Is It Noisy in Here, or Is It Just Me?

Anyone who has had more than a three-minute conversation with Bill any time since early January knows that this past weekend was devoted to car racing. Bill has been beside himself with excitement for what transpired at Phoenix International Raceway April 7, 8, and 9, and couldn’t curb his enthusiasm.

And for good reason, because the way Bill spent the last few days is a dream come true for a car racing fan.

It all started when he received a Christmas gift from Dave and Jll for a ride-along in an Indie car at PIR. You might recall that last Christmas he received a similar gift from them, only that time it was a NASCAR ride-along. He had such a good time last year that it was no wonder he so eagerly awaited the Indie car ride.

Bill has a way of figuring out how to make a fun activity even more fun. In his Bill-like way, he learned that the NASCAR Experience (which is the company that offers the ride alongs) offered the opportunity to DRIVE either an Indie car or a NASCAR for eight minutes by yourself in exchange for providing slave labor for three days for NASCAR Experience.

Only here’s the thing. For Bill, it wasn’t slave labor at all; rather, though it was indeed hard work, it was a labor of love. Getting to be around race cars and racing fans, being able to shoot the breeze with people who get just as excited as he does at seeing the blur of cars go by and hearing the nearly deafening noise of the cars, and talking to new friends about Chase Elliott’s chances this year all made him a happy man.

In fact, he was so excited about his racing plans that he bought my brother, who loves NASCAR as much as Bill, a NASCAR ride along.

Friday and Saturday I did little more than drop him off at the race track before heading to the hotel room that we obtained so that he didn’t have to make the hour-and-15-minute drive twice a day for three days. I’ll take reading by the pool drinking a gin and tonic over talking about Dale Junior’s chances at taking it all this year with strangers any day of the week. While Bill helped men and women of all ages into race cars, I saw Beauty and the Beast. He came home smelling like exhaust fumes; I came home smelling like buttered popcorn.

But I did have the opportunity when I dropped him off on Friday morning to meet one of his co-volunteers. Surprisingly, she was a young woman in her late 20s or early 30s who is a big racing fan. Lavinia was born in Romania, but came to the United States when she was 5. Having lived in Chicago much of her life, the only trace of an accent she had was a Chicago twang. And in the It’s-a-Small-World Department, she lived only a hop and a skip from where Bill lived much of his Chicago life.

Lavinia and Bill

As we talked, I learned that she is well traveled, and makes frequent trips back to Europe. She told us about a recent trip she took to Paris, and how this particular visit was exceptionally exciting because it was on Bastille Day. She talked about how much energy the city had because of the holiday, and how she enjoyed the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower.

“Wasn’t there a terror attack in France that took place last Bastille Day?” I asked, being such a student of current events.

“Yes,” she said. “That’s when I was there.”

She buried the lead. Or, as they would spell it in journalism school, lede. Because SHE WAS IN FRANCE DURING A TERROR ATTACK. The surprising thing, however, was that we probably learned about the Nice attack before she did. All she knew was that it took her several hours to get back to her hotel because streets were closed. That, and she was getting frantic text messages from family and friends saying things like Mother of God! Tell me you’re hundreds of kilometers from Nice!

But back to NASCAR. And Indie cars. Because Bill had a two-in-one experience yesterday. He had his ride-along in an Indie car, which he said went extremely fast and was extremely fun. And because of his volunteer work, he drove a NASCAR all by himself. Well, sort of all by himself, because there was a man in the tower feeding him instructions on what to do, how many RPMs to get it up to on the straight-away, and ordering him to take his foot off the accelerator as he approached a curve. And getting annoyed when Bill didn’t exactly, well, obey.



As for my brother, he was able to drive in one of Jeff Gordon’s old cars, and his driver told him they reached a speed of 130 mph on the straight-away. Dave’s assessment as he emerged from the car? “That was a blast.”

You had to be there I guess.

This post linked to Grand Social.

Start. Your. Engines.

NASCAR comes to Phoenix two times a year – once in March, at the beginning of the racing season, and again in November, nearing the end of the racing season. Bill is a NASCAR fan and so is my brother Dave. So the two of them go to both races every year, and have for nearly a decade.

