Saturday, March 14, 2009

They don't call it Hotlanta for nothing!

Like I mentioned before, we headed down to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck races last weekend, thanks to a victory by Matt Kenseth and the generosity of the fine folks at AMS.

We headed out early Friday morning to stop by the Golden Corral in McDonough, GA to visit with Travis Kvapil, driver of the #28 Golden Corral Ford and all around good guy, and to support Golden Corral's efforts.
After a short chat with him and some lunch, we headed on our way to the track. We'd planned on getting to the track early Friday to explore the exhibit, merchandise trailers and see who else was scheduled to come out throughout the weekend for autograph sessions.

I was completely delighted to see so many drivers make an effort throughout the weekend:
Carl Edwards,David Stremme,David Ragan,Robby Gordon,Sam Hornish,AJ Allmendinger,Reed Sorenson,Casey Mears,Michael Waltrip, David Reutimann Scott Speed, & Brian Vickers on the Cup side and Chevy truck series drivers Ricky Carmichael (yes, THAT Ricky Carmichael) Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton, Chad McCumbee, and JR Fitzpatrick.

During Cup practice it was obvious that we were in for a slip&slide show as all the driver seemingly were struggling with incredibly loose conditions on such a fast track.

After pratice ended, we headed over to the Speed stage to catch Trackside. It was pretty obvious from the already dozen or so Kasey Kahne fans milling around that Kasey would be one of the show's guests, but we had no clue who the others were. We were pretty excited to find out that it'd be RC! (as well as David Reutimann, but that didn't excite us nearly as much.) As anyone who has been a part of the Trackside crowd can attest to, between the people desperate to get on the show and those desperate to not be on the show, and the Speed folks encouraging the crowd to make as much noise as possible, you don't really come to Trackside to watch Trackside. That's for all of the unfortunate people stuck at home! So needless to say, aside from an akward moment when Jeff Hammond shouted 'Speaking of making it, you have a wife and two kids..' at RC, when seemingly nobody was speaking of making anything, I really can't tell you a single thing that was said on the show.

I can tell you that, aside from his tendencies to akwardly stare at people (namely me) to the point of uncomfortability, RC is pretty much awesome (They don't call him the Greatest of All Time as a joke, I guess.). Having spent a great deal of time in the CWES garage last year focused on other teams, I don't think I realized exactly how cool it is that RICKY CARMICHAEL has come to NASCAR, because he was just Ricky, another CWES driver, but NASCAR really is lucky to have him. (sidenote: I hope the reason he stared at me akwardly was because of our extensive time in the garage at the CWES races..and not for another reason)

After Trackside, we headed back in for qualifying, where we faced a mix of emotions including disappointment (for slow qualifying times from some), exasperation ( for the people sitting near us) and delight/relief for Travis making the show! Feeling good about Sunday, we headed out to find our hotel and get a good night's rest, since we had to be at the track at 9 to help sell NASCAR Day Pins!

As a big fan of volunteer work as it relates to Atlanta Motor Speedway, I'd signed us up to sell NASCAR Day Pins for the NASCAR Foundation from 9-1 on Saturday morning. After picking up our lovely blue smocks and our pins from Elenor and Sara (who were both wonderful!), we were set, and off towards the trailers to garner some support from the shoppers (and possibly the drivers signing?) Carl was supposed to be at his trailer from 9:15-9:45 and David Stremme from 9:30-10, so our plan was to start with Carl, then sneak over to see David. Would have worked out perfectly, except that with the misty weather Saturday morning, truck qualifying bumped back Cup practice, and Carl's schedule. When he finally did arrive with Angela, his PA, and Randy, the PR guy, (at 9:45, but I'm not judging) he was in good spirits, and his firesuit. We've joked about it previously, but he wears a microphone during the sessions to hold Q&A's for the people who didn't wake up at 4 in the morning to come get in line to get his autograph, and they really are enjoyable. The things people ask him (or he randomly thinks of to share) are always funny, and there isn't much he won't share.

Most of the questions revolved around Kate and married life, and his poor qualifying efforts. (One of these things he seemed to enjoy talking about..I'll leave it up to you to determine which.) A small boy in line had fallen and broken his leg trying to be like 'Backflip', and got a pretty good teasing from Carl about that.

