A Cup Car in Sprint Cup Land

alt

The tale of how a NNJR PCA guy and die-hard road racing fan found himself surrounded by thousands of NASCAR fans, and lived to tell about it.

             This adventure started with a message from fellow NNJR instructor Scott Lynn: “Let’s have lunch.” Great idea. I knew that Scott had been working on starting his new charity for the benefit of amateurs who are injured in motorsports activities, and I am interested in hearing how that is going. Turns out that Scott had been invited on short notice to set up a trailer at the June Pocono 400 event to introduce the Motorsport Rehabilitation Foundation to NASCAR fans. Really cool. Let me know if you need any help…

            As a draw for fans, Scott and co-founder Michele Randall had the idea to display a vintage stock car racer associated with the old Flemington track. Great idea!

            A day later – Thursday – my phone rang. “We need to be at Pocono tomorrow afternoon and the race car deal fell through. We need something else to draw fans to our tent. Any chance you could bring your Cup Car?” “Sure, but it’s a Porsche, it has nothing to do with NASCAR.” A check with Pocono confirmed that this was indeed a “Chevrolet Event,” no other cars welcome. But “Oh wait, it’s a race car? No problem.” What had I just gotten myself into? 

           By 2pm Friday I was rolling along I80, towing the GT3 Cup to Pocono Raceway. Thanks to NNJR, I had driven there on many occasions over the years and knew the place very well, or so I thought. But I had never been to the Pocono 400, or any other NASCAR race for that matter. I did not have a clue what to expect.

            Scott and Michele found the credentials office, where we were treated with courtesy and given a personal “guide” who led us through Gate 5 and around a circuitous route into a huge area just behind the grandstand. I always thought there was nothing but weeds on the other side! I unloaded the cup car and drove it to our designated spot in the “FanFare” area and we started to set up. Across the pavement was a matrix of massive trailers, set up to sell to fans souvenirs of their favorite drivers. We were right in front of Earnhardt Junior’s trailer. Now that’s a good spot! Maybe. Behind us were hot dog purveyors, kiddie rides, a large Bud Lite bar, more souvenir stands, armored vehicles courtesy the National Guard, the crew from some TV show and a giant Chevy booth. All fans entering the event had to pass through this gauntlet of souvenir shops to enter the grandstands. A marketeer’s delight! Whether this was a safe and friendly environment for my cup car was at this point not obvious to me. 

            Before leaving for the day, we hiked over to the track and chatted with a couple of the safety workers when Jimmy Johnson jogged by. A good idea – combine exercise with a track inspection. I did not know what the other drivers were doing, but the fans camping in the infield were just ramping up for a long evening of liquid entertainment.

            We, on the other hand, spent Friday night with Eugene Hahn, another NNJR instructor who lives nearby. Thanks for the hospitality, Eugene! 

            Saturday we arrived at 0700 to get ready for the onslaught. From Saturday morning through mid-day Sunday, hundreds upon hundreds of NASCAR fans stopped by to look at the cup car and check out MRF. Some conversations were truly memorable. In case you are wondering, the Bud Lite bar is doing a fine business by 9AM…

            The most frequently asked question was not “how fast will it go?” It was “what are those things attached to the wheels?” I left my transport rings (they attach to the center lock hubs and allow you to strap the car down inside the trailer) on to save time unloading and loading. After I explained it to one woman, she looked at me and said “can’t you come up with something better than that?” I said, “OK, what I really do is sharpen the edges and then use them to slice through the tires of my competitors.” She looked at me, smiled broadly and said, “That’s much better!” and walked away, leaving me wondering if she had confused me with Charleton Heston or Sean Connery. In retrospect probably not.

            There were quite a few offers to buy the car, generally along the lines of “I’ll give you a hundred bucks for it.” After one such offer, I said “Do I look like an idiot? Make me a better offer.” He thought about it, glanced over at his friend who was at the time busy with his beer and his chewing tobacco, and said “I’ll give you him.” I said, “That’s more like it. Keep talkin’.” Somehow we did not close the deal

            The Army and National Guard guys really liked the car. I tried to work a different deal. Let me drive the Bradley fighting vehicle, and I’ll let you drive the cup car. Didn’t quite get that one closed either – they probably did not trust me with the 25mm chain gun.

            To my surprise, some people actually knew what the car was, including two Brits who were on a US tour and who showed up in what were obviously F1 logo shirts. A long, long way away, both literally and figuratively, from Silverstone. There were quite a few current/former/wannabee Porsche owners as well (yes, Craig, I did sell NNJR whenever I could). And there were guys who wanted to compare my intake manifold to the one on their 1982 small block Chevy. Gear heads come in all manner of flavors.

            As I had driven the car on the new Pocono pavement a few weeks earlier (via “another” car club, but in my defense with a bunch of NNJR guys joining in), I was able to talk about what it was like to drive on the Tri-Oval and especially on the new pavement. This was a big hit with the fans. I explained away my modest average lap speed of 143 MPH based on my advancing age and the fact that I would have to pay to fix it if I stuffed it. No sympathy on the first point, but plenty on the second.

            Saturday, I let a bunch of people climb into the driver’s seat for family photo ops. One young lady was so excited and enthusiastic just to be able to sit in a real Porsche race car that it made the entire day worthwhile.

            Lunch on Sunday was on the fly – my first taste of a corn dog. Surprisingly good, even if it reduced my life expectancy by a week or so.

            There was a guy exhibiting an antique dirt track car close to our location. He came by to visit, we talked for quite a while, and he invited me to join him at a track in PA, bring my safety gear with me, and drive on a dirt track. 2700 pounds, 400 HP, sideways in dirt/mud. How cool is that? Yes, I know what you are thinking: I can do that in my car at Thunderbolt.

            So, how were the races? Beats me. I saw the start of the ARCA race. First six laps under yellow. Could not figure it out until I saw the tow truck with the smashed up car enter the pits. Owners’ probably are not impressed when you wreck the car on the warm up lap. Saw about four laps of the Sprint Cup race on Sunday PM after we had packed everything up. We got out of the parking lot while the race was on and the getting out was still good. Otherwise, expect to proceed with an average velocity of 0.1 mph for multiple hours in your quest for the exit.

            It had been a long, amazing 48 hours. The staff at Pocono, faced with the monumental task of organizing and running this massive event, were without exception friendly, courteous, and helpful. As for the fans, any prior fears I had were unwarranted. Except for the one nincompoop who tried to discharge my fire suppression system (previously disarmed just in case), the NASCAR fans I spoke with are just like us – guys and gals who love cars and respect and admire those who race them – no matter what the venue or make of car. Makes you realize how very lucky we are to be able to run such wonderful cars on tracks like Pocono. OK, no one is paying us to drive, but make no mistake, we are living the dream.