This year, my brother had planned to attend the race with Bill as usual. What no one counted on is that my sister-in-law would have an accident at work that resulted in a broken bone in her back. I know, I know. You all just sucked in your breath. I’m so happy to tell you that she is recovering unbelievably well, and in fact, got out of the hospital a couple of weeks ago and got out of the rehab facility yesterday, and is now at home.

Yesterday – the day of the NASCAR race at Phoenix International Raceway.

My brother, being the sensitive kind of guy he is, decided it wouldn’t be prudent to do either one of these two things: 1. Ask the doctor to keep her in rehab for one more day so that he could enjoy beer and cigars at a racetrack; or 2. Order up an Uber to take Sami home in her wheelchair so that he could enjoy beer and cigars at a racetrack.

Dave took Sami home; Bill went to Plan B, which is me…..


Because I don’t normally go, I don’t pay attention to the preparation involved. What I learned is that Bill owns a little table and a little grill (both of which I was unaware) and he brings breakfast food and lunch food and beer and cigars and all necessary items to accompany all of the above. Dave assured me that Bill has everything down to a science, and that was true.

If my mom was the Queen of Picnics, then Bill is the Prince. He even remembered to include a tablecloth for his little table. My mom always had a tablecloth in her picnic basket.

The fact that we awoke with the birds resulted in us getting a superb parking place very close to the entrance of the actual racetrack. Despite the early hour, we weren’t the first, but nearly so. The early arrival also resulted in me having a bloody mary at 8 o’clock in the morning, and not feeling a bit odd about it. It did occur to me that if Bill came out of our bedroom some morning this week at 8 o’clock and saw me sipping a bloody mary, he might be concerned. Something about being at the racetrack makes it alright. In fact, Bill told me by the time I had my first bloody mary, he and my brother would have already downed at least one beer and smoked at least one cigar.

The race was a lot of fun, I must admit. It was hot. Damn hot. So hot that we didn’t stay for the entire race. So hot that despite the fact that we both slathered ourselves with sunscreen, we resemble brown bears. Take a look at this tan line….

Here’s some things I learned about NASCAR yesterday. A. The pre-race festivities (i.e. tailgating) are about as much fun as the race. B. The best things about the race are the flyover by the F-35s from Luke Air Force Base right after the performance of the National Anthem and when we hear the words, “Drivers, start…your….engines. Vrooooooooom. It’s awesome.

But perhaps the most interesting thing I learned is that NASCAR fans are incorrectly described as hillbillies or rednecks. In fact, every single time I, myself, told anyone that I was going to the race, I added the exclamation yeehaw. The truth is very different. Oh, there might be some rednecks at a NASCAR race because the fans comprise a large variety of folks. But as we walked through the area where people park their RVs (most of which cost as much as our AZ house), it became abundantly clear that while they are unwaveringly patriotic as evidenced by the American flags that adorned a large number of the vehicles, NASCAR fans are likely to be bank presidents or lawyers or successful business owners.

Having said that, I must admit to hearing the guy sitting behind us in the stands tell his buddy, “Damn, It just feels weird to not have my gun.”

Whatevah! I like NASCAR.

This post linked to Grand Social.

Guest Post: Driving Fast

By Bill McLain

Bill Hot Laps 2 4.16Three hot laps at Phoenix International Raceway. That was my Christmas gift from my son and daughter-in-law, David and Jll. Just like with all race cars participating in NASCAR, I had to enter the blue and white race car through the passenger side window opening, no easy task. There was no side window either, just a net, presumably to keep me in the car should the need arise (e.g., the car flips over). After I was buckled in, off we went out of the pits and onto the race track itself. The impression of speed and power was remarkable, and together with the sound of the lightly muffled engine, it made the ride one that I will not soon forget. Although the track is banked in the corners, centrifugal force had me hugging the passenger door (or where a door would be if there had been one), and my head pushed against the right side of the helmet. This may sound unpleasant, but it wasn’t.  It merely increased the sensation of speed and kept the adrenaline pumping.

The attached video will give you some idea of this experience, but to get the full benefit, you should “just do it.”

