The day was perfect, a little on the hot side, but with a breeze in the shade it was very comfortable. After the turmoil of the last few days I tried to block out he quilt of leaving my mom. I tried to block out the ever present feeling of everyone disapproving of me because I left the hospital to be with my family on race day. I focused on the day I focused on the family and I was very excited to be on my way.
Several years ago as a surprise for my husbands birthday I purchased a rather expensive race package. The venue was Las Vegas. Sonja and I had been to Vegas numerous times and the last few I was dating my husband. Each time we went he would comment he had never been to Vegas and he would like to go. For the past several years he had also watched, cheered, followed the sport of NASCAR with me. At that point we had never been to a race. When this opportunity came up I thought this was a great way to get away, see Vegas, and see a race.
Long story short after a trip from hell(lots of laughs now looking back)to Las Vegas which involved missed flights 24hour drives in the snow, and one of the biggest fights we have ever had I asked him why was he not even trying to have fun. His reply was , I hate NASCAR, I hate crowds, and I hate Vegas. Wow, I would have failed the Newlywed Game on that one. Since then I have never ask him to attend a race with me. I since attended several races at Daytona International Speedway and had a great time, with out him.
My anniversary present this year was he(my husband) was going to go to this race, have a good time and help to make it fun for our son. He knew I loved the sport and was very excited to be taking B to his first real big race.
Once on the road from the hotel to the race Shawn was true to his word, happy pleasant and excited to be on the way to the race. Once we parked we sun screened up and headed for the shuttle bus that would take us from the free parking field to the speedway. We passed the airport where all the drivers jets were parked. We saw the Airforce jets that would eventually do the fly-by for the opening ceremonies.
The excitement was building. B-man was dressed in his Jeff Gordan shirt, hat and lanyard ticket holder. It was know surprise whom he had come to see. Thankfully the fans we encountered to this point were supportive of his drivers, and if they were not Jeff fans they kept their opinion to themselves.
We arrived at the stadium and proceeded to try and locate the shuttle to the infield garage area. I had purchased additional tickets to be able to go to the infield area. In Daytona the infield has the inspection area for the cars, the garage area, the main stage to get up close to see driver introductions, pit road, live music,and driver appearances.
It is the place to be a few hours before race time. You can catch a glimpse of drivers, owners, officials and celebrities all milling around waiting for the race to start. The last two times I have attended a race at this stadium you could catch a shuttle from the south side, over the track directly to the middle of the field. This year things had changed. We were directed to walk about 1/4 of a mile to the next shuttle station, take a shuttle to the other side of the stadium and then catch another shuttle to the tunnel and out to the infield. O.K., that was easy, or so we thought. WE took the first shuttle, disembarked and began to look for the next shuttle that was going to take us though the tunnel and to the in field. No such thing! We ask a volunteer(first mistake) where we caught the shuttle for the infield. She pointed up past a massive amount of people to to a building just at the tunnel we were to go though to get to the infield. She said catch the shuttle it will take you into the tunnel.
By this time my son had given up walking and although he is not a large child he does still weigh about 40lbs. He has always loved being on my husbands shoulders which was fine when he was 2, or 3 and 20 or 30lbs. My husband has never been able to tell him NO and today was not to be the exception. At 5'9 170lbs my husband is what we refer to as "freakishly Strong". For a relatively small man he can lift refrigerators, four wheelers, large trees. Maybe it's his Navy training but he also has a very strong mind over matter factor. So as my son gave in to walking and begged my husband to carry him my husband conceded. For the second 1/4 mile walk to what we thought was going to be the last leg before we would ride the rest of the way to the infield he carried B on his shoulders. Now Shawn likes warm weather, but carring a hot sweaty kid on his back can push it a little far. But, true to his word he did so joyfully and incredibly optimistically.
Finally we arrived at the (what we thought)shuttle station where we were once again told we had to walk though the tunnel and catch the a ride the rest of the way in. The track is a two mile oval, we had just gone half way around and still had not found the shuttle to the infield. With great disbelief we walked down the tunnel and out to the track, at this point we ask where the shuttle was, and again we were told to turn right and go a gazillion yards, turn right stand on your head and a shuttle will come pick you up. Well, you can't fool us three times, we gave up, heck we were 1/2 way to where we needed to be, screw the shuttle we will just walk the last mile.
The majority of the jounrny had been in the sun and the breeze had stopped. B was starting to complain he was thirsty and WHEN WILL WE BE THEIR! We were fading fast, but true to his word my husband smiled and cheerfully encouraged us to press on. In fact he started to jog the last mile(not kidding really a mile)(with B on his back). B started to laugh and of course people who had fallen into the same trap as we had began to stare at the crazy man running in the blazing heat with a kid on his back. Favoring myself as a runner myself what was I to do but to join in. With a smooth pace established we made up a song to run to, something similar to a drill cadence used in the Navy, but it was G rated and kid friendly. Shawn would sing the first verse and B and I would repeat it. This was a valiant attempt of a distraction and seemed to get B - mans mind of the heat. Finally we arrived at the gate to the infield. It was like Heaven, food and drink were available(for a small fortune)shade was everywhere and we could stand on the track next to Jeff Gordon's actual race day car.
(next The Thrill cont's with pre-race fun)