Day trippin’… A day in the life of a NASCAR fan!

November 8, 2015

By: Sandi Argo

In a tiny northwest corner of Tarrant County sits a place where, what used to be quiet rolling pastures, is now the location of heart pumping excitement (well, at least 3 times a year…officially). Where cattle used to graze and horses wandered (the hairy, four legged ones) has now been replaced with concrete and horse-POWER!

The place that I refer to is the Texas Motor Speedway, located in the Justin area of Fort Worth, about 66 miles from Jacksboro. On a normal (non race) day, the drive will take you about an hour and 10 minutes. On race day, a little longer. Myself and my “race buddies” (Kate, Sharon and Becca) left Jacksboro at 7:15 a.m. and we arrived easily at the track and were inside the gates just a bit shy of 8:45 (of course, that included the stop at the donut shop for breakfast). Later in the morning though the traffic will definitely get more congested.

Once in, we started our adventure at the Toyota booth, where we were able to sit in a race car (the #20) for photo ops. They took our picture, gave us a backpack and emailed the pictures within minutes…for free!

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Since Matt Kenseth wasn’t going to use his car that day, Toyota graciously allowed race fans to take their pictures in it! (Okay, so it wasn’t HIS car but…) #freemattkenseth

They also had replicas of the drivers to take “selfies” with, and a really cool green screen that made it look like we were actually in a picture with Carl Edwards!!  Now, if you know me, you know that my driver is Jeff Gordon…but since this is his last year of racing (insert sad face here) I will have to align with a new driver next year. Now accepting applications… regardless, taking the pictures “with” Carl was pretty cool. And it was FREE! Texas Motor Speedway really makes a great effort to make the whole day fun and affordable. Its a great place for family fun, even if racing may not be your thing. Give it a try…you might get hooked like me (a professed non race fan for years…)

Me n Carl

Next we headed to the “land of rolling thunder”…the track, and the pit area! Thanks to good friends, Neil and Mandy, we had passes to experience the “behind the scenes” action and the race itself. It was everything this NASCAR fanatic could have ever dreamed of and more. Our first stop was the #24 pit stall of my NASCAR hero…Jeff Gordon.

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It just happens that Gordon, who announced his retirement would be at the finish of this year, is in contention for his 5th Championship. We were allowed to wander about his pit box, sit on the wall, just hang out in the place that greatness would soon park. It was an amazing experience for me and my crew. Speaking of crews, as we wandered around we came to the back of his pit area. His crew was getting things ready for the race. We were watching them when Sharon noticed there were lug nuts laying around. Sharon asked them what they did with the extras. A crew member gave each of us a lug nut belonging to either Jeff Gordon or Kasey Kahne! We were stunned!! Of course we took pictures in the pit stalls of Gordon and Danicka Patrick before heading toward the garage area.

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We did not have passes to enter the garage areas, but as the crews brought the cars out from inspection (NASCAR inspects the cars before and after the race) we were right there, close enough to touch each one! It was a really cool experience in and of itself. The security folks at the track are very friendly, yet serious when it comes to moving people around when it is time for a car to pass by. We had no issues with them and they seemed to enjoy our enthusiasm!

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Our (my) main intention was to get a chance to meet or greet Jeff Gordon as he walked out during the driver introductions. We had asked one of the security men that stood at the stage where the best place for us to accomplish that feat would be. He had suggested we stand by the steps that they would eventually use to walk off of the stage. We noticed that people had already started standing near the stage at 10 a.m. so we decided that we needed to find our place in line. We “parked it” at the very end of the fence, next to some really cool folks that were waiting for Gordon and Dale Jr.  Not one to be a stranger, we ended up meeting new friends!

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At 11 a.m. Sammy Hagar came to the concert stage and put on a fabulous show! I have to admit though, we were ready for it to end (nothing against Sammy but we knew it would be after the concert before we could meet our drivers). Finally, a little after noon, Hagar wrapped up and that’s when THE CROWD WENT WILD!! One by one 42 of the 43 drivers were introduced (Tony “Smoke” Stewart did not make it to the introductions for reasons unknown).

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(Above) Ryan Newman (Special note…that is the Coke that he gave me soon after this photo was taken…)

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(Above) Dale Earnhardt Jr

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(Above) Jimmie Johnson

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(Above) Of course…the Legend…Jeff Gordon.

We were at the perfect spot to meet and greet drivers. It was really surreal. One by one they walked by, high fiving and fist bumping us, saying hello and really appearing to appreciate the fans. Ryan Newman walked by and as we high fived he asked me if I would like to have his Coke! I asked if he was serious and he handed it to me and said “Yeah, here ya go!” Now that was awesome!! I got autographs from Trevor Bayne and (Grand Marshall) John Krasinski (actor from The Office). John Krasinski was a cool guy, and he gladly agreed to an autograph and photo.

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(Above) Not the best photo of Grand Marshall, John Krasinski…

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John Krasinski

The big moment for me came at the end of the driver intros. The driver of the #24 car, Jeff Gordon, came to the stage and was greeted with loud applause and whoops and hollers from nearly everyone there. I was standing there, ready for the moment that I would meet him face to face. I knew it was a long shot but I asked him if he had time for an autograph. He smiled and kind of stammered a polite “Aw man, I don’t think I do” so Kate asked him for a high five. He walked right to her and gave her a high five, grasping her hand. I patted his shoulder and wished him a great race. It was a moment!

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(Above) The retiting legend of auto racing, Jeff Gordon, as he walked to the pickup truck that would take him to the driver introduction lap. He was very polite, and took the time to greet Kate and I briefly.

For a NASCAR fan, my day was pure magic. We were able to take pictures with the actual Chase Grid board! It was so cool, and the temptation to move Jeff’s “card” to the last slot, reserved for the Champion, was almost more than I could stand. But I resisted. We also had the opportunity to sign the finish line (which ultimately ended up belonging to Jimmie Johnson, after he passed Brad Keslowski with 3 laps left. Gordon was cruising at 9th, so his fans were thrilled to have Johnson (a non contender for the Championship this year) win. Not only did that boost Gordon (the only safe driver in contention at this time) in points…we did NOT want the 2 car to win. There is a bit of bad blood stemming from last years’ race, where Keslowski knocked our beloved Gordon out of the race for a 5th Championship. We sat at the start/finish line and had perfect seats to take photos of the #48 car as it did the burnout after winning.

Kate and I with the Chase grid board. No, that was not a princess crown on my head, although that was what I felt like that day!!

Kate and I with the Chase grid board. No, that was not a princess crown on my head, although that was what I felt like that day!!

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We signed our names on the finish line. I am fairly sure that Jimmie Johnson was careful to not burnout on mine…

To honor the retiring Jeff Gordon, TMS had 24 parachute jumpers, carrying the #24 flag. The one pictured had the biggest flag, it was impressive!

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The happy looks on the faces of my crew said it all. At any point during the day their expressions showed awe, thrill and happiness. Racing might not be your “thing”, if it isn’t then there are many other ways to enjoy a day at the track. I hope that you take a chance to try it. Coming from me, a former race criticizer, that says a whole lot.

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