Nana’s Notes: My role was designated observer, and it was really fun to watch. I had wondered whether Bill would wish he could drive (another option that some were doing). However, at the end of it I knew (and he confirmed) that it was more fun to leave the driving to the professional driver. The people who were driving were being understandably more cautious, while Bill FLEW by. Those who know me and have seen how nervous a passenger I am will be surprised to learn that I think it would be fun to do what Bill did on Saturday. 

This post linked to the GRAND Social 

If You Knew Sushi

imagesBill and my brother Dave go twice a year to Phoenix International Speedway and watch cars go around in circles very fast and very noisily. In other words, NASCAR. Bill took me once. I bought a Danika Patrick cap, people-watched, and even watched the cars for a bit. I had a blast, but once was enough. My ears couldn’t take it.

Last Sunday, instead of going to NASCAR, I enjoyed my own quiet day.

Usually when they go to the track, I spend the day with my sister Bec. Last time, she and I went out to lunch and then watched the Broncos at her house until it was clear the NASCAR race was going to be rained out and the Broncos were going to lose. I headed home and beat Bill by mere minutes.

I assumed I would do the same thing this time (sans the rain), but as Sunday crept closer, I realized that what I really wanted to do was, well, nothing. That’s a funny thing to want to do considering I’m retired and so I mostly spend my days doing exactly that. But I do exactly that with Bill.

What I wanted was a day to do nothing by myself.

I’m not a tried and true introvert by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, when Bill and I did our food tour of Old Scottsdale last week, I sort of became BFFs with a couple from North Carolina taking the same tour. After one stop, Bill said to me, “Kris, you’re really a pleasant, outgoing person.”

That’s not altogether true. Put me in a room of strangers at a cocktail party, and I’m a mess. I walk in, see that groups have formed, assume that no one could possibly want to include me in their group, and fidget until someone takes pity on me. But put me in a one-on-one situation (the grocery store clerk, a movie line, a tour group), and I can strike up any number of conversations. I’m not, as Bill thinks, particularly pleasant. Instead, I am particularly nosy. So having spent 15 minutes with my short-lived BFF from North Carolina, I know all about the city of Charlotte, I know what she does for a living, I know where she was born and grew up. I was just getting to her shoe and bra size when the tour ended.

But while I’m not a true introvert, I’m also not one of those never-met-a-stranger extraverts. What I am, however, is someone who needs a break from people. I need time to myself once in awhile to reenergize.

In Denver, I actually have a fair amount of time to myself. Bill is often gone, either out to lunch with friends, hanging out at his favorite cigar shop, or building God-only-knows what in our back yard. Besides, our Denver house, while not a mansion, is big enough that we can avoid seeing each other for stretches of time. It’s got an upstairs.

Here in our 1,250 square foot house in the desert, it is hard to not spend time with each other. And that’s mostly a good thing. But a break is nice.

Sunday, I did very little, but one thing I did give great thought to is what I would have for lunch. Bill almost always goes along with whatever I’d like to eat. There are, however, certain things he simply would never choose to eat. So as I gave thought to my lunch, I kept that in mind.

Mexican food always – ALWAYS – sounds good to me. But Bill likes Mexican food and we eat it often. He also likes hamburgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, even fish and chips. What he will eat –but never choose — is anything Asian.

So what’s for lunch? Sushi, of course.

I got there just after the restaurant opened. While others might complain, I rarely feel like I am ignored if I am by myself. And, in fact, I was seated very quickly and in a nice location. The waiter took my sushi order very quickly. Sushi, of course, takes a bit of time, but I got my eight delicious pieces of sushi nigari in a timely manner.

And then I apparently became invisible. That was fine as long as I was eating my delicious sushi. However, when I wanted a refill on my drink, or was finished and was awaiting my bill, I would have liked to have been visible. But the waiter, who earlier gave me such good attention, simply kept walking as I would say, “Excuse me, Sir?” to his back. I eventually gave up on him and tried to attract the attention of another server. But, see above. I was invisible.

Anyway, eventually I paid my bill (you generally can get even the most stubborn server’s attention if you start heading toward the door), came home, and did what I would never do if Bill had been home. I binge watched Gilmore Girls.

And that’s all I’ll say about that.