Since we hadn't had the greatest reception from people rushing to buy our pins before Carl showed up, I had the great idea of selling one to him, (since I wrongly assumed that if he had one, others would want one too) and in a lull in conversation,when he asked if there were any more questions, I chimed in with 'Hey Carl, wanna buy a NASCAR Day pin?' Nothing like putting him on the spot. He, of course, obliged..'Of course I'll buy one!' Except, as I mentioned, he was wearing his firesuit, and for some reason, apparently he doesn't carry his wallet with him. He tried to bum the $5 off of Randy, who didn't have it either. While he was scrounging for money, a man in the line passed me the cash and handed him the pin..which in return earned him a diecast car, and gave us a free commercial for the pins.

Unfortunately, as much fun as Carl is, his late arrival meant we missed Stremme, but we knew we'd see him the next day at the PRN Up to Speed Event. We cruised the souviner trailers and sample displays, selling our pins. Conveniently, (and completely intentionally on my part) I led the charge over to the Chevy display just about the same time as the truck drivers arrived, and so we got to see Mr.Carmichael again, as well as the others. Since we hadn't gotten there early enough to get in the line, we stood right behind the line and just observed, and although I'm biased, I'm also confident in saying that there's a lot the others could learn from RC about the fact autograph sessions aren't contests to see who can sign the most cards without acknowledging the people in front of you (Johnny and Matt, this might mean you.)

Our shift was just about over once they were done, so we turned in our smocks, cash and pins and headed into the track. The race ended up being more than mildly disappointing for us, as Ricky and then Colin were both wrecked, and Kyle Busch continued his efforts to singlehandedly kill the Truck series.

After the race, we were pretty worn out and decided to head back to the hotel to nap and get ready for a night of a nice dinner and relaxing before what was sure to be an even longer day on Sunday.

Serafino's Italian Restaurant was recommended to us by a frequent patron, and we're surely glad that it was. The staff was very friendly, and everything from the salad and garlic rolls to the baked spaghetti was wonderful (Mom also recommends the lasagna) were wonderful. We usually try to eat at local restaurants compared to chains, and Serafino's definitely didn't let us down.

Like we'd expected, Sunday morning came early, and after a continental breakfast and a long trek from the parking lot, we arrived at the Speed stage for PRN Up to Speed. Allmendinger, Stremme, and Busch were all in rare form, and the experience was interesting, but unfortunately the format wasn't a Q&A with the fans, as the emcees controlled the conversation, asking questions that any long time (or enthusiastic) fan would know the answer to ( specifically about Lynne (AJ's wife), Cindy (David's mom) and Eva (Kurt's wife)) I know a lot of people really enjoyed it, though, and I think it is a great idea and am excited that MRN is going to host similar events at non-SMI tracks.

After Up to Date, we headed over to the trailers, saw Scott Speed, David Ragan, Joey Logano, (and Tom, does Joey go anywhere without him?), Robby Gordon, Sam Hornish and Brian Vickers. I know that for various reasons, a lot of NASCAR fans don't like Robby Gordon, but he's one driver who will time and time again go above and beyond for the fans, and I think he needs more credit. A lady and her daughter who was handicapped wanted to get a picture with him, but the girl couldn't climb up onto the stool he has for people to step up on to take a better picture. Instead of just shrugging them off or just leaning over the edge for the picture, he came out and around to the front of the trailer, posed with just the daughter, then both the mom and daughter. He also got a hat from his trailer, signed it, and traded the daughter's Dale Jr hat for it, even pulling her ponytail through the back for her. He's been controversial and abbrassive on the track and with his competitors for years, but he really is one of the good guys when it comes to fan relations. We always seem to stop by his trailer and he never fails to impress us.

After buying my new RC tshirt and changing into it for the race, we headed back to the car for lunch, and picked up our scanner bag and headed into our turn one seats.

Before I say what I'm about to, I'd like to preface it with the fact that AMS is a great track. The races are almost always really exciting, and there's not a seat at the track that you can't see most of the track from.

But, after buying our $17 tickets, we expected to be crammed into a section with the 998 other lucky people. What we weren't planning on was being packed in like sardines in one area, while there were such noticeable gaps in filled seats throughout the rest of the grandstands. We barely lasted through the first 100 laps with all the seats filled in our row before we moved up to sit under the grandstands. We ended up listening to PRN on the scanners and watching the race on the TVs mounted by the concession stands, something I've never done at the track (and never plan to again!) We were almost enticed into moving down to the seats by the start finish line by the strong runs by Mr. Gordon and Mr. Edwards, but it was obvious that not even the wall was going to stop Kurt Busch from taking home that checkered flag. With a 4 and a half hour drive home, we made the tough decision with about 80 laps to go, to head out.

Luckily, we missed a great majority of the race traffic on our way out.

All in all, a great weekend full of NASCAR Day Pins, blistered lips, and GOATs.

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