subway 500

So I’m back from Martinsville — what a fun time! My first live Nascar race, and I loved it.

Dad and I were going to drive to Martinsville (5 hours south) on Saturday, but on Friday night, we decided to just go ahead and go to Roanoke where our hotel was, and then drive to Martinsville early Saturday morning. Well, we go to the hotel in Roanoke and it sucked — we slept horribly and actually ended up checking out the very next day. Anyway, on Saturday, we drove down to the track to watch practice and happy hour. This was awesome because there was NOBODY in the grandstands, so we got to watch everyone practicing which was pretty cool. We were going to watch the truck race on Saturday, but it was cold so we went back to Roanoke to get our stuff, found a hotel in Burlington, NC and stayed there. I was so exhausted I was in bed by 9pm.

Sunday we woke up at 6, had breakfast, and headed to Martinsville, which was about an hours drive from Burlington. We made it by about 9:15am and headed towards the merchandise haulers. It’s typical in Nascar for drivers to sign autographs before the race, so I got to see a few cool people — Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch (bleh!) and Michael Waltrip. I didn’t get anything signed, just took a few pictures. I had my eye out for Elliott Sadler, who I never did see…

It was so rainy, overcast and cold yesterday that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it thru the race…I wasn’t even sure there would be a race with the way the weather was acting. But, everything got started on time and it was super cool. We rented these headset things where we could listen in with drivers and that was really cool. We could hear drivers bitching, getting pissed, cussing people out – it was hysterical.

Jimmie Johnson won the race, and Elliott Sadler had his first DNF (did not finish) of the season. He was 15 laps short of the checkered flag when he got collected in someone elses wreck. I was pissed.

After the race ended, we headed to where all the drivers go after the race. They take these little golf carts to where their busses are, so I got to see Kevin Harvick, Casey Kahne, Hermie Sadler, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Terry Labonte, Jamie McMurray, Jeremy Mayfield, Rusty Wallace, Bobby Labonte, Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett, Tony Stewart, and Casey Mears.

The weekend was totally awesome, but the sad part came when we got in the car to go home. We heard on the radio that a plane owned by Hendrick Motorsports (Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers and Terry Labonte) had crashed on approach to Martinsville. 10 people on board, including car owner Rick Hendrick’s brother, son, and two nieces were killed. So, so sad….

All in all, I had a great time. It wasn’t nearly as drunk and trashy as I was anticipating, and I definitely want to do it again. Next race though, I’d like to be a little closer to home…either Richmond or Dover.

Here’s a few pix!

we stopped at a place somewhere on 220 south called big daddy bbq. in the nascar community, there is a delicacy called a bologna burger…sounds funky, but it’s yummy…i tried one!

one of my favorite drivers, daytona500 winner, Michael Waltrip!

A view from our seats —- not a bad view from anywhere @ this track.

Racing down the backstretch

This is about as close as I got to Sadler (38) all weekend…

From — by Marty Smith

Three months ago I was standing in line at Papa Joe Hendrick’s viewing, uncertain how to properly address his grieving family.

As we inched along, my buddy rapped with DuPont sponsor representative Joe Jackson about his golf game. Shortly, Randy and Dianne Dorton walked in. Scattered along a lengthy line of family members were John Hendrick and his twin daughters, Kimberly and Jennifer. I nervously offered condolences.

Then, near the middle of the line stood Ricky Hendrick. He was smiling that thousand-watt smile, thanking every passerby for taking the time to show support for him and his family. He made sure each person knew how deeply he appreciated his or her attendance.

I was taken aback by his gratitude. Not that it surprised me. But here he’d lost his grandfather, and remained selfless in thanks. That was who Ricky Hendrick was. And that’s just the beginning.

Last month my wife and I joined another couple in downtown Charlotte for dinner. When seated, we ordered drinks and chatted each other up about typical NASCAR gossip. Shortly thereafter I received a tap on the shoulder.

