Before we get into the article, let's just take a minute to enjoy the photo to the right.
In this photo, you see Joey Logano celebrating the Coors Light "21 Means 21" pole in the Nationwide Series last weekend.
Coincidentally, Logano's car is not 21, it's just short at number 20. And, also, coincidentally, his car number matches his current age: 20.
Which makes it very ironic that, Logano is portrayed as a spokesman for the drinking age of 21 despite the fact that he, himself, won't turn 21 until May 24th.
Chuckle at that a second, then we'll move on to the article.
This past Saturday, the New Hampshire Motor Speedway hosted the second FANtasy Drive. (Technically, it wasn't the second "annual," because apparently you can't use the word "annual" until you have it for a third year; supporting my dad's argument that "first annual" is as much of an oxymoron as "jumbo shrimp.") During this event, any fans that had purchased tickets to a major event were allowed to drive their own cars for three laps around "The Magic Mile."
The marketing slogan for the track this year has been: "It's Your Track New England," and nothing proved that more than Saturday's event. On April 24th, you'd be expecting a warm day around 65-70 degrees and pray that the spring showers hold off. But, it's New England!
Early in the week, it became obvious those prayers wouldn't be answered. At one point on Wednesday or Thursday, weather.com said that the chance of precipitation for Saturday was 100%. (In fact, I got excited on Friday to find it had just dropped to 90%.) Then, it got worse. Sometime on Friday a small snowflake appeared and the weather read "Rain/Snow." (Remember: this is your track!)
For once (unfortunately), the weatherman got it right. As I headed out to the track to get some photos and video around 9:15, I had to use my winter hat as a cover for the camera so that it didn't get snowed on. However, with the track wet enough to hold off any accumulation and weather savvy drivers of New England behind the wheels, NHMS kept the cars circling well into the afternoon.
I was scheduled to get behind the wheel of the pace car in the mid afternoon. However, as the line started to dissipate and the weather finally got the better of the impressive hundreds of hardy fans, I realized my time would be short lived.
I quickly ran from the infield to the staging area outside the tunnel and hopped in the car with Account Executive Jason Potter. Priority number one: get photos and video to share with you, the fans. This, obviously, I was doing from the passenger seat as Jason drove.
As the pace car leading our visitors, we started out a good clip, but had to slow it down. As I mentioned, we had a lot of hardy fans, and one was even towing a large trailer behind his truck and seemed to have trouble getting up to speed (no surprise), so we backed it off a little so he could stay with the pack.
After the three laps, we pulled back outside the tunnel to pick up our next group. Only, there was no one waiting and security had begun breaking down. I realized that I might have missed my chance to get behind the wheel.
In the initiation process of every job, there are three main rights of passage: the first day, the day you feel you belong, and the day you prove you can do your job even with garbage hitting the fan.
In the restaurant business, you feel you belong when you work your first Friday; you prove you can do your job through adversity when you still land a strong tip despite having a table wait 30 minutes only to deliver an incorrect order.
In the football video business, you feel you belong when you first get bumped by a player as he runs out of bounds; you prove you can do your job when the 49ers decide to host a press conference an hour from the team's facility and you successfully set up the live feed for the team's website, which everyone and their father is watching.
At New Hampshire Motor Speedway, you feel you belong when you've driven a lap around the track.
So, while my final stage of initiation probably won't come until this summer during the first NASCAR weekend when each arm and leg is being pulled in a different direction from my head, I didn't want to miss a lap on Saturday that would qualify my status as an employee of NHMS.
Knowing that this would be the blog post for the week, I had Jason slide over to the passenger seat and climbed in behind the wheel and we headed up to the front of the track to take a victory lap without any cars in tow. We got clearance from the security guard at the gate to take an employee lap and I pulled out on the road course and hit the oval coming out of turn 4.
The first time you look all the way down the front stretch and its just you and the car (...and Jason...and the video camera), it's pretty exciting. Your first instinct is to step on it and see how fast you can go before you get to turn 1.
You understand the mentality that the pole sitter must have on a hot summer afternoon when the pace car falls off and the green flag starts waving as you barrel down the front stretch in front of 100,000 cheering fans.
However, this wasn't summer and this wasn't a stock car. There was a transmitter inside, which, I'm pretty sure, gave my speed back to the control room. So, I kept it locked at a pace speed of 55-60, and not wanting to abuse the privilege I did a complete lap and then pulled off before turn one and headed back outside the tunnel.
For the fans that attended FANtasy Drive, they can commiserate. It feels so liberating, but yet so restrictive.
The wild side of you wants to open it up to 120 and see how it handles in the turns. The logical side says that its wet and slippery and it's not even my car.
Still, it was an enjoyable victory lap and I'd like to thank all the fans that joined in the experience on Saturday. For those that missed it, fear not; the attendees are already clamoring for a third annual next year (Yay! We can use that term in 2012.)
But, before any of us Joe the Plumbers get back on the track, we'll get a far better experience; the NASCAR and INDYCAR series will fulfill the second part of the fantasy: get it up to 120 (or, in INDYCAR's case, the cars are expected to top 200 mph!)
Not so coincidentally, those weekends will also close out phase three of my initiation as an employee at NHMS, but, at least, I got phase two done this past weekend!