NASCAR Coca Cola 600 & Me
(Charlotte, NC) May 26, 2019— NASCAR celebrated its 60th anniversary of the Coca Cola 600 at the historic Charlotte Motor Speedway. According to other news sources, this was arguably the most exhilarating race of the year with Martin Truex Jr. walking away as the winner, after getting adjusted to the new aero regulations for the stock-cars like lower horsepower goal of 550 (from 750), increased down force and front air ducts (which limits airflow through the engine).
The Coca Cola 600 captivated, stunned, and shocked viewers who sat through a 600-mile bout of man and machine, alpha and beast, as they dashed 180 miles per hour around the track (400 laps) for a shot at becoming champion.
Before the sprint even started, media outlets toured the premises, and became educated on what it was like to be part of NASCAR on race day. NASCAR correspondents, Jasmine Neely, Matt Ciesluk and James Hallas, made sure to leave no stone un-turned during the trek, which was great for idiot savants that watched Talladega Knights and Days of Thunder, and still didn’t have a clue of what goes on behind the scenes. Jasmine and Matt explained the ins and outs of the race, from the gas that the pit crew used, to pointing out prominent individuals who prowled the grounds, fitting in with fans and crew members like chameleons on the hunt.
The mechanics worked on the stock cars that sat in diminutive garages just outside the track. They revved up the engines repeatedly, while listening to the growls coming from underneath the hood, assessing for a choke or stall in the motor. They changed out tires as needed. The smell of melting tar and asphalt whipped through the sweltering air. It stood as a constant reminder that the race would take place later that day.
Scene from the garage.
While roaming, we walked inside a hauler truck owned by Matt DiBenedetto. His creation reminded me of a chrome transformer [Autobot of course] that crossed between a mini firehouse, mobile car garage, tow truck, and a man-cave. The design was much like an HGTV tiny home. It was compact, with space for racing essentials. They had more tools and screws than the confined drawers as Home Depot. The gizmos sat neatly in their respective casings. Fire suits hung meticulously in miniature cubbies. In the top of the hauler, there appeared to be a loft with just enough space to transport two stock cars. The drivers don’t sleep in the haulers and they prefer to rest in mobile trailers at the racetrack instead of hotels. Therefore, the hauler driver is responsible for the delivery of the chrome transformer from one race to the next. After the race, trucks are loaded and ready to leave by that following Wednesday, which gives the driver and crew-members approximately 3 days to salvage wreckage if any, make repairs, and pack everything up so they can head to the next destination.
I took a mental picture of another astounding moment while we tottered. Denoted, inclusion and diversity is still an absorbing topic at NASCAR down to the media aspect. Even though there were fewer blacks than whites working the grounds, I felt utter admiration for the brown people that stood out to me. These black kings and queens were also part of NASCAR in some way or variable, whether media, crew member, mechanic or organizer. I was in awe of the black men and women that shuffled through the small area expressively and vigorously. Though few in numbers, they were proud of their positions and it showed. These blacks were working in NASCAR as part of a superlative team. Could anything be more exciting (other than being a genuine CEO)? I could only gush with pride while thinking, “If only our little black kids in the underprivileged communities could see this.” They need inspiration, especially in this climate of racial disparity. They needed an inspiring moment that spoke to them unequivocally. Next to a black man or woman working at NASA or the White House, If they needed further impetus, then NASCAR was it.
List of Black NASCAR Drivers
We continued to weed through the crowds throughout the day. Somewhere in the mix, we met a few other drivers including Daniel Hemric. Daniel, though delightful was in tunnel vision, his mindset anchored on the race, and that was it. He sped through the swarm of people, but made time to sign every autograph, even in haste. Interestingly, the 28-year-old stock car driver is from Kannapolis, NC. He said that he remembers like it was yesterday when he learned to drive his first race car at the age of 5 in Concord, NC.
Interview with Daniel Hemric
Another impressive scenario is Kyle Bazzell, hauler driver and chef for Joe Gibbs— When you think about credentials, and the requirements of being a hauler driver, functioning as a sous-chef doesn’t necessarily come to mind. Kyle loves cooking. In fact, he was grilling corn on the cob, wrapped in bacon when we caught up with him. Bazzell said that he found the recipe on a cooking channel and wanted to try it. Easy enough, right?
The sun continued to beat unforgivingly against my skin as we walked. Eventually, we tread through a tunnel and out onto the street where the fanfare was happening. My scalp down to my calve muscles drenched with sweat. That didn’t matter. I still wanted to see more. So, I continued with the voyage. We took a 45-minute break indoors and then head right back out into the heat.
Keep in mind that we made rounds to other areas, but I’m only pinpointing highlights that stood out the most. We walked to the core of the track about 45 minutes before the race, and this is where NASCAR honored service members, and each race car driver presented the honorees with an award. Two Charlie Viper Helicopters flew in and hovered over the area close to where we stood. Ropes plunged to the ground from both aircraft's, and men and women rappelled from the helicopters while it lingered in air.
Rousing, that best describes the energy from the fans who cheered and celebrated their favorite drivers for all that the race was worth. It was the pep rally of all pep rallies. Many die-hard spectators camped on the ground’s days before the Coca Cola 600 even took place so they were ready for the sendoff.
Afterwards, the marathon began in elite fashion, but by this time, we had made our way to the sky-boxes, a joyous treat for sure. From there, we watched the stock cars sway back and forth as they trailed anxiously behind the pace car.
The safety vehicle, also known as the pace car, travels 45 miles an hour around the track, which explains the swerving vehicles who anticipated a warp speed takeoff once the pace car veered off the pathway. If there is wreckage or bad weather, the pace car is the actual green light, white flag or whatever you may call it, signaling to the other cars that the match can continue.
Tire replacement and gas fill in 60 seconds.
As for the race, the moment of veracity, it looked as though Martin Truex Jr. wasn’t going to win since he crashed into a wall and lost a tire during the first stage of the race, but he pulled it through, only to come back during the final laps, and dominate the racetrack.
***During the middle of the race, NASCAR followed their history of patriotism, and held a moment of silence in honor of fallen soldiers who’ve lost their lives in combat. ***
William Byron held the lead for the first 25 laps, but Brad Keselowski crushed the first couple of stages, even with the slow sendoff of little to no dogfight, just the same drivers drifting relentlessly until the breakaway. For someone that didn’t enjoy racing, probably would’ve been a siesta. However, for newbies like myself who’s just getting into the thrill of it all, the action came much later which resulted in a four or five car pileup, a stock car catching fire on the track and then the bolt from the blue win by Truex. Might I add, we caught blow-by-blow action from the pit this time—It was totally worth each particle of sweat, and every mile walked that day, to see such reviving racing.
No. 19 Martin Truex Jr
So, the question emerges… Would I sit through the race again now that I am more informed? The answer is simple, “With absolute certainty.”