As a young man, I grew up around cars and racing. When you’re poor, you have to learn a few ways to turn a wrench, if for no other reason than survival. Having family and neighbors that raced on the dirt tracks of Eastern Kentucky certainly made me pay attention to the NASCAR series or as it was more often referred to then, the Winston Cup. I guess I’m showing my age here, but the point is simple, racing is in my blood, so it only made sense to cover the race held right here in our great Commonwealth.
After a Friday night rain-out of the Xfinity Series, Saturday became a double-header for race fans. The Xfinity race was at 12pm and the NASCAR series race was a 7:30 start.
I arrived at the track around 3:30 pm. After finding my way to the credentials office and back to the tunnel that leads to the infield. That’s when the reality began to sit in. This is a sport that I grew up on. One that I have watched with multiple generations of my family. A sport filled with Legends. I’m not gonna lie, I got a little nervous.
I made my way to the press area and picked up my lovely yellow Nikon vest and then I was off to the garage area. Here is where you quickly realize why NASCAR is so different than so many other sports. You use all five senses at a NASCAR race. From the smell of ethanol, to the taste of your own sweat, to the loud engines, to the beautiful vibrant colors and feeling the earth rumble beneath you…you are a part of the experience. You can tour the garages. Be next to the cars. See the drivers. Touch the track. It’s incredible and refreshing to see just how much access fans have at a NASCAR race. Kudos on the fan experience side of things!
Photo of myself and Will Hearne. Photo courtesy of Mike Howard Photography.
After getting a feel for the layout of the garage area and walkways to pit road, I realized it was time for the Sawyer Brown concert. So I made my way to the start/finish line and joined mamy fans that were already lined up along the track. Some standing, some sitting, some kneeling, some staring at their phones.
Sawyer Brown had a long string of hits, three gold albums and long before American Idol was a thing, they won Star Search back in the 80’s. So the band certainly has a large catalogue of music to pull from. Their sound was quite impressive for an open-air event and I felt the band connected well with those in attendance. I for one was glad to see that vocalist Mark Miller was still just as active and spirited as he has always been.
Next came a special tribute to perhaps the most beloved driver in the history of NASCAR. It was the “King” Richard Petty’s 80th birthday and out of the sky came a parachuted individual with a huge celebratory flag waving behind them. I was told the “King” was in attendance, but I never spotted him. Thankfully though, that was my only disappointment on the day.
With many Toyota Tundra’s lining the wall, driver introductions began. As the trucks delivered the drivers to the stage sat up at the start/finish line, it was easy to see who were loved and loathed, as the rowdy crowd freely gave cheers and boos a like. No cheers were louder than those for the retiring Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (Who was given a jukebox as a retirement gift earlier and promptly donated it the Nationwide Children’s Hospital.) and no boos were louder than those for the self-made villain, Kyle “Rowdy” Busch.
Photo courtesy of Will Hearne and the Owenton News Herald.
Once off the stage and back into the trucks, the drivers made their way to their cars. Once there, we were all treated to a great rendition of “God Bless America”, a wonderful pre-race prayer and a fly-over during the “Star-Spangled Banner”.
Then it was time for those famous four words, “Drivers, START YOUR ENGINES!” What an adrenaline rush! I saw an ARCA race years ago from the stands, I absolutely did not realize just how loud, powerful, obnoxious and truly American it is to be bombarded with so much raw horsepower. I hoped we could turn em off and do it again, but my cries fell on deaf ears. Haha
The brand new 2018 Toyota Camry was the pace car, which is built here in Kentucky at the Georgetown plant, led the way onto the track with none other than our Governor Matt Bevin behind the wheel. I didn’t notice he was driving until I began editing the photos, as you can see below.
As for the race itself, I will leave the recap to the professionals, I will simply say that Martin Truex, Jr. won the race. I was very, very impressed with Kyle Larson and the Chip Ganassi owned 42 Chevrolet. After failing inspection twice, Kyle started in dead last and finished a very strong 2nd. This was Martin Truex, Jr.’s third win on the season and it moved him within one point of the Series leader, who also happens to be Kyle Larson. Kyle Busch won the earlier Xfinity race and ran strong all day. Seeming as if he was the car to beat, but in the end Kyle finished in 5th place. Which gave Toyota four of the top six spots.
Watch the awesome recap from FOX below:
With the Kentucky Speedway, we truly do have a world-class facility. The capacity was lowered in recent years, but that does not take away anything that the Speedway offers. I would personally like to see the facility used for many more events than what it currently hosts. A large music festival would be a great addition. The highway infrastructure has been greatly improved and there is tons of parking and camping.
Many are worried about the future of NASCAR, especially with it’s biggest star in Dale Earnhardt, Jr. retiring, but as long as there are Dad’s who work on cars in the backyard you’ll have son’s who will want to be wrench turners who want to go fast. That family tradition is why NASCAR will always be around. Kentucky has now said it’s goodbye to the one and only Dale, Jr. We are certainly happy that you and your Dad were a part of that family tradition. So long for now and thanks for the memories. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride as much as we all have.
Photo courtesy of Will Hearne and the Owenton News Herald