If you read my lead up to this, you’ll know that I decided to make myself a part of the infamous 2014 Chilton Fall Invitational instead of just sitting back and taking it all in. Well, I suppose my adventure required a little bit, no wait, a lot of both. I found my way to the track with a little bit of guidance, but it wasn’t too difficult. Of course when I first got there, I was thinking, huh, it’s just another little dirt track on the outskirts of some small town I had never heard of, even having lived in the state for almost my entire life. In fact, I was kind of wondering if the town even existed, but when I got there and saw the welcome sign, I actually said out loud, “It does exist.”
The first thing I did was get a tour of the entire facility, including a lap around the track. I was soaking up every inch of that place. I didn’t want to miss a thing. The best part about arriving was that I had a tour guide. He made it his purpose to make sure that when I got there, I knew where to go, what to do, what to expect. He never left my side until he knew I was settled. Now that was pretty darn awesome.
I tried to study the track a little bit and get a mental picture of how I thought the cars would get around it. I visualized what I could based on the 10 different classes, totaling 277 cars, I saw as I was driven through the pit area. Wow! That’s a lot of cars and even a lot more people. I tried to gauge how I was going to fit into this whole scene, not that I was really that concerned, but you know how you just kind of look around and size up if you are going to stick out like a sore thumb or blend. Blending is so much better…yeah, so much better.
When I settled into the pit area, I started to relax a little bit. I stood there with my arms crossed, quiet as usual. Then I started to see a couple familiar faces. I even looked at someone and said, I think I know you. I kind of wish I never would’ve said that because it was from that moment on that he and I started our love-hate relationship. However, by the time the weekend ended, it was more love than hate…..at least I think it was. Haha. Man I love racing people.
I’ve always been one to get kind of uneasy when people at the track start asking me all kinds of questions that to me are so obvious. But that day I decided I was going to be one of those people. I wasn’t all that familiar with dirt cars, so I bit the bullet and started asking the why’s and how’s. Having seen and actually been a part of every stage of putting a race car together, I like to think I have a pretty good feel as to why a chassis is built a certain way, etc. But looking over this late model raised some questions and I wasn’t afraid to ask.
I really, truly wanted to understand why the cars are built the way they are, what were some of the benefits, advantages, disadvantages to what was what. As a girl, I probably looked like a freak as I walked around the car, looking at the frame rails and how the body was mounted to the chassis. I looked inside and even wanted to confirm that the seat belts were mounted to the frame. Safety first. 🙂 I asked why they did what they did with the tires. You get my drift. I wasn’t afraid to feel stupid. Hey, I wasn’t there to just stand around, I wanted to know, I wanted to understand, that’s just the way I get into racing, and the only way I can fully appreciate it. And my tour guide wasn’t hesitant to answer a single question.
I am so used to walking everywhere, and honestly kind of enjoy it, so I was a little taken back when I was offered to take the four-wheeler or golf cart anytime I wanted to. If I was caught walking, they always stopped and picked me up. Crazy hospitality these random people offered.
The day was still young and I wasn’t exactly quite sure what to do with myself for a little while. So I’m gonna admit something, I went out to my car and took a one-hour nap. Yup, I figured I might as well be rested up for the rest of the night. After I woke up, I double-checked my hair and face in the mirror….cause I am still a girl after all. I started my trek back to the pits, but low and behold was picked up by my frenemy who somehow guessed that I had taken a nap. Was it that obvious? I thought I looked okay. Haha. What’s funny is it had nothing to do with that. Us racing folk just know each other that well, frighteningly enough.
So back to the pit area I went. It was time for some on-track action. At first I stood in the background a little bit because I was a little uncomfortable, but I slowly worked my way closer and closer to the fence. What I expected the cars to look like going around the track was pretty accurate, but a lot more exciting. As the mud and dirt flew at me I accepted the fact that I wasn’t the only one getting dirty, so bring it on.
I might have spoken a liiiiiitle too soon. I could see when the big chunks of mud were coming depending on how a car was coming out of turn two, so I had the rhythm down of when to turn away and when to turn back. But apparently sometimes you can turn back a little too quickly. As I turned my head back towards the track, the next thing I knew my knees had buckled and I was grabbing the truck I was standing in front of to maintain my balance. I put one hand to my forehead and the other held me up against the truck. I tried hard not to bring too much attention to myself but when I turned around all eyes were on me. Most didn’t realize the extent of my pain and they asked in a casual way, “did you get hit?” I was like, “yeah,” and slowly, trying to hide my circumstance, walked back by the car. I kind of felt like I was bleeding, but kind of didn’t.
