“Now, there’s like a starting strip (see how I don’t know the terminology?), where you get your speed up to enter the race track. So, we’re watching all the guys at this take-off point. And we notice that a lot of them stall out and they have to go push the car back to the starting point. My sister and I decide that no matter what else happens we will not be flunking out right where the spectators can gawk. We also notice that the drivers who are done racing are staying around to do some spectating, too. Or, are they waiting to see what the two Black women do?”—F. Theresa Gillard
Status Quo Minus Amplified
By F. Theresa Gillard
“To achieve anything in this game you must be prepare to dabble in the boundary of disaster.”—Stirling Moss
“I just go where my heart tells me, where my gut tells me to go, where I’m enjoying my life the most, where I feel like I can have the most success. I’ve truly enjoyed my experience in NASCAR, to the point that I want to do it full time.”—Danica Patrick
BOSTON Massachusetts—(Weekly Hubris)—1 September 2020—To quote Eric B. & Rakim’s “I Know You Got Soul,” “It’s been a long time I shouldn’t have left you without a strong rhyme to step to.”
Well, well now. I am back, but did I ever really leave? Let’s get started . . .
Who would ever think that my Black-self would be anywhere near NASCAR and the Charlotte Motor Speedway? Absolutely no one. Niemand. OK, one person did. My brother, JC, Jr. So, he thought the perfect gift for me would be the NASCAR Racing Experience. I mean, it was a gift. Hence, my response, “Thank you.”
I am trying to tell you. I need you to listen. Do not try this ever. Just don’t. Now, I do realize that my recap of the “race car driving experience” may just talk you into it. This is so not my intention.
That said. It sorta went a little something like this . . .
First step. You must choose the speedway on which to have your experience. Living in the Great North (Is that here or Canada?), we (my sister received the same gift) could go up to New Hampshire’s Motor Speedway in Loudon, which seats 88,000. We’re talking a mere 2-hour drive from Boston. Honestly, though, who wants to go farther north in December?
It seems that there are only certain times of the year that you are able to partake of NASCAR’s many “experiences.” I guess their priority is the actual NASCAR racing schedule.
My sister and I decide that it would make for a nice quaint respite to pause in Concord, North Carolina (home of the Charlotte Motor Speedway) to take a spin or two out on the wintry tarmac.
Second Step. You must choose a date/time. We chose Sunday, December 11, 2016 at 1:00 PM. I am figuring our brother really loves us a lot, seeing as this experience runs, for each of us, around $250. Thanks, again!
Third Step. Do some research. Like WTH is this race car experience and how will we live through it? Especially since the Lord knows that I lived in Charlotte and you cannot, I repeat, cannot live in Charlotte and not know about the sheer madness that NASCAR creates. The traffic. The tailgating. The fans. The fans. The fans! The sheer magnitude of race day (really, race week) reverberates for miles.
And don’t get me wrong. I ain’t knocking it. I just never saw myself inside Charlotte Motor Speedway. Like, never. Like, why would I? You know me. Right, again, why?!
Anyways, as many things have a way of happening in my life, so goes this. And let’s be real. It really doesn’t seem to matter what I think. Even so, I am grateful, as I have been given some time to check it out.
Charlotte Motor Speedway’s capacity tops NH by a wee bit at 89,000. According to the Speedway Facts that I found on their website, the place is huge, encompassing some 2,000 acres and boasts to be “The Greatest Place to See the Race.” Apparently, it is also the home of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Come on. All I am seeing is a sea of not-me having a good ole time. Wow. And all I am thinking is that I cannot wait to miss all of it. My plan is laid out and it is simple. Go. Do. Leave. As my fellow Southerners are fond of saying, “That’ll do real nice.” I may be making this saying up. Sounds Southern though, right?
Per our email confirmation, we get some stuff included: Graduate Certificate, Souvenir Racing License, Racing Electronics Ear Buds, Vehicle Liability Insurance (Thank God!), and Free Spectating. We are expected to: arrive 30-45 minutes before Reservation; bring a valid Driver’s License; and wear closed-toe shoes.
Now, my fears are truly alleviated when I see that we will be receiving training and instruction from a Crew Chief at our drivers’ meeting, which is right before we get a chance to burn some rubber. And, to my sister’s thrill and my dismay, I see that they describe it as, “NASCAR Racing Experience at the Charlotte Motor Speedway is as real as it gets!”
With the steps completed, all we have to do is plan our “pause” lodging and show up. My time in Charlotte got me an awesome gaggle of friends. We lodge with the Kreeb Family. They live a mere 22 miles north of the venue.
Practice Race Day. We’re at Go. Security is pretty tight around the Speedway. Once we find our way to the appropriate entrance, we are asked a few questions, show our IDs, and we get driving directions to the proper checking-in place.
We check in. Show our licenses again. Sign some stuff and are given a real race suit. I guess that’s what they’re called. I mean the thing was too real for me. It smelled of grease and exhaust. Not to mention it really didn’t allow much in the way of breast/butt space and then, if that weren’t enough, the damned thing actually closed with a long strip of Velcro.
Like, WTH again! I am figuring there ain’t no way everything is staying put. No way. Velcro? For real?
Somehow, only the Lord knows how, and mostly due to much praying, I get into the suit and we file in with the rest of the crazies (other guys signed up for the same thing) to the Drivers’ Meeting. We find seats near the back. It’s a small auditorium and it’s full. It seems that the Free Spectators are also allowed to attend the meeting.
Now, as uncomfortable as I am, I allow myself to focus, because here’s where I get to hear about the training and get instruction. We’re welcomed. Hyped up a little and shown a video clip.
