Column – Endurance in Circles: Behind My Scenes at the Brickyard 400

By Rob Nichols

Quick. What are the first things that you think of when I say the word “endurance”?

Competing in a triathalon?

Running in the Boston Marathon?Try attending a NASCAR race. The hottest spectator sport in the country means many hundreds of thousands of sweaty, beer-swigging, rather loud folks whoopin’ it up.You see, now I know what going to a race is all about. When the stock car boys and their fans came to Indianapolis last week, I was there, sweating, get sunburned and taking notes.Though not the only way to do it, here’s one man’s story of jumping on the NASCAR bandwagon. Your results may be different.

7:40 am-After hearing the alarm go off ten minutes earlier, I fall back asleep for those extremely important moments of ” I gotta get out of bed but screw it” sleep. But to get to the track on time, I get up and grab a quick shower.

8:30 am- On the road for the two hour trip to Indy, I try unsuccessfully on the car phone to reach the guy who has an extra ticket for me. There will only be about 250,000 people converging on a street in front of the track. I have no idea where we’re supposed to meet. Ah, it shouldn’t be that tough, right?

9:00 am- Stop at gas station for 12-pack of Mountain Dew. Don’t really feel like hitting a liqour store yet, although was known to meet the store owner as he was turning the key to open the locks back when I was in college. Sleep? Who needed sleep when you were 20 years old. I took tests better under sleep deprivation. GPA? Sealed forever. Had to be a 3.9 something, trust me.

9:15 am -Get passed by my first of many vans with NASCAR stickers on the windows/bumpers/kid’s foreheads. This one also has a No Jeff Gordon sticker on its back end.

9:30 am- Dial car phone again. Still no luck.

10:30 am-Arrive on north side of Indianapolis, stop for a six pack of beer and a turkey sandwich for the cooler. I believe the ability to bring a cooler into the track is a major reason racing is a fan favorite. Now if only other professional sports and movie theaters would do the same.

10:45 am- Run into first traffic jam, on 38th Street, more than four miles from the track. Not good.

10:55 am- Bail out of traffic jam, running parallel streets until I either run into a dead end or find my way. Only two cul-de-sacs on this trip. Not bad.

11:15 am- Decide to park at Lafayette Square Mall, on 38th, about 16 blocks from the track. It’s free, and since my soon-to-be ex-buddy is unreachable by phone or smoke signals or drumbeats or anything, I am at the mercy of scalpers. Better save money where I can.

11:18 am- Notice my arm already hurts from carrying six beers, three Dews, a bottled water and turkey sandwich in the cooler.

11:35 am- Since the race starts at 12:15, I think everything is going pretty well, especially when I ask the first scalper I see how much he wants for his ticket. He says “Hey, great seat for forty bucks.” I say, “Ah, too much” He says “Come on fella, how ’bout 30 bucks.” I just keep walking. Tickets less than face value about two miles from the track. That’s a good sign. As my general rule says, if tickets are plentiful, the closer you are to the venue and to the start time, the cheaper the price.

11:40 am- A guy carrying a cooler, walking in front of me is doing the same “OK, time to change hands” cooler carrying dance as I am. His name is Phil and he has a ticket, but not for me.

11:45 am- Getting close to the track now, I can see the Goodyear blimp in the sky, and scalpers everywhere. Still, I wait. Phil pops a top on a beer. “Only got 12,” he says. “In this heat, they’ll be gone quick.” For sure, Spicolli.

11:50 am- Crowd is immense. Beautiful sunny day. And I’m looking for one ticket. Word of advice here: when going to an event without a ticket, don’t take your family of four. Four tickets together from a scalper will drain the wallet. A single ticket is easy. Look for a fan selling, not a ticketbroker on his bike.

11:51 am- And there it is. A guy wearing a Mark Martin shirt, with his radio headset around his neck and a cooler in his hand. “Whatta ya’ have,” I ask. “One ticket, not very high up, but good seats. I’ve sat there before,” he answers. “How much,” I ask. “Twenty,” he replies. “Fifteen,” I counter. “Twenty,” he says. “Fifteen,” I say, starting to walk away. “OK, OK. Fifteen,” he gives in. I’m the man.

11:52 am- I look at the ticket I just bought. It’s a $55 dollar seat.

Noon- I’m in, eating a track hot dog with mustard. Life’s good, especially now that I get to set the cooler down.

12:10 pm- As I start down the row to my seat, I am the last person in the whole speedway to arrive, it seems. A big woman at the beginning of my row wants to know where I have been and that they have been waiting all morning for me. She’s either friendly or crazy. Or both.

12:15 pm- The race starts, and for the next three hours and fifteen minutes, I am the renter of an eight-inch strip of bleacher, with a big cooler between my legs to keep me company. Oh, yeah, plus I have a whole bunch of crazy, funny, friendly goofballs all around me. The guy who sold me the ticket is sitting next to me, and during the race eats two of the biggest ham and turkey sandwiches I have ever seen.

The 12-year old girl behind me has a straw hat in her lap that pokes me in the back for the final 100 laps. This after she drops mustard on my shirt while eating her lunch.

A guy and his brother sit on my left, with one of the men giving a detailed explanation of everything from which driver is best to why onions are good on hot dogs. Unfortunately, most of his information is wrong. Good thing I had purchased ear plugs for a buck just before I entered the track.

The woman to the left of them is teaching her daughter the nuances of needlepoint during the race. Her husband and his pal are too busy loading up on Budweiser to notice.

A woman in front of me stands up and cheers everytime Rusty Wallace’s car goes by us, meaning she stands up and lets out a whoop every fifty seconds.

Late in the race, some guy two rows behind me tries to bribe someone to throw a beer can onto the track because his favorite driver needs a caution flag to catch up. Suprisingly, no takers.

Still, most everyone is polite, not too inebriated, and watches the race. When Jeff Gordon ends the afternoon by winning, he is greeted by more cheers than boos. We all file down the bleacher steps, and try to avoid the ice and cold water shower that starts when all the people still up in the stands seem to simeltaneously empty their coolers above us.

On the way out of the track, we all walk in the direction of our cars. Some have parked across the street and have a short walk to a long wait in line to leave the lot. Others are parked in yards of homes near the track. Slowly, the crowd of thousands walking to their cars and motor homes thins out until there are only a few couples and scattered groups crossing 38th Street.

I see my car sitting in the lot, untowed. I am walking alone, feeling a bit like a hero. I’m not sure how much cash I have spent. My whole view of the race was as the cars came through turn four, nothing more. But it was real. Standing up in unison with the rest of the fans when something exciting happened. The smell of burned gasoline, hot rubber tires and track dogs. Real sights, real sounds and real smells.

And real tired.



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