I woke up Friday morning with a big smile on my face, the day I had been anxiously awaiting for months had finally arrived; in less than eight hours I would be standing in Charlotte, North Carolina.
To me the seven and a half hour drive was nothing, I was perfectly fine with it, in fact I was excited. I love being in the car for trips, it's part of the experience. If you don't enjoy the journey how can you possibly love to travel? When I was younger I used to get car sick, so I'm supposed to eat before I'm in the car for too long but I opted to skip breakfast.
I was halfway to Charlotte before my nerves inevitably caught up with me. I tried to ignore it, but the feeling eventually hit my stomach and I knew I was going to have to change something. One of the first things I did was start eating peppermint Altoids (mints). Peppermint is supposed to settle nervous stomachs. The Altoids worked the first two years at Kentucky, and they worked while I was on my way to Charlotte.
Because I am always over prepared, my Dad and I were driving through Mooresville when I finally looked up race shop hours. My trusty pal Google said Hendrick's was closing at 5 O'clock, and the GPS said we wouldn't arrive at the shop until 4:30. (On a serious note, I previously had no intention of going to a race shop Friday afternoon otherwise I would have looked up the hours days before.)
If you have ever been to the Hendrick race shop then you already know the beauty the campus is capable of. To say I was stunned is an understatement. I was left breathless, as I always am when I see race shops, in a way I cannot explain. It genuinely feels magical, as stupid as that sounds it's true.
So I finally pull out my camera and I get two shots of the entrance
We parked the car, and my Dad and I decide to go into the 9/24 building first. To the left of the door was a William Byron car and a Chase Elliott car. To the right were other cars and tons of awards were displayed on all of the walls. The 88/48 building was basically the same, but more centered on those two drivers. We didn't have time to go to the museum so we went to the gift shop instead. Walking in, I had no intention of leaving with anything. However, Dad found sheetmetal on sale and he may have been talked into buying an Elliott 24 fender from the previous season. When we were checking out, we found lug nuts for a dollar each and we both picked up a Byron lug nut.
Then we left the building I got my final shots of the building and we entered our hotel address into the GPS. Lucky for us the hotel we were in was, no joke, literally directly across the street. As in, from the hotel window we could see one of Mr. Hendrick's car dealerships.
The hotel had those fun little cardboard props sitting in the lobby I took a picture but didn't hold them up that would have caused too much attention. (Although, I admit it would have been hilarious)
Once we had everything in our room we went to dinner. I'm not sure how many of you know about this but Jimmie Johnson, yes driver of the 48 chevy, has a restaurant in Uptown Charlotte. It's called Southbound and is a Mexican restaurant. I love Mexican food as much as the next guy, but the food at Southbound is honestly so good. We got guacamole, Mexican cokes, and I got a really strange sounding quesadilla. I can't remember what it was called but it had chicken, pineapple, black beans and corn on it. I definitely recommend it. As for the restaurant itself, the atmosphere was really nice, and calming.
Now, had I been smart, we wouldn't have been sitting in Southbound, we would have been sitting in the stands at Charlotte Motor Speedway (CMS), watching qualifying. But we weren't. We were enjoying the best Mexican food I've ever had so I wasn't very upset about it.
We left Southbound, and this is the part where I demanded we drive around the city, because I absolutely love Charlotte. I've travelled quite a bit since I was little, and nowhere has ever made me feel the way being in Charlotte has. We didn't do anything extravagant like go in the NASCAR Hall of Fame or anything, we just drove around the streets.
My dad wanted to make sure we knew where the track was for the race tomorrow (which means I refused to go to the hotel before we drove past the track so I could see if we could hear the trucks racing yet). So we drove by, we were happily caught up in the pre-race traffic (I was happy anyways) listening to the distant revving of engines and then we drove back to the hotel to watch the race on TV.
