First NASCAR triple-header!
Summer 2015, me and a good friend, Mykal got to talking about something.
I have known, and been friends with Mykal since third Grade of Elementary School; we used to be best buds and hang out everyday at school before he moved to Jinx, Tulsa for Freshman Year of High School with his mom. Even though we no longer go to the same school, and ride the same bus together anymore, we still keep in touch, and go to races together on occasion.
Mykal raced quad/four-wheelers in a local Cross Country Racing Series Championship, called "OCCRA" (Oklahoma Cross Country Racing Association) with his folks & their friends, and that was the only type of racing he had been around at that age. He had never been to a big-time racing event outside of his local cross-country races. I told him about the World Of Outlaws sprint car series, and that they had a show coming up near Pryor, Oklahoma at Salina High-banks Speedway on May 2nd. I asked my uncle Kurt if he would be okay with Mykal tagging along with us, and Kurt was happy to let him go with. I offered Mykal a ticket, and the rest is history.
Mykal had a wonderful time at Salina, and I could tell that he really enjoyed it, unlike some of my other friends that just tagged along to the races with us to pass the time. We also bought him a pit-pass, so he could come back, and experience the thrill of big-time racing, and get a taste of what it's like, up close and personal like we do when we go. He loved it, and still remembers that race to this day if you ask him.
After we got back from Salina, I knew he wasn't done going to the races with us. I figured he would go with us again to a race in the near future.
Summer 2015, Mykal brought up the idea of going to a NASCAR Cup Series Race together sometime. My uncle Kurt, and I had been to 2 NASCAR events, but Mykal had never gone before. For the past few years prior to that, me and Kurt always went to Salina, local dirt tracks, or Texas Motor Speedway, in Fort Worth, TX. I had been to Texas twice, and it was getting a little old. I wanted to go somewhere new, that I had never been before.
I had heard about Kansas Speedway on commercials, and followed them on social media, but I never thought about going there, until one day, I went to the Kansas Speedway website, out of curiosity of how much tickets would cost there.
The prices, actually seemed realistic. I called Mykal, and we got to talking about this. He often times worked for one of his relatives, nick-named "Bo", who lives with Mykal's Grandma just down the road from me. Mykal agreed that he could raise half of the cost of the trip, if I raised the other half. Neither one of us had regular jobs yet, because we were only Sophomores, and Freshmen in High School. I cleaned my Great-Grandma's place in Seminole on the weekends for extra money, for odds and ends when I could.
We decided to give it a try, and see if we could make a trip to Kansas happen, so we both talked to our folks, and asked them what they thought of it. Both mine, and his folks were really skeptical about us traveling that far, but they both agreed that we could go, if we raised the money ourselves nonetheless. I then brought it up to my uncle Kurt, (the guy who drives us to races most of the time), and asked him if he was interested in getting out the RV, and renting a camp-spot by the racetrack all weekend so we could be there for Qualifying on Friday, Practice on Saturday, and all three races going on that weekend. Kurt said yes, so we started working, and saving our money. We started saving in late May after summer break started, and by early August, we were getting close to having enough to buy the tickets. My Grandma noticed the work that we were putting in, and decided to help us out. We had about $200 dollars to go, before we would have enough money saved up to buy the tickets and camping. In return for picking up the slack on tickets, my Grandma and I agreed that the trip would count as an early Christmas gift. Talk about one hell of a Christmas gift, right!?
We got the tickets in the mail a few weeks later, and we were all set. Both our folks let us skip school when the big day came, so we could start the drive to Tulsa first thing in the morning, to help Kurt pack up for the trip. We planned to make it to the track just in time for Qualifying that night. We left the house at the break of dawn, and arrived at Kurt's place just before rush hour.
Kurt was already done packing for the most part; all he had left to do, was pack the ice chests with drinks, and get the generator ready to go. There were no electrical or water hookups in the campground we stayed in, so we had to bring our own power. Kurt wanted to wait until the morning rush-hour was over, before we left. We watched NASCAR movies all morning long, until rush-hour ended. At around noon, Kurt came in, and said the magic words. "What are you guys waiting on?", motioning for us to get in the truck. Kansas Speedway was a 6-hour drive from Tulsa, but it was worth every minute.
We passed by Joplin, Missouri along the way, & some other well-known places, but we didn't care! We were only thinking about one thing, a mile and a half beast next to Kansas City. We drove North, on the edge of Missouri all the way to the Missouri side of Kansas City.
Kansas City was packed, so there was a slight delay before we made it to the Kansas side, where the racetrack is located.
Just as we arrived, NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying was underway, so we could hear the motors as they flew by us on the backstretch as we were looking for our campground.
We pulled in to "Richmond Campground" just outside of the Hollywood Casino at turn 2 of the racetrack about one hour before sunset.
