Playing Paintball with Kyle Busch at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Playing Paintball with Kyle Busch at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Playing Paintball with Kyle Busch at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Monday, October 14, 2013

Post-race blues? Visit the race shops!

Caspian pretends to be Miles
On the Sunday following the Bank of America 500, my sons asked me, "When are we going back to the races?" I said to them, "We just went to two races in the past two days! What more do you want?" So, with my father-in-law in town, and having the day off of work on Monday, we went back up near the speedway and even over to the Huntersville and Mooresville area to check out a couple of race shops. I figured it would help us overcome the post-race doldrums.
Boys in the harness

    Of course, our first stop had to be Hendrick Motorsports. It's got an amazing museum that can only be rivaled by the Hall of Fame in downtown Charlotte, but Hendrick's is FREE! The boys enjoyed strapping into the four point harness driver's chair and my father-in-law and I enjoyed looking at the historical and race winning cars that filled the museum. It's a must-see if you are near the speedway.

Joe Gibbs with the boys
Game Plan for Life
by Joe Gibbs 
Next, we had to swing by Joe Gibbs Racing. While I had already been to this shop before (as mentioned in other posts, my boys are diehard Kyle Busch fans), we had an added surprise. Joe Gibbs was in the house! After we'd already toured the shop and watched them putting on the vinyl wrap on an M&M car, we headed through the store, then back out to the front and there he was! A small line of men had formed and once to the front I asked Joe to take a quick picture with my boys. Not only did he pleasantly oblige, but he also signed books for my father-in-law and I and gave them to us. What an awesome guy!

Next, we stopped by the KBM shop (Kyle Busch Motor Sports) since we were pleasantly surprised by getting signatures from his crew at the speedway a few days prior (see here).  While we saw Bubba in the shop, there were no photo opportunities, but we did have a great discussion with the shop's manager. I found it amusing to see that around her desk were a bunch of recent trophies including the Dollar General 300 trophy Kyle had won a few days prior, and the paintball trophy he won at the paintball event where I was present (see here).  She said that she just didn't have enough display spots for all of his trophies! (It must be such a problem to have so many!)

Lastly, we stopped by Penske racing. I was very impressed by the view of the shop from their second floor terrace. I'd go so far as to say that I'd give it the "Nascar Newbs Best Shop View Award." While many shops have
the cars miles away from the spectators, and some don't even have a view of the shop, but at Penske you could see everything that the mechanics were doing to the cars. If I were a Penske mechanic I'd feel like a fish in an aquarium.

If you get the post race day blues, stop by the shops! It helps to soothe the pain of having to wait months to see another race...

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Bank of America 500- HOT PASS!

Jeremy chats with Caspian
          For those Nascar Newbs out there, a "hot pass" is the ticket to NASCAR heaven. This pass not only allows you to get into the pits, but also into the area right where the drivers are walking between the garage and their hauler, the inspection areas, and the garages where the teams are working. By the grace of God, my family was given these passes from a connection with SMI. These passes are not sold; these are given to the race teams,  sponsoring companies,  and well,  people that have a connection to the previously mentioned groups.  (FYI- "cold passes" can get you into the same areas- but only during certain times.)

Jeremy Clements with the family!
        We used these on both the Dollar General and the Bank of America days, but as I've argued in other places, at the Nationwide races we have much better chances of meeting drivers (see here). That day was no exception. We were pleased to get to hang out with Jeremy Clements, one of our favorite drivers and one of the most fan-friendly drivers around. (see why here) We also got to meet up-and-comer Kyle Larson. He took the initiative after an interview to walk over to my son to sign his hat. He didn't even have to ask! Lastly, Ryan Newman was walking through the garage area and he stopped to sign both of my sons' hats and had a funny discussion with my four year old.
Ryan Newman

Kyle Larson

Jimmie Johnson walking to his garage
Right before the Sprint Cup practice, we headed down into the garage area and were surprised to see almost every single driver next to their cars and having discussions with their crew chiefs and sometimes even other drivers. At one point I looked up and was shocked to see Jimmie Johnson walking right in front of me. I also enjoyed watching Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch having a conversation behind the M&M car. After a few minutes, an official pushed all the of the spectators back from the garage area and we watched as all of the cars pulled out for a practice run around the speedway.
Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon chat

On Saturday at the Bank of America 500, the crowds were crazy, and the drivers were much less accessible and available. We did see Dale Earnhardt and Brad Keslowski do an interview on pit road- and we got to watch the teams push their cars to inspection which was very interesting. We were also able to go right up to the cars right before they were taken out to the grid!
Brad and Jr. discuss the upcoming race

How to meet NASCAR drivers, Episode #5: Regan Smith, Bubba Wallace (and Samantha Busch!)

