Martinsville: Tales from a Race Day Rookie

Firsts: everyone has them. First time riding a bike, first kiss, first performance on stage.

Those are cherished memories, filed in your head under the letter ‘A’ for awesome. They aren’t important because it was a starting point, though. They’re prominent because of how they made us feel.

That head rush as the bike rode the decreasing curve of a hill, the sparks in your heart as you touched lips, a heavy wad of bravery resting in the pit of your stomach as you wandered into the spotlight.

Each emotion is addictive. During those three moments, I became hooked on the feelings.

But nothing can ever hook me like NASCAR has.

This past weekend, I got the opportunity to go to Martinsville. The tickets placed me in turn two, the head of The Paperclip.

My first ever NASCAR race. Many of my followers were surprised that this was my first race. One even said I sounded like I was a pro. Although very flattering, it didn’t help the fact I felt a bit mediocre. Never being in the arena, taking in the sight and sound. Was I really meant to write about a sport I had never experienced in person?

Thankfully, that doubt has been erased. I can rest easy. Even if my heart is still in harmony with the orchestrated noise of 43 cars roaring past.

We rose at seven, our motel 45 minutes away from the track. We gassed up the car at a small gas station, and the parking lot held cars with NASCAR decorations plastered on their backsides. To say I felt at home was an understatement. I was at home.

After finding a place to park, we picked up our tickets and waited until the gates opened. I got my first glace at the track. It was definitely Martinsville, the elongated oval patched with concrete and asphalt. Seeing it make me wish the next four hours would fly by, nine o’clock sounding like the perfect time to start a race.

My parents and I parted. They went to find our seats, I went with my boyfriend and his parents to go to the Track Walk. It’s true that the front and back stretch there have zero-degree banking, but it’s easier to understand once you’ve been on the surface itself. We entered from turn four, which has twelve-degree elevation, and it dropped off as we walked toward the start/finish line. A cover band was on stage, singing a Zac Brown Band song, as fans signed the checkered strip below the flagstand. Declarations of “Brad K SUCKS,” “JJ for the win,” and “K + J (in a heart, no less)” were stuck on the paint. I had to laugh at some of the other things written, yet I yearned for a Sharpie.

The next stop was the Tweet-Up, hosted by Jeff Gluck, the special guests being David Ragan, Waldo, Rutledge Wood, and Mary Lou Hamlin. The air was vibrant and busy, which I enjoyed. I met a few people that followed me on Twitter, like Elizabeth (@lizbeth5_2) and Andrea (@aaiya_joloTW). I love social media and meeting those I’ve befriended. We all gathered to take the Tweet Up Class Picture, but you can’t see me because I was stuck behind a tall fan. It was definitely a fun thing I would go to again. Besides, finding Waldo gave me a faint validation in my young heart.

The next few hours were spent wandering around and taking the ‘infield’ in and eating food. As boring as that may seem, it was the best part of the pre-race activities. The adventure had subsided, and everything felt comfortable, like an old pair of Levi’s. NASCAR is those jeans.

With half an hour until green flag, I met up with my parents at our seats, taking in what would be our view for the next four hours. We could see most of the track, aside from the pit boxes blocking the view of the frontstretch. I was happy with the seats, though. I was just happy I was there.

Finally, the invocation and anthem ran their courses, and it was time for the main event. The command echoed throughout the stands, and it was promptly cut off by 43 engines simultaneously turning over. I kept my earplugs out to take in the raw sound. The mechanical thunder was deafening. Memories of my K&N experience flashed in my mind, but this was the Cup series. This was a Chase race. It was going to be good.

And good it was. It seemed like a lot of the cautions happened in front of us, from Dale Earnhardt Jr. getting hit to Marcos Ambrose’s two spins. The smoke wafted into our section, and I couldn’t believe how much I loved it. Tiny black specs of rubber ended up on my face. My eyes were on the track the whole time, watching each car take its rounds.

Words can’t describe how it made me feel to be there and experience it in person. It was perfection personified.

At one point, I was almost overwhelmed. The tears were there, ready to fall at the correct moment. Every bump, every donut imprinted on sheet metal, every close battle, it made me see why I love this sport.

Pushing those sissy tears aside, I stood up and screamed as loud as I could.

Firsts. I experienced a few of them this weekend: I had a Martinsville Hot Dog (it was neon pink and [surprisingly] delicious). I walked on NASCAR’s oldest active track. My ears finally took in the sweet squealing of tires and a revving motor as Jimmie Johnson did a burn out. In its entirety, my body felt at home.

I now know how forever feels.

It’s that first time you, without hesitation, let something overtake your senses.

I was a Race Day Rookie who finally shed the yellow stripe across her back. Whenever you do the same, I know you will understand.

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