First thing first, Kurt got the RV jacks set, and plugged in the generator. For some reason, he was having trouble getting the generator started. Me and Mykal tried to help, but nothing worked.
Kurt gave it a rest (the generator situation) for a while, and told us we could go ahead and head to the tram station, to go to the grandstands for the ARCA Series Race. The ARCA Race was called the "Full-Throttle 98.9 At Kansas Speedway". We walked in during the pace laps, just before the green flag. This race was the final race of the season for the ARCA Racing Series drivers.
Grant Enfginger was the 2015 ARCA Racing Series Champion, even though Mason Mitchel won the race that night.
I have always loved night races, because night races, are just. simply. Awesome! The lights, the speed, the racing! At night, all you see is the racetrack.
I could tell instantly, from how much Mykal enjoyed that race, that he was going to enjoy he rest of the weekend. As we were walking out of the racetrack, back to our camp spot for the night, I remember Mykal saying "I LOVE NASCAR!" and I told him "Relax, this is just the ARCA Racing Series, The NASCAR guys are racing tomorrow!"
We stayed up till' early in the morning, partying in the campgrounds with other race fans. Just my opinion: The partying/camping part is half the fun of going to NASCAR race-weekend! If you plan to travel to a NASCAR event, bring your RV or tent, and make a weekend out of it! You won't regret it! Camping at NASCAR Weekend is something you will never forget!
The next day, we went shopping at a Walmart beside the racetrack, (surprisingly) to stock up on snacks. Kansas Speedway is almost a city of it's own, with restaurants, Kansas Royal's Stadium across the street, a Walmart, what does Kansas not have!? It's like a dream town. Every store you could possibly want to go to, with a big NASCAR Speedway in the middle!
Saturday, was the first NASCAR events we saw that weekend.
We had bought "Sprint Fanwalk" Passes along with our tickets, so that we could go to the infield, and look around during Practice.
This was my first time in the infield of a major NASCAR track as well, so it was a brand new experience for all three of us.
The cars sound very different from the infield. You would think they would be louder, because you're closer to the cars than you would be in the stands, but it was actually quieter. The engine noise still echoes through the stands though, and vibrates your chest, and the ground below you. When the cars raced through the corners, you could see them on the horizon thundering around the banks. It was a very exciting experience. We stayed in the Fan-walk zone for hours, and never got tired of it!
While Xfinity Series cars were practicing, and fine-tuning their car setups for their "Kansas Lottery 300" event that afternoon, the Cup Series rides were going through technical inspection, and we got to see these beauties up close and personal!
After we hung out in the Fan-zone, we took a garage tour. One of our next-door neighbors in the campground had three spare garage tour passes, that they weren't going to use (since they had hot-passes, and didn't need them), so she gave them to us, and let us use them. This gave us access to go with a tour guide, and visit the Xfinity, and Camping World Truck series Garages where the team haulers are!
We wanted to stay at the garage tour way longer than we did, but they booted us out anyway, so we headed for the stands about an hour and a half before race time.
Our seats on Saturday, for the Xfinity Series Race were pretty close to the action, just past turn 4, where we could see the dash to the finish line! Normally we would be sitting a little higher, so we could see the cars on the backstretch a little better, but we wanted to feel what 190 miles an hour felt like up-close.
Mykal and I were both really excited when the Grand Marshal said "Drivers, Start ..Your ..ENGINES!" and 43 motors revved to life just about a football field's distance in front of us.
The most exciting part of going to the races, is the anticipation right before the green flag waves. Every time the field paces by, your heart starts racing a little faster; because you know, that at any moment, 190 mile per hour action could start!
The lights came off on top of the pace car, which is a signal to the fans, that next time by, they will start racing.
The crowd started cheering, as everyone got out their cell-phones, and started recording. The last pace-lap before the green waves, feels like the longest lap you have ever witnessed in your life.
Sooner than later, the paccar peeled off the track, and coasted into the pits, so the field could get lined up 2-by-2, and await the flag.
Mykal's first Green flag experience was allot like mine, very unexpectedly loud! During pace laps, I warned him about the noise level of NASCAR,s saying that is tremendously louder than any World Of Outlaws engine, or local dirt track race.
Mykal didn't think it was that loud on pace laps, but he quickly found out what the iconic "roar" affect is that all of us NASCAR fans talk about when the flag dropped. the restart zone was right in front of us. The flagman waved the American Ethanol Green Flag, and all 43 drivers stepped on the gas in unison; it got Really loud, Really fast, to the point of chest vibration. He scrambled to cover his ears as they raced into turn 1, before grabbing his headset and put it back on.
We rented 2 Scanners that allow us to listen in live to the race broadcast, and listen to what the drivers are saying on their team radios.