       The more you read this blog, the more you will hear me say this: Go to the NATIONWIDE races! Yes, I do agree that NASCAR steps it up a notch for their sprint races, but there are a number of reasons you should take the time to go the race that usually precedes the "main event." 
"How many girlfriends do you have?"

Joey Coulter
         There's the obvious one: affordability. For the value, Nationwide races have unusually affordable tickets and you still great seats!
They usually have free kids tickets, and you can usually get a great seat in the grandstands with an amazing view of the huge screen that Charlotte Motor Speedway put in a few years back. You also don't have to fight crazy crowds. There are not as many people for these events, so you can stock up on free stuff given out in the fan area and you have less chance of losing your kids in the massive crowds on Sprint cup days.

Parker Kligerman &
Chad Hackenbracht
Bubba Wallace
Samantha Busch
Secondly, and the reason for this post, is that you have much more access to drivers on these days. On a random walk through the fan area at Charlotte motor speedway we noticed a line forming (a key tip off) and we jumped in the line of maybe ten people. We didn't know who was in the line until we got up front, and were pleasantly surprised! There was Parker Kligerman, Chad Hackenbracht, Joey Coulter, Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr., and Samantha Busch; they were all signing 8x10 cards, and were willing to sign whatever we wanted. After we got through the line, my boys were frustrated that we didn't have anything for them to sign. I said, "Why didn't you just get them to sign your hat?" (We had picked up a bright yellow hat from the Sprint tent.) They agreed, but were frustrated that they hadn't thought of that, but we just got back in line! In three minutes, the boys had their hats signed. The second time through my 7 year old had a detailed conversation with Bubba and Samantha about a) how many girlfriends he had, and b) Playing paintball with Kyle Busch (from a few weeks back here). It was one of my favorite memories from our weekend: watching him hang out with these two very pleasant ambassadors of the sport. 

Brad Sweet (right) Regan Smith (left)
Brad signs for the boys!
            Literally ten minutes later, we wandered over to the merchandise trailers and notcied another line forming. This time it was at the JR motor sports trailer with Regan Smith and Brad Sweet. We got there just in time as they shut the line behind us as we walked in! Them men were very gracious with my boys and happily signed their hats and even gave them high-fives. 

For the price, the great seats, leisurely stroll with hardly any crowds, and the access to the drivers, Nationwide days are a great value!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Paintball with Kyle Busch and friends at Charlotte Motor Speedway Part 2!

