Thank you Lowes, Hendrick Motor Sports, and Jimmie Johson for such a great experience at Phoenix International Raceway.
I have chased race cars for a long time. Mom enjoyed midgets before I came into the world. I guess it was instilled in me very early on. On Memorial Days we would make homemade ice-cream and listen to the Indy 500 on AM radio before live TV. My heroes were never stick and ball guys. They were Foyt, Rutherford, and Vukovich II.
Growing up we would do anything to get near the races. We worked the Kern County Boat Club drags at Lake Ming. I collected used spark plugs from boats like Proud Mary. Looked at awe at the new Simpson Pig Face helmets. Rode our dirt bikes to Sprockets Motorsports and flagged corners for $5.00 on race days which we then spent on a hot dog and soda. Spent our time at the March Meets at Famosa. My heroes were LaPorte, De Coster, Muldowney, and Ongais. The smell of Castor oil in a two stroke is still very sweet to me.
Funny thing about racing, you never get rid of one form, you just expand into others.
Soon my heroes would be Mears, Andretti Jr, and Unser Jr. I disliked Mansel but was in awe of his skill and his decision to come race in America. His signature graces a print in my office today.
As we got older we went up and down the west coast, even to the east coast. Have met lots of folks, lots of drivers and owners. I have been in suites, I have been on hot hillsides. Dragged into a hauler by Stefan Johansson because I looked like a whipped dog from the heat. They gave me water and a stint in front of a cooler to continue my day. My heroes were Fittapladi, Tracy and Penske.
I have loaded up wrecked midgets at midnight for a three hour drive home. I have been in the rain, the cold, the fog. I drank beer in a garage in Bakersfield with Stewart and C. Mears long before they were big time. Followed Harvick from his days in a Ken Small ride. Met Dick Trickle before ESPN found out he had a fun name. Cheered Ron Hornaday. More Saturday and Sunday nights at Mesa Marin Raceway and the Okie Bowl then I care to remember. Was at the 95 truck race in Bakersfield before the trucks were a thing. I have been to many places that long ago faced the wrecking ball like Ascot Park, Saugus, Carlsbad and Riverside. Spent Thanksgiving at the turkey bowls. Waited for “winter heat” to fill the void. Watched IRP on TV only to leave the house and watch local talent at the track. My heroes were Wallace, Martin, and a young guy named Gordon.
Along the way I mourned too many drivers. I was at Fontana when Greg Moore passed. At Las Vegas when we lost Dan Wheldon. I watched my local, national and international heroes die. I remember exactly where I was when I heard of Alan Kulwicki’s passing like most folks remember the Challenger. Dave Despain was my Sunday night of choice and a source of comfort when there was bad news.
Drag races, sprint cars, Indy cars, Champ cars, F1, drag boats, Reno Air, NASCAR, off road, motocross, ALMS, etc. If it had a motor, went fast and cost more than I could afford; I was game.
This experience topped them all.
Dumb luck or good fortune I was part of a Lowes VIP package at PIR. I figured maybe a suite, etc. NOPE. The full blown VIP deal. Escorted by Karissa of GMR marketing. Everybody needs a Karissa at the races. We had the opportunity to meet Jimmie Johnson, go inside the hauler, stand on the starting line. Every true race fan needs to sit behind Chad Knaus on the pit box for just one sequence. I almost felt guilty thinking about some friends that have a whole lot more invested than I do and they have not had that experience.
I will be sad when Mr. Johnson retires. Not because it is over but because my fantasy life will be done. The kid who thought he was DeCoster, who could beat Curtis Sparks if just given the chance, who would eat smoked sausage for three days in the desert while riding because he spent his food money on a new set of levers, grew up to become, it least in my fantasy, Jimmie Johnson. Likely the last of the desert rats who knows the smell of two stroke and not only made the big time but dominated it. That he is a good person is just icing on his cake.
I will still go to races. Not so much the big events. NOTHING will top this as a race event. I guess I get to go out with a top notch experience?