. At Talladega, probably 75 percent of the folks are Junior fans. Junior is Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who drives the 88 car.Back in the box, it was time for round two of food and drink. For lunch, they brought in stuffed shrimp, beef tenderloin, tomatoes with mozarella and scalloped potatoes with asparagus. At the bar were plates of lemon squares and chocolate chip bars. Yum!
Now that we were sufficiently stuffed, it was time to move outside for the 1 p.m. start of the race. After three laps behind the pace car, the drivers got the green flag, and the AMP Energy 500 was underway.
The noise was deafening, and every time the cars came by, I had to cover my ears. I noticed that a lot of fans were wearing headsets, and after a while, Joel produced a set for me to use. With the headsets on, I could listen to the track announcer call the race and also follow the conversation between one of the drivers and his pit crew.
To fully enjoy a race you have to pull for one of the drivers. Jeff Gordon was our man. When he went out of the race in Lap 53, we turned to Kasey Kahne, who lasted until the Big One in Lap 68. That crash took out a bunch of drivers, and the race was halted for 17 minutes to clean up the track.
We finally decided to join the masses and pull for Junior, who would get a huge roar every time he took the lead. He lasted until the Big One II in Lap 174 that took out a whole bunch of other drivers. Once again the red flag came out and halted the race, this time for 11 minutes.
Another yellow caution flag in Lap 184 led to a Green-White-Checkered finish. Joel explained. By the time the debris on the track was cleaned up the race was in Lap 187, with one lap to go. But the race can't end under a caution flag, so the drivers got a green flag to start racing at Lap 188, a white flag to indicate one more lap at the beginning of the next lap, and a checkered flag for the winner at the end of that lap.
Tony Stewart led the final lap and won the race, but not without controversy. Regan Smith finished first after passing Stewart on the final turn, but he was moved back to the eighteenth spot after it was ruled that he passed Stewart below the yellow line. That's a no-no.
At the end of the race most of the cars had lost their luster, and some were literally held together with duck tape. I didn't look much better. I was hot and sweaty, and my face was covered with soot from the track. And yes, I had a red neck and a red nose too. Next time I need to use more sunscreen.