Talladega Sunrise Part 2
by BethAnne, Special To NASCAR news, fantasy racing advice and statistics On Pit Row
I am the field producer/photographer of the syndicated radio show/website ON PIT ROW. When Steve and Charlie ask me to 'jump', I say "Yeah right."April 26, 2008 7:31 am UTC 1 Comment
Race Day. Up at 5:00am. Shower. Breakfast. Coffee, eggs, grits, ham with red eye gravy. I arrive at the track at 7:00am. We meet in the Media center coffee, doughnuts and cookies are available for the drivers and friends and family who have come along for support.
Check-in includes showing the confirmation letter and signing a one page release form. I have no clue what I really signed, I could’ve been giving away all my worldly possessions to some freaky cult. Aside from the check-in tables, there were about 20 rows of chairs in the room facing an approximately 52” flat screen TV on which they were running a DVD overview/ad for the Dale Jarrett Racing Adventure.
At 7:30am they asked us to have a seat. The future drivers were easy to spot -they sort of had that deer-in-the-headlights stare. I was strangely calm. When they started the class, I listened intently to how to find my line, when to shift, how to pass (there would be five other drivers on the track) and most importantly how to avoid kissing the wall. Each driver also would have an in-car instructor. He would be there to give me hand signals on how to drive and maybe a nudge or two to keep me in line. I studied the chart that had the hand signals on it that I would be receiving while on the track. Thumb left; move down; Thumb right: move up; Thumb up: Speed up; Thumb down: Slow down; Fist: Brake; One finger: Shift into first; Two fingers: Shift into second; Three fingers: Shift into third etc. After the class, everyone headed to the pits and were given a ride in the dualies to get the feel for the track. When you are down on the apron, Talladega looks like a wall. My first thought while riding around the apron was ‘No way I’m gonna be driving up there!’ Next my instructor drove up on the 33deg bank and stopped the truck dead. He wanted to show that it would not fall off the steep bank. I, however, had to hang on to the hand strap to keep from ending up in the instructor’s lap. I attentively watched how he moved on the track and got the feel for how to follow the line.
Afterwards, I headed over to the pit area to be fitted for a fire suit and helmet. Then, I went to a table that asked the one and only question of the day : “How tall are you?” I am apparently the same height as Joe Nemecheck because I was assigned to his car. The day was overcast and drizzly and there was a wet spot on the track that needed to be dried so
we were delayed until it was cleaned up. In the meantime, the instructors took all the friends and family members for rides around the track in the dualies. Finally, the time had come. I donned my skull cap and helmet and climbed into Joe’s car and the instructor told me to push the clutch all the way to the floor to make sure I could reach. Then the pit crew
strapped me in (although the guy in charge of connecting the buckle across my crotch was hesitant to reach down and latch me in.) ‘Uh I gotta ….’ He said, and gestured towards my nether regions. I chuckled and replied ‘Strap ‘er in!’ He gave the device one last pull and reached over and turned the ignition on. The car rumbled to a start. The pit crew walked
around the car giving it a final once over then gave the ‘O.K’ to move out.
The next thing I saw, was my instructor’s index finger in my peripheral vision (The sign to shift into first) I was on my way. I drove around the apron gaining speed ; Thumb right; up I went. The Thumbs up: Oh man! Here I go! I pushed my foot down and felt the car speed up. 100mph. I watched the wall coming at me as I constantly guided the wheel left. 120mph.
Lap2: The wall seemed to always be directly in front of me. Keep steering left. At that moment, I was totally convinced that I would hit the wall soon. I felt the icy coldness that turns into paralyzing fear. ‘OMG!’ I thought, ‘I can’t do this! Get me the Hell off this track before I kill myself!’ But then, I remembered that icy road in Kentucky and all the fear melted away. The instructor gave the wheel a little nudge and I focused on my line.
Lap 3: I settled in and started to get the hang of where to move the car. 150mph.
Lap 4: Thumb Left. My car is merrily moving up the track where it wants to be and now I have to move it down to pass someone. Slight nudge. ‘O.K! O.K! I’m moving! Whew! That’s over!’ I’m thinking, ‘I’m nervous out here with five other drivers, I can’t imagine what it would be like with 43 cars out here. Wow.’ I consider the fact that in most sports the participant is pretty confident that they will walk away after it’s over. A race car driver knows there is always a chance they won’t.
Lap 5: Thumb Up. I push down on the accelerator. At this point, the lines on the track appear like dots. Very focused. My instructor gives a nudge to the right on the wheel. I am suddenly right up against the wall. You know – where they said not to go. WTF? Then…
Lap 6: Thumb Up Going faster. Thinking about the speed. The car in it’s line. Checkered Flag. 163mph. Thumb Left. I veer down onto the apron. Thumb Down. I take my foot off the accelerator and feel the car coast.
Turning into the pits. Hard Fist: I put my foot on the brake and come to a stop just barely missing a flustered pit crew member. I’m laughing. My instructor is laughing. He says, “It’s not as easy as it looks!” I reply, “Oh Hell No!”
Photo credit: BethAnne Heisler – ON PIT ROW