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Beneath The Banyan Trees


By Lisa Heimer

What follows is an essay about three days at Homestead-Miami Speedway during race weekend. Please note that your experience at the track might not measure up to this, or it might be better. Such is unpredictability of a NASCAR race weekend.

Friday

I had weekend parking passes for the infield. Friday we parked and started walking around the infield lake to the garage area. There was a fenced off area with someone standing there at the gate. I didn't know where we were walking, so I just followed some others I saw going thru there. No one checked our ID's. Talk about limited security.

We start walking down the road in-between these absolutely gorgeous motor coaches. My friend Joe turns to me and says, "I don't think we're in the right place." I was sure we weren't. The motor coach we approached on the very end was the most lavish one. It was a maroon color and had its own matching maroon-colored new Hummer. Most of the coaches had their own Hummer, as well as a miniature golf cart/4wheeler that again looked exactly like a miniature Hummer. Millionaire's row personified. Some of the golf carts had the colors and numbers of the drivers. As we were walking towards the far gate that leads into the garage area, I saw this guy walking towards us with the top of his driver's uniform wrapped around his waist. I knew it was a driver and as he got closer I recognized him- Jaime McMurray. He climbed into one of the motor coaches. Then I turned the corner and Jack Roush was walking right towards me. I said "Good luck on Sunday." He nodded and gave me a little wave. Pretty cool.

For the truck race, Bobby Hamilton's pit was right in front of me. Bobby Jr was on top of the pit box with his wife. Got a good view and a couple of good pics. Bobby Jr looked nervous throughout until the checkered flag waved for his father's championship as dusk enveloped the track.

Saturday

My husband was able to go with me for the rest of the weekend. We parked in the infield and again we just walked into the motorcoach area. Once we got to the garage suite area there was a lot of action going on since it was happy hour practice for the Nextel Cup series. Once practice was over, drivers started walking around going back to their haulers. The haulers were right behind the garages-- it was a great view. I knew either Jeff Gordon or Dale Earnhardt Jr were right below us since there was a large crowd gathered. Gordon popped out and walked to his hauler signing autographs. He went to the doors of the hauler and had a few lengthy media interviews. Jimmie Johnson also had some interviews on the steps of his hauler. The fans were pretty respectable. They didn't really over run any of the drivers. On Saturday a buffet lunch was included with the seats we had. We had just sat down to eat lunch and my husband says to me, "I think that's Hulk Hogan." I turn around and there's Hulk and his wife in the buffet line. They sat two tables away from us. On Sunday, it was pretty much as I mentioned before.

Sunday

Again we parked on the infield. But this time there was someone who looked like he was not part of the track personnel on that gate to the motor coach area (most if not all of the track personnel I saw were young local kids I'd say 18-20 years old). This guy asked us if we were part of a raceteam. I said no and he asked us to walk around the outside of the gate and around. No problem. And this was the greatest thing that could have happened because the sight that I will take with me happened on the way around. I could see maybe a dozen people gathered around one of the gates that led from the motorcoach area to the garage area. Then I saw someone in regular clothes on a Segway motor scotter making his way smoothly through the gate and down the road to the garage. People were pointing and snapping pictures if they were quick enough to recognize who it was. Who else? Jeff Gordon. He was smiling and waving and having a great time. I guess he knew what the reaction would be. Only he would do that. That was the coolest moment of the weekend for me.

We worked ourselves towards the garage suites but there was this plastic flimsy string barrier blocking the way creating a narrow corridor between the garage and a big tent and fans standing in a line alongside it. The drivers meeting was about to take place. We stood by the line as well. We got there in time to see maybe a dozen drivers walk by. It was funny since I could recognize them, but without their uniforms on, a lot of the fans there couldn't. When I told my husband, "Look, there's Casey Mears," I could then hear people around me say "where", and I'd say "the guy with the black shirt on." One of the most popular had to be Kasey Kahne. The fans just love him. I don't think he has quite gotten used to the attention. He looked rather timid and shy. Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, John Andretti, Jeremy Mayfield, Bobby Labonte, Mike Helton, and Ray Evernham also came by. Rick Hendrick also walked past us to the driver's meeting.

They took the plastic string down and we went up to the garage suites and hung out by the railing and saw the drivers come back from their meeting. Jeff was very gracious, he was patient and signed autographs and talked to people as he walked. Richard Childress signed plenty of autographs. Many people stopped and shook hands with Rick Hendrick, but I was appalled by the many who asked him for autographs. Talk about insensitive.

Of the three drivers with a legitimate shot at the Cup, Jimmie was the only one who seemed tense. Though that could also be supremely focused depending on how you want to look at it. He was very serious and uptight. It was easy to read how badly he wanted this championship. Busch looked relaxed, but Jeff looked the most loose and relaxed. The race was very dramatic and exciting. From the suites, you can only see turn 4 and the front straight. Although we had the NBC telecast on the closed circuit TV, it's not the same. But all the twists and turns and the not knowing until the last lap who was going to win the Championship really was exciting. The experience was a great one from the garage side, but not being able to see the entire track during the race was awful. One perspective from the race that you can't gather from TV or the other side of the track is the excitement of the restarts. You can actually see how close these cars are and who's being really aggressive. One big positive though is that since we didn't have to contend with the sun, I was not exhausted after each day as I was last year. I actually was able to enjoy the weekend more because I didn't feel sick from the heat or the sun. Even though the garage suites were sold out, you never felt cramped.

Other than JG on his Segway, the other image I'll take with me is after the race we were making our way to the end of the suite area where the stairs were and I looked down into the garage area and I saw Robbie Loomis walking, alone, towards the DuPont hauler. A fitting end. I thought for a moment JG would pull it out, but Kurt Busch really ran a smart race. At the outset his car didn't look too good, but he'd often fall back in the field just playing it safe. That was in stark contrast to Jeff and Jimmie who were racing hell bent to the front every lap. I can't say I like the new Championship format, but you can't argue with the fierceness of the battle in the last race that might not have occurred otherwise.




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