Basically, it explains what the Practice experience will entail, including you better know how to drive a stick and you’ll have a crew manager guiding you utilizing racing terminology throughout the entire experience.
It is about now that I realize that not only are we the only people of color in attendance (no surprise here), but we are also the only female drivers. The other women in attendance are wives, mothers, children, girlfriends, and the like, none of whom have on these tight-butt suits.
After the video clip, we are advised that if we think we need a little more “training and instruction,” we could get that out on the track. My sister and I opt in.
I mean, I was paying all kinds of attention and somehow I missed all the training and got absolutely no instruction. And, I am sorry. You thinking that’ll do? Racing terminology? Potential Practice speeds up to 155 mph. And, you can just walk off the street. Hand over some money and do this?! Nuts.
We are given assignments to get our race car drive on. Filing out to the track, we’re getting some unsettling looks. The ladies are looking at us like, Did y’all know where you were going? The guys are sneering like, Dem’ ladies gonna get us all killed.
Well, I am beyond competitive. My Mama didn’t raise any losers! So, my sister and I confidently head over to the further training and instruction. A couple of teenagers, looking like babies to me, join us.
This too is abbreviated. We are shown how the inside of the car looks and that is about it. Honestly, my Black-sense is fully kicking in and all I am getting is, Run!
Further training instruction completed, we head over to do some spectating. We realize that we’ll be practically the last ones up.
Now, there’s like a starting strip (see how I don’t know the terminology?), where you get your speed up to enter the race track. So, we’re watching all the guys at this take-off point. And we notice that a lot of them stall out and they have to go push the car back to the starting point.
My sister and I decide that no matter what else happens we will not be flunking out right where the spectators can gawk.
We also notice that the drivers who are done racing are staying around to do some spectating, too. Or, are they waiting to see what the two Black women do?
My brother Brian joins us to do some spectating. Whilst we’re waiting, one of the Kreebs comes to support us with a little Kreeb in tow. This is taking a hot minute. My sister is still hyped and I have almost quieted my “run” instinct.
We go up to wait in line. We get helmets. I forgot about this being an essential racing uniform requirement. And . . . I just got my hair done. Man! My hair is one thing. The other is that you lose your peripheral vision. Yikes.
In my mind, I am backing up; leaving this helmet and getting up out of there. Then, turning my entire head around to do so, I see every last one of those guys and their spectator gang just waiting for me to bolt.
Don’t worry, Mama. I got this.
I get ushered over the barrier and to my waiting race car. Now, I’ve been watching the guys get in and out. These things do not have opening doors. It’s through the window and back out the same way. They made it look easy.
There’s a guy there aiding my entry. I get stuck at the butt (of course). I say, “This isn’t working. I won’t fit. Help me out.” I am saying this as I am dangling, well not really dangling, because he’s supporting my entire weight, with two legs angled in and the rest sticking out.
He says, “You can fit!” I’m like WTH for the third time. As he’s forcing me through the ridiculously tiny opening, I am thanking my brother again. Like, thanks bunches!
Somehow, I am in the car, which should be a positive thing, but hold up, wait a minute. The entire inside of the car is metal, including the seat. And, apparently, big butts don’t fit through the windows, because they cannot fit in the driver’s seat.
With this final revelation, I am pleading to get out. Because the NASCAR Enforcer is hell-bent on doing his job, this whole little fiasco lasts all of a minute at the most.
Next thing I know, the Crew Manager is telling me to go. Go! Go, now! I immediately snap back. Game on. I mean, race on! And I ain’t stalling out.
This guy is stereo in my head and he’s not playing music. Man, these NASCAR people are serious.
Now, he’s screeching (it probably wasn’t really a screech), “You should be in third gear! You’re still in first gear! Shift! Shift!”
I am like, he knows way too much. OK, Mister NASCAR Crew-whatever! You want third gear now? Fine! I quickly go from 1st gear straight to 3rd gear. And, praise the Lord, I did not stall out.
Mister-in-my-head talks me around the course. He tells me when to speed up and when to move over and let the Ride-Along Driver pass.
I notice, as I am getting the most instruction to that point, that the racetrack is severely tilted in towards the curve. The only flat driving surface is the take-off point.
Wait, did Mister-in-my-head say, “Go all out! Get to your top speed!” And, even though I am scared pee-less, I might as well rock this! So, I literally put my pedal to the metal.
The track and the race car seem to melt into each other, consuming me. That attraction is undeniable and the feeling is an exhilaration of utter control. It’s an onslaught of driving domination. Absolutely nothing like it.
Suddenly, I can faintly hear Mister-in-my-head. What is he saying? And I am back to reality. “Slow down,” is what he keeps repeating. And his last instruction guides me safely off the track.
The sheer exhilaration was phenomenal. The race experience was priceless. I am talking flat-out spectacular. It was scary and I do not recommend it (but I do!).
We burned that rubber! Smoked most of the 30 or so guys there. And, watch out ladies: F. Theresa placed 7th at a top speed of 146.65 MPH in NASCAR Racing Experience’s top ten for December 12, 2016. My sister placed 12th at 141 MPH!
We were barely out of those steel traps they call race cars and my sister is already planning a ride-along experience.
But, me? Let’s just give it a resounding, “Hells, Nah!” I am so done. All set. Besides, I really don’t think my buttocks can take it again.
BTW, I have to give a shout-out to the NASCAR crew. They were all very friendly and super nice. We were impressed. Especially since we were not at any time treated in a way that reminded us that we were Black. Kudos to NASCAR!