On How I got schooled in all things NASCAR, or I Ain’t a Virgin No More.
Let’s just say that I don’t think I’ve fully recovered from this weekend yet.
It all started on Friday. We were having stellarly gross weather. It was chilly, drizzly, traffic sucked; and it took me two hours to get to the Atlanta Motor Speedway after work. However, as soon as I got there, I was transported to a different, rather magical world.
I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy my time there, and frankly I was a little afraid of what was in store for us; but I have to tell you, I had the best weekend of my life. Our friends MA and Ken rent part of a block of campsites that the same people occupy year after year. I’ve never met a nicer crowd of folks. They immediately included the boy and I into their group and made us feel welcome. These aren’t the kind of people who pull up their shirts to get Mardi Gras beads (although there was quite a bit of that and other Things and Stuff going on at other campsites, but we ignored them for the most part). these are just good ol’ Southern folks who spend several weekends a year driving around to various races, make and eat great food, and drink a lot of bourbon and moonshine.
Speaking of moonshine....
The minute I got there, I was introduced to Billy Ray, a bounty hunter who lost his wife at Talladega (she passed away of congestive heart failure). He gave me a two-minute rundown of why moonshine is so important to NASCAR (and let me have a big swig of his bottle), and then the initiation started.
What initiation, you say? Yeah, that’s what I said too. Since it was our first time camping in the infield, the boy and I were marked as Infield Virgins and had to take part in the Infield Initiation. Our hosts take this shit very seriously, so there is no laughing during the ceremony, as I learned the hard way when the bucket I was wearing as a hat was slammed down hard on my head (I thought for a second that my nose broke, but fortunately that was not the case). Billy Ray was our Master of Ceremonies.
Me looking scared out of my gourd. It was scary at first; Billy Ray went from Nice Drunk to Mean Bastard Drunk in a matter of seconds (he then calmed down considerably and was nice again). Plus he was parading around a stick that eventually caught fire which he kept banging on our bucket hats and threatening to poke us with. I honestly have no recollection of what speeches were made, and the evening after this Ceremony took place is really fuzzy to me, so fuzzy that when I looked at the pictures the next morning I had no recollection of half of this even taking place.
After all speeches were complete, they made us drink a big huge cup full of moonshine, bourbon, Sierra Mist, Coors Lite, and hot sauce. We chugged it down...
... and surprisingly didn’t throw up afterwards, but did have to chug something else to get the taste of the brew out of our mouths.
I then ran around and sat on people’s laps and told them all how wonderful they were.
This is me sitting on Billy Ray (left) and Bob’s (right) laps. Bob plays Santa each year, and starts growing out his beard in April. Bob is the coolest Santa I’ve ever met. I don’t think they minded me sitting on their laps. Heh.
We made everything that we planned on making foodwise, but with one exception; we smoked the pork tenderloins instead of doing the cornbread stuffing with apples. We feasted on grilled oysters (some of our campsite friends are from Louisiana), chili, a gumbo that had alligator meat in it as well as the other usual ingredients, freshly caught trout.
This is Mr. Quinlan shucking oysters. He and his son, whom I also called Quinlan (I never caught their first names and everyone just kept calling them both Quinlan), and another friend of theirs did the majority of the cooking. As soon as they were done cooking breakfast, they’d take a brief rest and start on lunch. It was wild. I think I gained 5 lbs in three days of marathon eating.
We knew our friends Stephanie, Sperry, and Chris would be camping in the infield on Saturday, but we weren’t sure where they would be located. Imagine our surprise when Saturday afternoon three carloads of people (including about 20 of Chris' friends from Minnesota) pulled into the campsite directly next to us. It went all downhill after that (but in a good downhill kind of way, ya know).
From left to right: Ken, Greg, the boy, shotgunning a beer at 9 am on Saturday. Goodtimes.
It all happened far too fast; that’s usually the case when you’re having a good time. We’ve been invited back to the next Atlanta race in March 2009, and I’m totally there. It was an eye opening experience as well. If you want to see a slice of Americana, be included in something really strange, totally insane, and ridiculously fun, you need to not only get yourself to a NASCAR race but camp out there if you can. I’ve never seen a more patriotic crowd in my life. Also, they are fiercely loyal to whichever driver they deem their favorite, and take the whole thing extremely seriously. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.
Thank you to Ken and MA for including the boy and I in your lives.