Friday, March 4, 2011

The Subway Fresh Fit 500 — also known as 'How I met Leonard Wood'

All right, to get the ball rolling, you need to know two things about me:

  1. I am a total girl.
  2. As you may have guessed when reading #1, I knew absolutely nothing about NASCAR -- until ... last Sunday (the Subway Fresh Fit 500).

OK, I take it back — I DID know Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 and Bobby Labonte drove the #47. Besides that, all I knew was the cars go fast. Really fast.

Despite being so uninformed, I jumped in headfirst and went to the race, not only as a spectator, but as a reporter. I received a little education on the road trip up to Phoenix, but by the time we got there, I knew I was severely ignorant.

We obtained our press credentials and parked, then walked through a tunnel (appropriately, up and into the sunlight) to get to the track. Our creds got us into the garage area, which, to be honest, I would have been completely content to stay in the entire day.

While I may not know much about NASCAR or racing, I am in passionate love with cars and listening to the engines being tuned that morning made my heart melt down to my toes. I would have taken the pit crews home and fed them for a chance to rev one of those engines!

To satisfy my lust for these magnificent machines, we walked around the garage twice. The second time round, when we were almost halfway through, I stopped to admire #21, which I knew by now was driven by Trevor Bayne. I spied a competent-looking, white-haired man fiddling with some tools and asked, “Is that Bayne’s crew chief?” “THAT'S EDDIE WOOD!” was the response I got, to which I replied, “Oh, that’s his name?”

Well, little did I know, Eddie Wood is one of the most famous names in NASCAR! After being informed of this, I stood and contemplated that for a moment, before Jacob tugged my sleeve and said, “And that’s his brother, Leonard! He’s half owner!”

Oh, OK. Brothers. I supposed meeting the brother of fame was better than nothing, so since this Leonard Wood was strolling somewhat in the vicinity of our direction, I waltzed up to him, held out my hand and brilliantly spoke ... “Mr. Wood.”

He shook my hand, and I impulsively kissed him on the cheek, then he gave me a huge grin and said, “Would you like a picture?” “I just wanted to shake your hand...” I quickly realized that if he was offering pictures he must be used to this sort of thing and maybe HE was famous, too! So I immediately said yes PLEASE! And a photo was snapped:

So, after all this, I stood there staring at him for a second, and he stood there staring at me, obviously expecting me to say something intelligent, when (thankfully!) Jacob jumped in. This is approximately how the rest of the conversation went:

Jacob: Hey, that was a good race last week! Congratulations!

Me: ...he RACES?! Oh, right, he owns that car... Oh yeah, congratulations!!

LW: Yeah, thanks. It was quite a surprise but we’re very happy about it.

(He may or may not have said anything like this, I was still berating myself for being such a dummy)


Jacob: So how are you feeling about the race today?

Me: Oh yeah, the race today! ...?

LW: Well, I don't usually predict a rookie to have that much success, but —


LW: — We know that anything’s possible so I guess we’ll see!

Jacob: Absolutely! Hey, good luck! We can’t wait to see how it plays out!

Me: Right! Good luck! (grinning like an idiot because I’m so nervous to be in the presence of FAME!)

Jacob: (Dragging me away; trying to make a graceful exit.) Well sir, thanks, and good luck!

Me: ... Right! Good luck!

LW: Thanks guys! Have fun today!

And he walks away. (probably wondering how such a dunce got into the garage area, much less managed to find her way to the track ...)

AFTERWARDS, of course, I got an explanation of who this Leonard Wood character is ... Only like basically one of the FOUNDERS of NASCAR! What!? And I KISSED him!? Yep.

After recovering from the awesomeness of the moment, we kept on strolling around the garage when we came across, who else, but Trevor Bayne! Being slightly more educated in this instance, I was starstruck and just stood there drooling while he signed autographs and received congratulations.

Then — he turned in our direction. I almost tripped myself moving the entire one step forward to grab his hand and say, even more brilliantly than I performed before, “Congratulations! You were amazing last week!” Like I actually knew what I was talking about, because I’m sure he hadn’t been hearing that for a week.

After Bayne disappeared and the cloud of Sharpie fumes had dissipated and my eyes could once more see past the gleam of his huge ring, Jacob must have been tired of standing in the same spot for, oh, EVER so he led me on to our next adventure.

They were letting people on the track, so we watched them write their favorites’ names on the finish line and kiss the pavement that was soon to be destroyed before we moseyed on to see what was happening in the media center.

When we got there, they were just interviewing Apolo Anton Ohno, Jared the Subway Guy and Carl Edwards. We were in the same room with celebrities and celebrity writers!

After the media center, we moseyed around the garage a little more and watched the crews take the cars for inspection and start setting up for the race. Then, from behind the Sprint stage, we watched the driver introductions and the national anthem.

After watching the drivers get chauffeured to their respective cars by the honorary pace cars, we settled down, or rather up, on the balcony of the media center in the infield to watch the race play out. When the gentlemen started their engines, my heart stood still, waiting for the flag.

When the flag dropped and the cars took off, my pulse went with them at 150 miles an hour. It was breathtaking. Thinking about it now gives me shivers. We turned ourselves around and around to watch the cars fly around the track, holding our breath every time they passed in front of us again. The sounds and the sights were amazing ... I could probably watch it every day and still be astounded.

We watched probably the first 90 laps from the balcony, keeping tabs on everything that was happening (or rather, Jacob keeping tabs and explaining it to me) before we went back inside the media center, then we milled around outside a little more and moved to the press box outside the track, which was much higher and afforded a great view of the track.

We watched the final 100 laps or so from this vantage point, which was quite a good one. Toward the end, when we knew it would be either Kyle Busch or Jeff Gordon who won, we stood up from our seats and waited for the bump-and-run with our noses practically pressed to the glass.

We watched Jeff Gordon cross the finish line first, we watched him celebrate and we listened to the interviews at the end. Then, we watched the huge Caterpillar drive up to the finish line and park on the now-nonexistent pavement it was to tear up.

As we walked away from the racetrack that afternoon, enlightenment had come upon me--NASCAR is a thrilling sport.


  1. Really well written and what an experience for a first time fan! Are ya hooked?

    It's about 7 hours driving time from Tucson to Las Vegas this weekend. A whole different track will be run on there this Sunday with a whole different way of setting up the cars and a whole different driving style for the drivers. Jimmie Johnson is the favorite. Can he do it? Will Trevor be back on his game? There are 43 fresh opportunities!

    The allure of NASCAR!

    I hope your fandom grows!

  2. Hahaha thank you!! And don't you even tempt me with a 7-hour drive... I actually considered it!

  3. Jayne, I felt like I was there with you guys. Glad you found your adventure thrilling, and glad to have you on board as a new fan. Next, you've GOT to experience a road course race at Sonoma!!

  4. Thanks! Sonoma sounds interesting; I'll have to learn more about it!

  5. LOL This sounds nearly like my first experience in the garage - well except I knew alot about nascar and who everyone was - but the pure excitement of seeing them RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU! is the best! Awesome pics of the Wood brothers and you are beaming with delight!

    How'd you guys get credentials? It is a kick isn't it! =)

  6. Yes it is!! Well, more like ridiculously awesome! Haha And I don't know how Jacob worked his magic, but I am SO glad we got those credentials!!! It was amazing =)