It was Ricky.

He and his girlfriend had been seated in our section, and he’d taken a moment to come say hello. We chatted for several minutes, discussed his planned move into a new home and his struggle with pending interior design before he excused himself to rejoin his girlfriend for dinner.

They finished their meal, waved goodbye and departed. We thought no more of it until the time came for us to settle up. When we requested the check, the waitress informed us that the entire dinner had been taken care of.

He never even mentioned it, just took a moment to share in our lives and anonymously foot the bill for our dinner.

That was who Ricky Hendrick was. And he didn’t play favorites. He was that way to everyone.

But that wasn’t all he was. He was also the heir to an empire.

Ricky Hendrick was the spitting image of his father. He was kind, thoughtful, generous beyond belief. He was gracious. And smart. His business savvy was uncanny.

Hendrick, 24, was killed Sunday along with seven other passengers and two pilots when a Hendrick Motorsports plane crashed 10 miles west of Martinsville Speedway. John Hendrick and his daughters were also on that plane. So were Jackson and Jeff Turner. Scott Lathram, a helicopter pilot for Tony Stewart, was aboard, as well as the plane’s pilots, Dick Tracy and Liz Morrison.

And Randy Dorton was on it, too.

Dorton was wonderful. He and his wife oozed love, for one another and for every single person in their midst. Social butterflies, they were forever organizing get-togethers with their friends.

Dorton was a genius, one of Hendrick’s first employees. He was unassuming, inquisitive, always willing to engage in conversation to better inform himself. He was a great listener. Watching his eyes, you knew he was a step or 10 ahead of you.

He was a cornerstone of the Hendrick empire, and headed up an engine department that provided power plants for six Nextel Cup teams. Dorton’s Cup Series engines have gone to Victory Lane 12 times in 2004 alone.

That responsibility now falls to someone else.

So will Ricky Hendrick’s responsibilities. And John Hendrick’s. And Jeff Turner’s.

That is incomprehensible.

As crushing as it is from an emotional standpoint, this is nearly as devastating from a business angle. Hendrick Motorsports must now rebound from the simultaneous loss of its president (John), general manager and chief problem-solver (Turner), chief engine builder (Dorton) and owner of the No. 25 Nextel Cup car and No. 5 Busch Series machines (Ricky).

It is impossible to quantify the potential ramifications.

Max Muhleman, a Charlotte-based sports marketing expert and business collaborator and family friend of the Hendricks for 20 years, told the Charlotte Observer it was “probably the worst tragedy that’s ever happened in motorsports.”

Lowe’s Motor Speedway president Humpy Wheeler ranked its devastation alongside Dale Earnhardt’s death in 2001.

He’s right. When word of the incident began to filter through the infield Sunday at Martinsville, folks wandered about with blank stares, unable to register the magnitude of what had happened. We hugged one another, offered support, wept.

We are sad for Rick Hendrick. He just lost his father. Now he must deal with the burden of losing his brother, his son, his nieces, his best friends and partners. Attempting to understand his pain is futile.

Hendrick Motorsports will get through this. It won’t be easy and will take time, but NASCAR, its competitors and fans will rally around them, hold them in their thoughts and prayers.

As I drove home through the remote Virginia countryside, Tim McGraw reminded me of how resolute we can be as human beings:

It’s the family that grieves for a lost loved one

It’s the soldier who won’t leave til the job is done

It’s the addict trying to turn his life around

It’s picking yourself off the ground when you’ve been knocked down

And we carry on

When our lives come undone

We carry on

Cause there’s promise in the morning sun

We carry on

As the dark surrenders to the dawn

We were born to overcome

We carry on

Ricky Hendrick, John Hendrick, Kimberly and Jennifer Hendrick, Randy Dorton, Jeff Turner, Joe Jackson, Scott Lathram, Dick Tracy and Liz Morrison will all be terribly missed and forever loved and remembered.

But we have no choice but to carry on.


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