I think it is very cool, and unique that the athletes in NASCAR are so much more accessible to the fans, than the athletes are for example, in NFL, NBA, or NHL. In NASCAR, all you have to pay is $50-$100 (depending on which track you go to), for a Pre-Race Access Pass, and you can catch your favorite driver's autograph, take a picture with them, and have a conversation with your favorite NASCAR heroes, face-to-face.
The Kansas Lottery 300 put on a good show, and there was some crazy good racing action toward the end. Matt Kenseth, in the number 20 KBM Toyota had been dominating the whole race, when his JGR teammate in cup, Kyle Busch started gaining ground on him. Kurt was cheering for Kenseth to hang on for the win, while Mykal was for Busch; I was for Chase Elliott. Matt Kenseth over-drove turn 3 under 10 laps to go, and Kyle Busch capitalized on it, passing him for the lead. "Wild Thing" (Kyle Busch), never looked back, and held on for the win.
Kyle Busch did a burnout, smoked the tires, and put on a heck of a show for the fans to celebrate his victory. He is iconically known to bow with the checkered flag in his hand to the fans after winning a race. Kyle ran double-duty that weekend, which meant that he was in Saturday's Xfinity Series race, as well as Sunday's Cup Series Race.
The party in the campgrounds never stops. Die-hard NASCAR fans are some of the coolest people you will ever meet. They have awesome stories to tell about races in the past, and even better food! And of course, tons of beer. Gotta have beer at a NASCAR Race.
Sunday, was the big day. Sunday, is when the Big, NASCAR Cup Series Race happened. NASCAR Cup Series Race day is what everyone is looking forward to all weekend long.
It was a nice, sunny day in Kansas. Somewhat chilly in the morning, but the race would take place that afternoon. We had Pre-race passes for both days, but we weren't able to actually walk on the racetrack Saturday. Sunday, we could. Eric Paslay performed the Pre-Race Concert on the big stage set up in the tri-oval grass of the racetrack.
There is always something to do on Cup Series race day. Beautiful race-cars on display outside the track, autograph sessions with your favorite drivers, Fan Q&A Sessions with them, and all kinds of good food.
You can walk up to your favorite driver, or team's souvenir trailer, and pick up a t-shirt, hat, die-cast car, and more! Although, I will warn you; money goes fast at those souvenir trailers. You originally planned to get just one thing, and then before you know it, you have already spent over $100 in just minutes!
You definitely have to go slow and pace yourself, when it comes to your cash, because you can easily spend everything you brought inn your wallet in just a few minutes if you aren't careful! Walk around for awhile, and check everything out, before you decide what you want to buy as souvenirs.
Brad Keselowski in the #2 Miller Lite Ford won the pole in Qualifying on Friday for the race, and would lead to the green, but he wasn't who everyone was talking about after the race.
The guys that everyone in the NASCAR community were buzzing about after 400 miles in America's Heartland, were Joey Logano (#22 Pennzoil Ford), and Matt Kenseth (#20 Dollar General Toyota).
Matt Kenseth was leading the race, and trying to hang on for the win, just like Saturday's Xfinity Series Race. His competitor trying to pass him this time, was Logano. Matt's car was fast, and handling good on the outside groove in the turns. However, Logano's car was performing even better on the bottom (inside) lane. Matt tried to pull away from Logano, but Logano kept inching closer, just like Kyle Busch the day before, lap after lap. with under 10 laps remaining, Logano caught Matt, and was trying desperately to pass. He tried to go high, low, and just about everything; but couldn't get the job done with a clean pass. So he (Logano), only had two options: tap Kenseth's rear bumper, moving sending Matt up the racetrack, and letting Logano pass by for the win, or finishing 2nd.
Knowing Logano, he chose option 1. Kenseth was trying so hard to block, that Logano was even put into the wall coming into turn 1, just in front of us. That was most likely the point in time, where Joey Logano thought to himself, enough was enough, and decided it was time to lay the bumper to Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Sr style! Because that's exactly what he did. Sure enough, the front of Logano's car taps Kenseth's left-rear Quarter panel, sending Kenseth sliding up the track into a spin, while Logano kept going and passed by. Matt was able to save the car, and keep it from getting wall damage. The caution flag flies, ending Matt Kenseth's chances to win with just a handful of laps to go.
Everyone in the stands went crazy after that happened, and Logano went on to win the Hollywood Casino 400.
I asked Mykal after all the action winded down something along the lines of "So, what do you think of this whole, NASCAR Racing thing?" and he gave a "This is freaking awesome!" in response.
It's pretty safe to say, that me and Mykal are definitely not done going to the races.
Mykal was a key part in making this Kansas trip a reality; I couldn't have raised the money to make it happen by myself, without him.
He enjoys drawing super-hero scenes, and portraits on a page he started on social media called "Teen Drawer". >> @TeenDrawer <<
Give him a shout if you need any superhero illustrations, and let him know that his old pal Joey sent ya!