[atlanta - the writeup]
Almost a 1000 miles, 432 Helton sightings and about 57 caffeinated beverages later, I have returned to the Hoosier State after my trip to Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Now, let me preface all this by saying, my only track experience has been at the Brickyard, okay?
Atlanta is something else.
Carrie and I rolled into AMS on Friday morning (Parking! At the track! For free! And really close! No hike from the Coke Lot!) and stood in line for an eternity and a half to get our three day pit passes. We immediately cruise into the infield to try and scope out a spot to watch all the garage activities as they get ready for quals.
Where do we end up? On the other side of the fence, about 5 feet from the door of the Oval Office.
Prime real estate, people. At least, prime for those of us who don't have hot or cold garage passes.
Lesson number one: After standing in this spot for a few days and seeing all manners of famous people, you become very lackadaisical about it.
"Oh look. There's Harvick. Again."
"Chris Myers over there. He's a jackass."
"Is that Brian France? I like his shirt."
Luckily, our spot affords us a fab view of the inspection bay, the Lowe's hauler, and the garage activities of all our favorite drivers. We see the Lowe's crew cruising around, we say hi to Richard Petty, we snap photos when we remember to, but mostly we wonder several things:
Could Chad could look any cuter checking his hair in the mirrored doors of the hauler every time he goes inside?
Who's that enormous dude on the Lowe's team that seems to be doing all the work?
Why didn't we remember to put on sunscreen before we got to this spot?
We stake out this area for a while, right up until quals are about to start. We had no idea when Robby, Jimmie or the rest were qualifying, but right before we bailed to find our seats, we see The Chad climbing up to the top of the Lowe's hauler for Jimmie's run. Not ones to miss an opportunity, Carrie and I wait until Chad seems to be looking our way before giving him a big wave.
Chad does that look-around-are-they-waving-at-me thing.
Chad waves in that I-hope-they-mean-me way.
Marissa whoops and throws her fists over her head in victory.
Carrie laughs at her.
Chad laughs at her.
Marissa laughs at herself.
We go to quals.
Of course, after quals, we have to shop. (Duh!) We pick up goods for ourselves and for De, we find out who is doing autograph signings when, then we grab some grub and we wait around for Trackside to get going. In the meantime, we see Brian Vickers go speeding by in a golf cart. We, apparently, are the only ones that recognize him. Don't worry - we said hi.
Trackside, better known as a Bunch of Drunkass People Trying to Be Obnoxious on TV.
We sang happy birthday to Casey Mears, we laughed at Kenny Schrader, and we drooled over Kasey Kahne.
Suggestion for the Trackside television crew: If you want a well behaved crowd, don't throw free gifts into the audience during commercial breaks. All it does it incite riots, screaming, and makes some dude whistle at the top of his lungs so loud he gets thrown out of the broadcast.
But thanks for the free can cozy.
We head for our motel and promptly fall asleep after leaving a 5:30, yes, 5:30 wakeup call.
Famous people tally from Friday's garage session: Richard Petty, Mike Helton, John Darby, Mikey Waltrip, Robby Gordon, Kenny Schrader, Chad Knaus and Company, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers, Kasey Kahne, Casey Mears, Jamie McMurray Ward Burton, Robbie Loomis, Brian Vickers, John Andretti, Kevin Harvick, Chris Myers, Jeff Hammond, Larry Mac, DW, Steve Byrnes, Bob Dillner, Jeanne Zelasko.
Well, we didn't get a 5:30 wakeup call.
We got a 4am wakeup call.
Cranky? You bet.
After jammin' through our continental breakfast, we hop our shuttle to the track. We wait for-e-ver for the second crowd at the other hotel, and are joined by three more people. JD, our trusty driver, and Ron, our not so trusty navigator, head us for AMS and drop us off by the merch haulers. We win Sharpies, we meander around, we check on driver autograph sessions. Carrie discovers that Robby is signing at 12:30, and I manage to win a ticket for an autograph from Jimmie by answering a really challenging trivia question.
When was Jimmie's rookie year.
We head to the infield again to stake out our spot from the day before. This time we're on the other side of the gate area, and manage to get there just as the garages go hot.