A good friend came up to me and asked if I was okay. I had to be honest, I wasn’t quite sure. I took my hand away and she said, “you’re bleeding.” Okay, so it wasn’t like gushing, but it was blood that was supposed to remain in my body. I sat down for a few minutes, on a tire no less, putting a little pressure on my head. I still felt kind of funny, so we decided to head down to the ambulance, if anything just to get a band-aid or something. I tried not to let on, but when I stood up and started to walk I was not feeling the greatest. A medic saw us walking and came running up behind me. He ran to the ambulance and got an ice pack for me. So I went back and sat on my faithful tire holding an ice pack to my head. Everything calmed down, my head cleared up and I was good to go.
Now here’s the funny thing. If you were to see the mark and the small lump, you would think that I was the biggest wimp there ever was, which is the farthest from the truth. My plan was to just casually go sit down somewhere incognito and let it pass, but I got caught. All I can say is that it must have been some sort of rock or mud ninja that knew how to pack a punch without leaving much evidence, cause what I felt and what you could see were two totally different things.
I told myself I was there to get the full experience and I was off to a good start. I did make it back up to fence, I just kept my head turned a little longer the next time.
As I stood there watching, I started to remember why I was there. Sure, there were a handful of reasons, I wanted to watch some great racing, hang out with great friends, cheer for the team I was hanging with in hopes to get to victory lane, but the real reason I was there was for this…what I am writing right now. I was there to gain more knowledge into the sport of short track racing and write about it.
I know getting hit in the head and about getting knocked out may not seem a worthy experience to be considered knowledge. But that’s the funny thing…it is! It opens up the door to more knowledge and understanding of the sport. Okay, you might be reading this thinking, ‘I think she might have a concussion,’ haha, and I’m okay with that. I guess what I’m trying to say is that every moment that I spent at the Chilton Fall Invitational was being captured in my mind. It’s amazing to think I could grow up in the sport and think I know it all, not in a ‘know-it-all’ kind of way, but you catch my drift. But what I am quickly realizing is that it takes a conscious effort to want to know more and to actually see simple things in a way to broaden my perspective. So yeah, I’m glad I got hit in the head. But I’d be okay if it never happened again.
I knew another asphalt friend, Curt, was heading up that night as well. And honestly, I couldn’t wait to see him, but don’t tell him that. What was pretty cool was when he saw my face, I could tell he was pretty happy to see me, too. It was one of those moments where you are like, “oh thank goodness I see someone I know!”
He quickly came around to say hi and it was probably a matter of about five minutes before we headed over to the grandstands in an attempt to avoid anymore flying rock ninjas. What was even better is we both knew one of the announcers up in the booth, or so I thought. Another example of how small our racing world is, yet how big the family is. Tom Wagner was doing some announcing for the weekend. I just assumed Curt knew him because they shared the occupation, but I was actually the one who knew them both. Curt introduced himself to Tom and we hung out for a while before heading down to the campsite to chill for a little bit.
Curt and I hung out and I kind of got the sense that he was feeling a little uncomfortable himself. The best thing I had heard all day was, “I almost didn’t come. I was gonna stay home this morning. But then I knew I’d feel bad.” YES! I wasn’t the only one! I was so relieved. We talked a little more about why we were there and how we were going to approach it. It was kind of cool considering a few months ago I didn’t even really like this guy. I’m kidding, I just didn’t know him well enough to appreciate him and now I appreciate him even a little more. So there we were, two asphalt junkies hanging out at the dirt track. But we both agreed we were going to make the best of it and we did.
We headed back up to the stands to watch some of the what would eventually be 742 laps of racing over the course of the weekend. We really only wanted to watch one race that night, but found ourselves enjoying a few while waiting. When our driver came out and took the checkered flag, we both agreed it was worth it to be there.
We headed back up to the announcers booth for a while and Curt even took over the mic for a bit for the last couple races, which also included the Truck-o-War. That was an event I personally had never seen before. Curt did a fine job fumbling through the unknown, but most of all he had fun doing it and I had fun laughing at him. Success.
It was finally all starting to come together. I was definitely where I was supposed to be and have so much more to tell you about. Stay tuned……