Racing Isn’t Just Racing: Captivated By Dirt

By the time the racing was over on Friday night I had finally started to feel like I was in the right place. It was time to relax a little bit and enjoy the socialization that takes place after any great night of racing. Curt and I had headed back to the campfire and decided to strike up a conversation with a few others who were sitting around. We started to discuss the struggles in racing, and obviously we all know it’s the same no matter what kind of surface you’re racing on.

But as we sat and talked about it, I started to make mental notes. We all have the same solutions. We’ve never met before, but we are racers at heart and share the same struggles and come up with what we think are the best answers. We even all blame the racing family for some of the demise of the sport.

The discussion continued on and I thought, ‘you know, these dirt guys might not be so bad.’ I was beginning to see that even though I come from asphalt, dirt isn’t as foreign as I feared it might be. One of my favorite questions to ask a dirt racer is if they’ve ever been to an asphalt race. When they say ‘no,’ I have all I can do not to gasp and put my hand on my heart. ‘What!?! How is that even possible!?!’ Then I give myself a little reality check and realize that I hadn’t been to a dirt race until a year ago and this was only my third or fourth. So I guess I’ll let it go.

Once the rest of the group got back we all started to walk over to the pavilion for some great music and more socialization. As the group of us walked, I played it cool. Yeah, this is going to be great, just hang out, talk, have a good time. Little did they all know, I was dying inside. As I got to the door, I took a big deep breath and tried to think of an excuse to have to turn around. But I didn’t. I took another deep breath as I stepped through the door. What on earth was I going to do? I didn’t know anyone, and surprise, surprise coming from Joe Shear’s daughter, I don’t necessarily thrive in large groups of people. Curt and I both just sort of hung out for a little bit. As he started to get more comfortable and mingle, I tried to sneak to the back and get lost in the crowd. But lo and behold my tour guide didn’t let me get away with it. He started to introduce me to a few people here and there. And then everything changed…

Growing up as Joe Shear’s daughter had always sort of been an identity I could hide behind. It’s funny because sometimes that’s all people knew me as and I’d have to tell them my first name. Some didn’t even know I existed and some still don’t. It has never really bothered me, my plan to keep as much attention away from myself all those years had worked. What amazes me now is that after all these years a lot of people are still shocked to know that I am his daughter.

Last Friday night was an introduction that will forever be etched in my mind. I don’t really know what made it so special, I’ve gotten similar reactions before. Maybe it was the sincerity of it, or maybe it was because it was a dirt track. I don’t know. No matter what it was it was very special to me. As I was introduced to Wayne and Justin Hirt, first by my name and then as Joe Shear’s daughter, I thought I was going to have to help Wayne pick his jaw up off the floor. His eyes darted at me, then back at my tour guide, then back at me again. “Seriously?!” I just shook my head feeling my cheeks flush as I felt so overwhelmingly humbled by his reaction. He looked at me with literal shock on his face and put out his hand to shake mine.

My first thought was, ‘wow, maybe this is one of the few people who knows my dad had a few dirt championships back in the day.’ I mean why else would a dirt racer be that honored to meet me?

I spent what I think was the next half-hour or so talking with him and Justin about, what else, racing. Even better we talked about asphalt racing. Come to find out Justin raced against the team my husband was the crew chief for back in the Remax Challenge Series days. What the heck? Here I am, out in the middle of nowhere, feeling like a lost shoe, and I meet someone who, first of all, was a huge admirer of my own dad, and then find out his son used to race against the very team I was a part of. Small world.

The most amazing part of meeting Wayne and Justin is what happened on Saturday night as they were getting ready to leave their 2014 Chilton Invitational weekend behind them. I was talking with a friend and Wayne actually sought me out to tell me how nice it was to talk the night before and to keep in touch with them in whatever way I could. So while he was standing there I found Justin’s Facebook page and it was a done deal. You know how there are certain people that make an impact on you for no reason other than their genuine personality? Well you guessed it, my racing family just got a little bigger.

Back to Friday night. I had pretty much lost my sidekick, Curt, which was fine cause I knew he must have been having good time. It seemed as though someone in my group never lost sight of me cause I was found immediately when everyone was ready to head back. I took another deep breath and was feeling a little more relaxed and comfortable in my now smaller group of people. As we all sat around and talked more racing, I met a few more people and chatted with some wives and girlfriends that were sitting around. I found out more about their families, upcoming weddings and all sorts of things. It was really starting to feel more and more like family.

While sitting and having a nice conversation, I looked over to see that a wrestling match had broke out. And no, I’m not talking about a fight, I’m talking about an all out, intentional, take down, full count wrestling match. As I watched these crazy people, I just kept thinking to myself, ‘I wonder how that’s gonna feel in the morning?’ cause let’s face it, they weren’t no spring chickens.

When I arrived back at the track on Saturday morning, it was just as I thought. I found the greatest of all the wrestling heroes sitting in the camper uttering the words, “my back hurts so bad.” With every movement it was an “ugh” and an “ouch.” Of course I couldn’t help but smile, and okay, laugh a little bit, as I freely handed out my bottle of ibuprofen.

Racing was slated to start at 2:00pm on Saturday afternoon and coming from the asphalt world I was actually getting a little worried. It was noon and nothing was happening. And I mean, nothing. Cars weren’t unloaded or uncovered. There wasn’t a bustle of activity anywhere. I didn’t even know if our driver had shown up yet. So I decided to go, what else, take a nap.

