Monday, March 31, 2008

Spring Drag Race

I just walked around Houston Raceway Park and boy are my arms tired! Seriously, my arms are totally worn out from hobbling around the track all weekend. I was glad that they had carts to shuttle people from the handicapped parking area to the track (even though it's not really far), but they obviously weren't there to take me around the pits. And while I like sportsman racing enough, I wasn't about to just sit in my seat the whole time. When I got to the track about 1 after checking into my motel and getting lunch, the guy in the handicapped lot said to wait a minute and he'd get a cart over. I was just going to walk but I figured what the heck, I'd take a ride. Since the other passengers were going to the spectator side, I got off just inside the gate near the tower. It wasn't really far, but by the time I got to the grandstand, I was already tired and sweating and just sat down in the first place that was free, nowhere near my actual assigned seat. The stands weren't very full at that point, since pro qualifying hadn't started, but it filled up more and more as qualifying went on. By the time nitro qualifying started, it was clear I was in someone's seat, but nobody really seemed to mind, and nobody even tried to get by me, they just climbed around on another row. After the first session, I went for a walk through the nitro pits before going to my assigned seat. By the time I sat down, my hat was soaked with sweat, but after a while sitting there in the breeze I was slightly chilled. I didn't really have any problems walking in the pits, but the stands were a bit of a challenge, I almost tripped a couple times on the stairs, and the aluminum was extremely slippery when wet, like from a spilled coke.
As I was leaving the stands, one of the handicapped carts was just sitting there, so I jumped on for a ride back to the parking area. Traffic leaving wasn't too bad. I had dinner at the Outback, but there weren't as many racers as I've sometimes seen there. Other than Bob Gilbertson and other various crew people, the patrons didn't look like they were necessarily even race fans. I got to my motel, Travelodge Suites Channelview, about 10 and saw my room for the first time (although I had already checked in, it wasn't ready). The overall feel was of being old and run down. There was a large hole in the comforter. There was a big spot on the carpet. The most horrifying, plainly indicating its uncleanliness, was a coffee straw on the floor. I saw hairs in the bathtub, but felt too unstable to take a shower and too dirty not to bathe. I rinsed the tub out before taking a hot bath. The next morning, after checking out and dismissing their breakfast offering, I discovered that the door lock wasn't working properly and had stayed unlocked. I told the guy at the desk, who said he'd have it looked at. I managed to get the door to lock before I left, but was very unhappy to get back that evening to it being unlocked. If I hadn't been so exhausted at that time (and there were any vacancies in the area), I would have demanded my money back and gone elsewhere. When I checked out Sunday morning, I told the guy working then about the door and he said of the other clerk "yeah, he's a lazy fuck."
Leaving the motel Monday I got a McGriddle and a Dr Pepper at the McDonald's drive-through across the highway and headed to the track. There was some traffic once I got off of the new toll road, but it wasn't too bad and gave me a few minutes to eat my breakfast. I got a ride all the way to the grandstand, but since it was still a while before pro qualifying, I went for a stroll through the pro stock pits. I also went back to the pro stock motorcycle pits, which, like previous years (but not last year), were in their own area near the finish line. Unfortunately after I made a pass through I found my options to get back to the grandstands was either to go through a fence or go back through the pits, in the opposite direction I wanted to go. I decided against trying to negotiate the fence and ditch beyond, but kept hoping someone would offer me a ride. I made it back to my seat and settled in for a while. I only left between third and fourth sessions to go to the bathroom and get lunch. After the end of pro qualifying, I went for another stroll through the nitro pits, then to the Nitro Mall to get a t-shirt I decided I wanted. I thought about just heading to my car, but really wanted a drink, so I headed to the designated handicapped pickup area. After getting someone to call for a pickup and waiting about 20 minutes, I just walked. When I got back to the parking area, the coordinator (or whatever) apologized and said the one cart ran out of gas and the other was busy. I had dinner at Chili's, where the only people who were obviously associated were definitely not crew people, and went back to the motel, took a bath and passed out in front of the TV.
Sunday, hoping to avoid the terrible traffic I've sometimes encountered in the past, I set the alarm for 6. I got ready, checked out, picked up some breakfast, and went to the track. There was no traffic at that time, so I parked and ate my breakfast before getting a ride to the pits. Since it was before 7:30 and they hadn't even opened the spectator gates, the teams were just starting to get things out and start preparations. I just wandered until the only thing I wanted to do was to sit down, but I did buy a pair of ear muffs with an AM/FM radio built in so I could actually hear the track announcer. I got to my seat at about 9:30 and stayed there until after the second round of pro eliminations, when I went to get some food and a drink. There was no aerial component to the opening ceremonies, possibly due to the heavy overcast and winds. Usually there is a parachutist and sometimes there is some sort of flyover. After the semifinals I went to the nitro pits again, but as expected they were all either mobbed or nearly dormant. At the end of the race I was expecting the winners circle ceremony to be near the starting line and I wouldn't have to go all the way around the tower, but the held it in the staging lanes like they did last year (which they had to do because sportsman racing was still going on). I sort of loitered under the tower until the pro winners' cars arrived and I got a chance to check them out up close and ask the crews some questions. I didn't stay long, and about 4:30 I hobbled back to my car. I grabbed a Full Throttle drink that was being handed out, but it turned out to be sugar-free and more disgusting than a regular energy drink and only managed to drink half of it. I got home, took a bath, and went to sleep exhausted.

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