Thaddeus and Kyle!
Guys taking some practice shots
(see part 1 here!) After the press conference, we all headed out to the infield where they had brought in four buses and set up barrels and tires in stacks. I couldn't believe they had set all this up for this one afternoon! We hung out for ten minutes or so and Kyle drove over and got out of the car. My son was first to reach him with a hat and pendant to sign. He's met Kyle before but never had the gumption to say anything. This time he actually shook Kyle's hand and exchanged pleasantries.  That exchange will be remembered for a while. My son beamed from ear to ear the rest of the day.
Kyle fills up!
Getting some instruction
       The guys from "Boss" paintball called us all over for some basic instruction and safety tips and then started taping our arms to designate the teams. The guys at Charlotte Motor Speedway made sure to put the two of us "fans" on the same team as Kyle, while the other team was made up of the media. The first round was basically a capture the flag game- but as a warm up- you just had to get to the flag and hold it up- then you won! Our team went for speed and sent Kyle out to run and get the flag as we peppered the other team with paintballs at the whistle. It was an easy first win, but was only a warm up round. The second match was no walk in the park.  I took shelter behind a school bus and took out a photographer with a headshot, but was immediately hit in the ankle. Eventually our team took out the entire other team, and they casually walked the flag to the other side. The third match was a mess. While we decided to divide our team up and send us equally down each side and the middle, my pair (on the right side) got pinned down behind a school bus by the dastardly Jeff Gluck (see pic). I eventually got hit solidly in the gut and have the nice quarter-sized bruise to prove it. Their team sent most of their group around the other side and overcame our remaining small squadron of rebels. They took that round.
My youngest son Caspian
Me- left, Nigel (fan) middle, Jeff Gluck Right Photo credit WBTV
       The last round, the tie-breaker, was by far the most intense. They started by putting each team in two of the four buses. They said they'd start the round, then after two minutes of shooting from bus to bus, you had to try to "secure" three of the four buses by putting men on each of the three. Our team decided to leave Kyle and I on our bus, then the rest of the crew would try to quickly hustle to the other buses after the two minutes was up. Well, once that match started it was just crazy. I don't recall everything that happened, but I can remember some vivid events: Kyle smacking his knee on a bench and grabbing at it (I thought "oh no, there goes the chase!"), Me dropping a bottle of paint balls and Kyle helping me clean up, I got hit on the dome of my head and the paintball splattered on the ceiling of the bus, and the men yelling that we won.
      Then, right after the game ended- a most interesting thing happened: Kyle shot off a few more rounds, and immediately, Jeff Gluck stood up from behind a set of tires and gets nailed right in the eyes of the facemask. Bad blood between media and Kyle Busch? YOU tell me...
My whole family got some shots in!
      No matter what really happened there, all I know is that I came home with a trophy that I will cherish for years. Sure, there are a lots of trophies around for the Bank of America 500, but how many people have a Bank of America PAINTBALL champion trophy? I don't know, but this one's priceless in my book. No matter, the day was priceless and I wanted to thank Charlotte Motor Speedway for taking such good care of my family!

Paintball with Kyle Busch and friends at Charlotte Motor Speedway Part 1!

        I don't know how I did it, but I won.  On Monday of this week I saw a post on twitter from the Charlotte Motor Speedway (@CLTMotorSpdwy) mentioning a contest that said something like:
"RT to win a round of paintball with Kyle Busch!" Well, if you've read any of my other posts you'll know that I'm more of a Tony Stewart guy (but am no Kyle Busch hater), but you'll also know that my sons are huge M&M/Kyle Busch fans. So I hit the RT button on my phone and started to go about my day. It wasn't much over an hour when I received a direct message saying that I'd won. My first reaction was, "What? I don't ever win this sort of stuff!" My second reaction was, "My sons are going to be pumped!" and so they were.
Jeff Gluck and I!

Thank goodness I work at a school that allowed my sons and I just to take off for a special day like this.  We headed over to have lunch at the speedway's media center about 11:30, and after we picked out our turkey sandwiches and amazing BBQ Chicken grilled cheeses, I noticed that we were surrounded by many of Nascar's media team. I have been following many of them on twitter for years and it was great to shake their hands. One of my favorites, USA Today's Jeff Gluck, was present, and it was an honor for me to introduce myself. If you don't follow him yet on twitter, you are missing out! (@Jeff_Gluck)

After lunch, we moved into one of the press auditoriums, and we sat in the back with all of the cameras.
Our next surprise was that not only was Kyle Busch on hand, but so was Hall of Fame inductee Dale Jarrett. After the press conference, the press surrounded Kyle and we headed over to meet Dale. I already knew this man was not only a great driver, but had heard that he was a class act, and his welcoming spirit proved that fact. What a great guy! By the way, that picture of Dale and my family was taken by Marcus Smith, another guy that's been very nice every time I've met him.

Then, after this, we headed out into the infield for a little paintball! (next blog forthcoming!)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

NHRA nationals at ZMAX 4-wide dragway

Show cars on the way in...
           My sons and I had the pleasure of visiting Zmax this September for the NHRA nationals at ZMAX dragway in Concord, NC.  The trip was again, a kid favorite! This year we were a little more prepared and had a pack lunch in the parking lot (not as much tailgating going on than at a Nascar Race) and brought in a cooler of sodas and water. Obviously, as with any of these events, make sure you bring ear protection for everyone in the family!