Around 1:00pm, my frenemy interrupted my sleep, go figure, and forced me to get up and head into the pit area. I wasn’t sure if it was peer pressure or down right bullying, so I reluctantly agreed. Of course when we got to the pits….it started to rain. I couldn’t help but give the look and explain that I could’ve still been sleeping.

As the rain tapered off, cars slowly started to get unloaded, but again, no big hurry. I sort of felt like everything was in slow motion, but nope, it was dirt racing. A whole new world…a laid-back, chill-out and just take it all in kind of world. Something I continued to do all weekend.

I can’t remember the exact timeline, but I know that Curt returned to the track sometime before racing started and then the third of our three asphalt stooges appeared. “James! You’re here!” I believe were my exact words. Now, I’m not sure why, but this guy seemed totally cool, calm, and collected in this environment. So I decided if I just hung with him, I’d look cool, calm, and collected, too.

As racing began, it was me, Curt, and James, One media/pr/blogger/daughter of a driver/can’t get enough racing girl. One of the best announcers in the Midwest. And one cool, calm and collected industry representative. Yup, we were quite the crew. But a crew all there to support one team and one driver and we were gonna do it in style.

We decided to sit in the grandstands for the day’s events to get a good view and avoid, once again, those flying rock ninjas. I believe there were 20 or so races on Saturday afternoon into the night. I believe we watched almost all of them.

After we had watched a handful of races, Curt decided to add some fun to the excitement. “Let’s pick cars and keep points.” I’m game. I used to do it with my dad all the time when we were spectating somewhere. And so it began…

Race #1-I win, James not too bad, Curt, well, let’s just say he wasn’t off to a good start. Race #2-I finish fourth, James might have won that one, Curt, well, let’s just say… So the races went on for a while. I held the lead for a long time until I had to run down and grab my sweatshirt. I picked a car, who didn’t do so well, or so they tell me. They didn’t have any proof. So I was out of the lead. Just as I was climbing over the back of the seat to rush and sit down, I had to quickly pick a car for the current race ready to go green. Curt had picked the one I wanted so I said, “fine, I’ll just pick #3,” since I just had to choose so fast. And BOOM! I win! They both just sat there shaking their heads with their arms crossed. I tried not to gloat too much. I only said, “you guys are getting beat by a girl,” about three or four times.

It was time for the race we had been waiting for all day/night long. We all agreed we couldn’t pick our favorite driver, so we were picking for second. But once the race got started we didn’t even care anymore. As the cars took the green, headed into turn one, came out of turn two and were going down the backstretch, something came over me. I was enjoying this dirt late model racing to my core and it hadn’t even been one complete lap. I’ve heard people say, “racing is racing.” And I’ll be honest I’ve shared that thought to a certain extent. But on Saturday, for me, racing wasn’t just racing. This was completely different.

As I watched those guys turn right to go left and literally bounce around the track, I found myself entranced as if I was actually feeling what it was like to be inside the car. I was watching the response of the cars as they hit each bump and the car control that the drivers had. I was captivated. No other words can describe it.

I was so used to watching the smooth, methodic, set the guy up, take your time, style of asphalt racing that to actually be on the edge of my seat the second the green flag dropped was nothing short of exhilarating. It was an incredible race from start to finish. All three of us were cheering and moving our arms and fists as if to make the drivers go faster. I could give you a play-by-play of what happened, but you really should’ve been there. As the checkered flag dropped, our favorite driver was side-by-side with the guy in second (who just happened to be the one I picked, but I won’t gloat). It was a photo finish, with our driver claiming the victory and once again solidifying that we were meant to be there no matter how uncomfortable we started out to be.

As the next race pulled out onto the track, we started to pick cars and then all three of us, almost simultaneously said, “I don’t even care anymore,” and we didn’t. Our race was already won. And for the record, James and Curt did get beat by a girl and at picking the fastest cars, just sayin’.

The three of us headed down to the pits and got our picture taken with the winner. The more I look at the picture the more I laugh to myself. Having known Curt and James for as long as I have in the asphalt world, seeing the three of us standing there together at a dirt track just makes me shake my head and smile. We were nothing short of awesome.

As you can imagine we all headed back to the pavilion for another great night of socialization and music. The three of us actually snuck to the back of the building. You would’ve thought by now we’d be blending right in. James and I stood there for a little while. Curt saw some guy in a familiar jacket and struck up a conversation and that was about it.

But then we were summoned to head up into the crowd a little bit, which I was really apprehensive to do, but I followed. Ah, there was actually less of a crowd up front. Perfect! It felt good to just hang out amongst the small group that I had finally gotten comfortable with. James was my wingman (once again), which my husband is always much appreciative of, and that’s exactly why he knows that when I head off to a race, everything’s going to be just fine. That may sound funny to some of you but when you’ve been in racing as long as I have and surround yourself with the people who really know you, that’s what it’s all about. We look out for each other. That’s just what family does.

I got to spend a little time talking with my tour guide’s wife, interacting with my frenemy on a whole new level, creating an even stronger hate, I mean, love-hate relationship, and I even let myself get into the music a little bit.

I had so much fun on Saturday night. I didn’t do anything crazy, I was just being my usual self, but I felt safe, secure, and happy. Just flat happy. As I looked around at the crowd and the very people I was with, I was so thankful that I put my car back into drive and kept on truckin’ on Friday morning.

If you think this is the end to my Chilton Invitational experience, you’re wrong. More to come……