Saturday came around, the day you all were excited for, and I woke up to rain. As a race fan, I have a natural unease when it rains, even more so on race day, and an even stronger sense of unease when it's raining and you're staying two minutes down the road from the track. The hotel had free breakfast, and my stomach cramps were back but I forced my breakfast down - diced fruit, yogurt and a boiled egg. (Why do I only make healthy options when I'm on the road?)
Since it was raining, we clearly weren't going to the track early. (I have a natural sensitivity to the sun so we probably wouldn't have anyways) Instead we were stuck thinking of what we would do for the day. My dad found some website with all the race shop hours on them and just like that it was decided - we were going to visit Stewart-Haas Racing for the first time ever, and take my second ever trip to Team Penske.
Since Penske is located all the way in Mooresville it only made sense to go there first. The shop was just as beautiful then as it was the first time I visited last August. The only difference was there were only a small handful of cars in the shop since the others were at the track for practice.
We spent like an hour in Penske looking at the cars that were there and wandering around the gift shop. Again, my plan wasn't to buy anything but we needed credential holders and I may or may not have fallen in love with a leather Team Penske journal. (I have a week spot for notebooks and pen sets)
We left Penske and made our way to the Stewart-Haas shop, we bought my little sister a beanie and my mom a Freaky Fast shirt. The Stewart-Haas shop had a smaller visitor center but I did get to see Kurt Busch's Daytona 500 win car from last season. That thing got beat up!
There was also this fun little picture opportunity area that I had my dad take my picture at.
My dad and I knew we needed to get food at some point, so I kept eating Altoids and ignoring my nerves and we went to Texas Roadhouse. Yeah, I know, it's a weird place to stop before hitting the track but we only got cheese fries and fried pickles. We ate a little bit of the appetizers and I ate some of the rolls they give you when you first arrive at your table. We took the left overs to the hotel and got our stuff for the track. By then the rain had stopped and the sun as even starting to peek out.
Track Tip: If you over heat easy and are planning to be at the track all day I recommend bringing a little spray bottle with water in it, and spraying your arms when you start to get too hot. It sounds silly but this seriously saved my butt at Kentucky in 2017.
There was still time to kill so when we got back to the hotel we watched some documentary about the track that FS1 had on. It was pretty interesting, it had information about past drivers, about the track, about some races held at the track.
We got in the car around 4 o'clock and were parked at CMS within minutes. We parked super far from the entrance and it was getting hot out, I was starting to worry about over heating again, when a bus pulled up and asked if we needed a ride to the door. We told the driver yes and sat near the front. The bus was filled with people, and the driver was hilarious, he kept talking bad about every driver on everyone's shirt it was so funny. He saved us like ten minutes of walking I'm seriously so grateful. I'll take the Penske trash talk over over-heating at the track any day.
My dad set up my scanner and I took pictures of the track, and we walked around the Toyota and Chevy displays before deciding it was time to find our seats.
We were sitting down for the Open by 5 o'clock and I'd just like to point out that the Open didn't start until like 6 or 6:30, so we had some waiting to do. The seats we had were so close to the flag stand.
We got to watch Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez and Aj Allmendinger drive their way into the All-Star race, we watched the pre-race concert and the driver intros. I got about two hundred pictures that day, leading up too and during the races. It's been pretty complicated trying to decide which pictures I want to use since I obviously can't put two hundred of them in this post. So I've created a "Track Photos" tab where I'll put a bunch of them, I'm not sure I'll put all of them yet - we'll see.
This race was like no other, besides the fact that it was the All-Star. I really loved the new aero-package I'm excited to see if it gets used more often or not. From the stands point of view I have a positive feeling about it. I'm interested to see how it would look on TV.
We left the track that night pretty quick, I'd say we were back at the hotel and ordering pizza within twenty minutes of leaving out seats. If you've ever been to a race you know it's typically not that easy.
That was our last night in Charlotte, we drove home the next day. It's barely been a week and I miss the city more than anything.
I hope to one day call Charlotte my home, until then I have to hope that I'll get to return before then.
I'm a junior in high school but that doesn't stop me from keeping up with and bringing you the latest from NASCAR!