       As with any racing event, the kids love to go through the vendors to get free stuff, experience games and rides, and just have fun! The two favorite things my boys loved during this obtaining of NHRA swag was a personalized dog tag from the Army promotion, and the free molded penny from the Toyota vendor (this machine squashes a penny and molds an image into it)-this one had a funny car on it.

Gentleman folding the parachute
The boys enjoy the Harley Davidson tent
After enjoying the inflatables, taking pictures with some of the cars and grabbing an slushy style refreshment, we headed into the stands. For those who have never been, there is something unexplainable about the amount of noise that these cars generate.

When they pop off the line and pass your seats your internal organs feel like they literally shiver.  Obviously, a video won't do it justice, so, you'll have to go yourself!

Monday, July 1, 2013

My first "sheet metal" find! A Travis Kvapil door panel!

(Vocab For the NASCAR Newb: Race Used "sheet metal" are pieces of the body of the car that are collected by some NASCAR enthusiasts. )

I have to admit that I never thought that I'd find a piece of sheet metal that I could afford. As a teacher with limited means (mentioned merely as a fact- not discontent), I simply never thought I'd have something like that to hang on my wall. Well, this past Saturday I found one.

I'm an avid garage sale scavenger and auction goer and Saturday was no different. We were out to buy my oldest son more books to read and to stop and get a bagel, and on the way home we noticed some boy scouts holding a sign for a garage sale. It was on the opposite side of the road from where we were sitting and I turned left to go home. My son pleaded with me to do a u-turn. Oh gosh. I relented and rolled my eyes- unbeknownst to him of course, made the u-turn and found ourselves in the parking lot of a little church off of a back road. It was already late, and I was sure all of the good finds had already found new homes. Boy was I wrong...

As I walked in their fellowship hall style room, I saw the normal stacks of books, some beat up bikes, kitchenware, then something caught my eye in the corner. It was a race-used door panel to a stock car. There was even a 8x10 photo taped to the corner. Travis Kvapil? I know that name. But from where? Nationwide maybe? I have to admit, I didn't know which series Travis drove. (Yes, more proof that I'm still a newb...) I looked at my son and said, "Wouldn't it be cool to get THIS signed?" He smiled, then after a few seconds we realized that it had already BEEN signed (you can see it near the middle of the 3.) Then, we casually walked away.

No joke, we just walked away to look at other things. I had seen sheet metal on sale before at races, on the web, and even during our tours of local race shops; I knew I couldn't afford it.  The more popular drivers go for $200-300 right? I mean, it had to be at LEAST $100. Even $50 was too rich for my means.

As we walked away a lady yelled "Everything is half off!" and we continued our search for anything worth procuring. My son brought me a book and asked if I'd buy it for him. The same lady passed and I asked her about the book. She replied $.25. "Oh ok. Just out of curiosity, how much for the #38 panel?" As she replied, time stood still and I watched her utter this magic number, "Five dollars." At first it didn't compute. Did she think I was pointing at something else? Was there anything else that had the number 38 on it in the room? After a minute I regained my composure, smiled and stated matter-of-factly, "I think I'll take that."

After I walked back over to the panel with a much keener eye, I noticed that there was a $10 tag stuck on there.  What were they thinking? I don't know, but I know what I was thinking: score. Not only did I get a panel that, I later learned, was run in a Sprint Cup race, I got it at half price. The only negative was that it did not reveal which race it had been run.  After some research I found that Travis ran the white Long John's Silver car in over half of 2011 races and had many brushes with the wall as well as with other cars. 

It could have been here with his brush with Dale Jr. : 

Or even here in the "big one" at Daytona: 

I don't know if I'll ever know the answer to this mystery, or whether the marks on the panel are from a wall or another car, but man, it's going to look great hanging from my wall.   

After posting this blog, I received a polite tweet from Travis Kvapil. Thanks Travis! Honored to have your panel- I'll take good care of it!