Which means we are trapped in that very spot for over two hours.
We hang out with Cute!Security!Guy and watch the goings on in the garage. Kenny Schrader crashes into Carrie, Ned Jarrett smiles at me, and we watch a crowd of people nearly get mowed down every time Tony Stewart comes out of the garage. That boy cuts corners, I'm telling ya. ;-)
We finally get to move about the time we have to head back for our signings, saddened by our lack of Chad contact, but gladdened that we remembered sunscreen this time.
Unfortunately, the signings are concurrent, so Carrie and I decide to divide and conquer. Carrie goes and meets Robby, gets her stuff and my stuff signed, manages not to have a heart attack and finds me just as I'm finishing my cattle-call-autograph-signing-where-you-can't-even-say-hi-to-Jimmie session.
A bit unfulfilling, but I did get a photo of the cuteums.
The truck race was cool, though we didn't know anyone's numbers but Schrader and Steve Park. Needless to say, we were most upset when Steve slid through the infield, but at least the finish of the race was rad.
We jam back to the shuttle and spend the entire (grossly misnavigated) trip bonding with Canada - a race fan down in Atlanta from Ontario. Canada was cool, man. :-)
We order a pizza, we watch a movie, and we pray to god that we get the right wake up call this time.
Famous people tally from Saturday's garage session: All of the above, and Ned Jarrett, Kenny Wallace, Richard Childress, Matt Yocum, Slugger Labbe, Ryan Newman, Brian France.
Another day, another 5:30 wake up call.
Well, 4:30, Indiana Time.
We hop the shuttle again, this time with more fans in tow and slowly, slowly make our way to the track for race day. Guess where we went first?
Yup. Garage area, same spot as the days before.
We get Helton's autograph, we say hi to Richard Childress, and we watch the Lowe's gang go through their morning paces.
Things we wonder about during our morning stakeout:
Why are Randy Dorton and Richard Childress exchanging digits?
Why are all the Lowe's guys staring at us, but refusing to be social?
More importantly, why aren't they offering to share their lunch with us when we're on the other side of the fence, STARVING?
We stare at them. They stare at us. We take pictures of them. They stare at us. We smile. They stare at us.
Chad pops out of the hauler and we try the Jedi Mind Trick on him.
"Come over to the fence and say hello to us."
Chad turns around and we do another dorky wave thing. Chad smiles and waves back, then immediately disappears back into the hauler.
Despite our crushing disappointment that the Jedi Mind Trick didn't work, we buck up and head for our seats in the Weaver Grandstand.
Now, as I said in the beginning, my only track experiences have been in Indianapolis for the Brickyard and the 500.
Indianapolis' infield was always affectionately known as the Snakepit, for all the um antics that went on there.
My friends, Weaver is Atlanta's Snakepit.
Dudes climbing a billboard during the race. People climbing the fence that lines the track when the race goes green. Sheriffs cars cruising by every few minutes. A beach ball bounced around. Lots of bitching about incorrect seating. Beer.
No boobs, which was the Snakepit's most famous asset, so I guess Atlanta still has some growing to do.
The race was awesome and awe inspiring as always, and just like every year, I teared up when they took the green and came around the first time.
Y'all, I'm a dork.
I bonded with the dude next to me in the stands, who was from Wisconsin and was equally incredulous at the behavior of Weaver. Not only was he a Jimmie fan, he was a Midwesterner. Friends for life, man.
Junior won. Yeah.
As soon as the car race was over, the footrace was on!
We had 45 minutes to get from Weaver to our shuttle, so we knew we'd have to haul ass.
We didn't anticipate the logjam of people at the top of the stairs. Following someone's cry to "Just keep swimming!", I grab onto some total stranger man and follow his conga line through the masses, emerging in about 30 seconds flat.
Note to self: when in a crowd, follow the biggest, burliest, cutest dude you can get your hands on. Works every time.
We stagger onto the bus, sit in a stupor during our ride back to the hotel (didn't get lost this time!), and contemplate what to do next.
Another pizza. Another movie. As much sleep as humanly possible.
An awesome three days with my awesome friend.
Man, I can't wait for next year.