Monday, March 13, 2006

Driving around in circles

I missed the ACC tournament final and all of Selection Sunday, but I had a good excuse. As part of some auction package, my sister had tickets to attend the UAW DaimlerChrysler 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and brought me along. Despite growing up in NASCAR country, this was our first experience with the sport.

Admittedly, it was an atypical NASCAR experience: our admission included VIP parking passes and seating in an enclosed skybox suite, complete with couches, catered meals, and its own set of bathrooms. (We are such event snobs.) The televisions offered only a closed circuit broadcast, so watching basketball was impossible. We claimed a table and killed time before the race by reading; I brought this book with me.

Conditions were ideal. Rain was threatened but never materialized, and only the mountains got snow. I found an alternate route to the speedway, so we avoided all that debilitating traffic before and after the event. And did I mention the bathrooms?

My sister, who is not a sports fan, once attended the Masters golf tournament as a guest in the Augusta National clubhouse. She was surprised to learn that its members, old rich men with all access, were content to sit around and watch the CBS broadcast. But here the 30 or so people sharing the large suite were young, active, and vocal racing fans. They had their favorite drivers, but united in booing Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, who polarize racing fans for very different reasons.

As the name indicates, the race is 400 miles, or 267 laps around a 1.5 mile track. At an average speed of 133 mph, the race would last about 3 hours. People get very excited at the beginning and the end, but the 200 laps in the middle create a time to socialize. For many fans, this means drinking. (Incidentally, the concessions stop serving alcohol when there's only 25 laps to go.) Our suites served alcohol as well, but I stuck with soda and concentrated on the Asian themed lunch offerings: Chinese chicken salad, cold dragon noodles, fried rice, steamed bok choy, and Mongolian marinated breasts of chicken. Oh, and the excellent banana chocolate chip cake. Because nothing says NASCAR like fine dining.

As it turned out, the race provided some excitement. No crashes, fortunately, but a mishap for the Target car (hello, you have a bullseye on your hood) and a flat tire on Tony Stewart's car late in the race, which prompted sadistic cheering. Then a late surge by defending champ Jimmie Johnson created some drama for Matt Kenseth, who'd held a safe lead for nearly 150 laps. It came down to the final turn, and Johnson pulled ahead in a photo finish.

So, NASCAR: better than I expected. Under similar circumstances I'd go again, but I'm not ready for general admission, and I'm sure as heck not interested enough to watch it on television.


Moral Turpitude said...

Yes! NASCAR is better than one would expect! And how was that for an exciting ending?

Neel Mehta said...

What I didn't understand, MT, were the frequent slowdown periods. The pace car would come back on the track for a few laps whenever something went wrong. It happened over and over. And with all the cars staying at a particular (slow) speed, they could cut into Matt Kenseth's sizable time lead. I don't think Jimmie Johnson could have won otherwise.