A week ago I was at the track that produced the most talked about event of the week. That will undoubtedly be the thing that is remembered the longest, but a lot more went on that will stick in my mind forever. Armed with a camera, a Sharpie, a few things to get signed and plenty of water, I was ready to conquer Gateway Int?l Raceway.
My parents and I got to the track as Nationwide final practice was ending and parked just across the street. As we walked in and around to the West side of the track, I could hear the cars running their final practice laps. After eating lunch, while waiting for Justin Allgaier to show up at the Penske merchandise hauler, I walked out to the track to take in the National Anthem.
The Camping World Trucks rolled off pit road, ran a few pace laps and swept by me to start the postponed race. Nothing can quite describe that feeling, but words like breathtaking and incredible get pretty close. First it was really loud and then it got very windy and I was pelted by pieces of rubber. Having not gotten enough of it the first time, I stayed for one more exhilarating lap, this time slightly more prepared. I was still blown away, though, as all 36 trucks zoomed by at full speed.
It was actually nice for me having tickets to both races, but I only caught most of the race on TVs in different merchandise trailers, starting with Justin Allgaier?s. I had come as one of the ?Allgaier Army? and it was really fun meeting him again. We hung around and talked to Justin?s Dad, Mike (AKA Gator), and Ashley, Justin?s wife. After leaving there, we meandered our way by the other trailers and picked up an autograph from Kenny Wallace before signing in to get our Fan Walk passes. The Fan Walk is a grassy strip that stretches in between pit road and the garage all the way down to Victory Lane, allowing an up close view of inspection.
I hadn?t been down there for 6 years and thoroughly enjoyed being ?inside? the action. My parents and I had a nice time talking to Jeremy Clements as he waited for qualifying to start then we got to see Kevin Harvick pull his winning truck into Winner?s Circle. Over the hour and a half that qualifying covered, I grabbed 7 more autographs from up-and-coming drivers Steve Arpin, Brian Scott, Colin Braun and Ryan Truex, snapped a picture with Brendan Gaughan, finally met Paul Menard again and got a little lecture from Carl Edwards about how much water you should drink on hot days. It was so much fun hanging out around the drivers and being so close by when they climbed out of their cars.
After qualifying ended, my Dad and I walked back to the other side of the track to join my Mom in our seats in the stands. From there, I could see who all was in the race and watched the disappointed drivers? haulers leave. We picked up some fried potatoes from one of the vendors for dinner and waited for driver intros to start. Starting with Eric McClure, I snapped pictures of almost every driver as he crossed the stage and climbed into the truck for a lap around the track.
It was so thrilling when the green flag flew as every fan came to his/her feet. Of course, having Trevor Bayne lead the first couple laps made it even more exciting. As the laps ticked by and the sun set, I was able to watch whichever of my drivers I chose to, all the way around the track and without any commercial interruptions! With help from the pylon that showed the top 10, I managed to keep track of where they were, at least until green flag pit stops came. Still pretty sure of those who were on the lead lap, I continued to enjoy the race.
Then disaster struck as Matt DiBenedetto lost control and Brad Coleman ran straight into him in between turn 1 and 2. When the ambulances dropped the drivers off by the infield care center, I clearly saw Brad jump out, but Matt exited more slowly and with some help so I could tell maybe he wasn?t quite so fine. I was really impressed by how Ryan Truex ran the whole race until his unfortunate wreck. Due to the noise of the cars, I missed the announcement that must have been made about him stepping into Matt D?s car.
Even without them running in the top 15 anymore, I still had enough drivers to cheer for. The Carl Edwards/Brad Keselowski battle for the lead ramped everybody up, but Justin Allgaier?s wreck made for a lot of disappointed people. Still, everyone stood for the final restart and the support for Carl was almost deafening. When they drove off of that final turn, I wasn?t sure if Carl would be able to hang onto the lead.
The cars disappeared from view and next thing I knew Carl had won, BK was sitting with an absolutely destroyed car in front of me and Colin Braun had driven his car the wrong way down pit road before pulling it to a stop near the entrance to the garage. What I did not know was that Shelby Howard, once more having run an impressive race, and Steve Arpin were also damaged in that wreck.
As Carl Edwards made his way to victory lane, fireworks began shooting into the sky and I got the sense fireworks had gone off on track too.
After a full day of racing, the stands began to empty and the fans headed home, but I was left with a few thoughts.
*First of all, the severity of the wrecks was stunning. From Jason Keller?s major damage from his flat tire to the last lap melee, most of the cars looked damaged beyond repair (making the return of the 20 car a near miracle).
*It was funny listening to the announcers try to pronounce Matt DiBenedetto?s name during qualifying.
*The crowd really goes crazy when one of its local drivers is racing for the lead.
*You can learn a lot of things by listening to the loudspeakers.
And last, but not least:
*There is nothing like being at the track on race weekend!
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