Nothing quite prepared me for an actual day at the track. “Can you feel it, yet?” asked Dave as we pulled into the parking lot of Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, KS. I finally understood what he had been talking about—that palpable buzzing of excitement that surrounds race day. Dave is the big car racing fan in our family, and we were bringing our 7-year-old twin boys to their first race. It was my first race, too. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big sports fan. I’ve been to more Royals and Chiefs games than I can count. But racing has always been Dave’s thing. Ever the loving wife, I would often watch races on TV with him and listen as he taught Ethan and Simon the ins and outs of the sport. I even picked up a few things, trying to impress Dave with my knowledge of racing lingo. But nothing quite prepared me for an actual day at the track.
We arrived early to meet up with some of Dave’s racing buddies and their families, who had come in from St. Louis to tailgate before the race. They shared their burgers with us and I passed around the potato salad I’d brought from home. It was comforting to learn that this was the first race for Susan, another racing wife, and we quickly bonded over being newbies. Susan’s 9-year-old, Alex, however, had been to the Speedway with his dad a few times. He made fast friends with Ethan and Simon, taking them under his wing and showing them the ropes. After lunch, we all took a stroll through the Midway. Booths filled with paraphernalia from racing sponsors, teams and drivers covered the area outside the grandstand gates. I had to rein the boys in before they spent all their allowance at once. Simon finally decided on a ball cap touting the number 88—for his favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.—while Ethan bought a bright yellow t-shirt with an image of Kyle Busch’s car on it. Although, he loves M&Ms, so I’m not sure if he picked the shirt for the car or the candy. Either way, they wore their new duds with pride, and Dave was beaming, too, as he watched his sons share in the love of his favorite sport. Alex had discovered a racing video game set up a few booths away, so we headed over to check it out. The boys (including the grown-up ones) all took turns taking laps around the virtual track. After the third round, I checked my watch and tapped Dave on the shoulder. It was almost starting time.
Once we made our way into the grandstand and found our seats, the adrenaline buzz from earlier became extremely tangible, especially when the loudspeakers crackled and a deep voiced boomed out, “Drivers, start your engines.” Motors revved and engines roared and I felt the reverb deep inside my chest. I handed the boys their earplugs, and had to laugh at the looks on their faces. Wide-eyed wonder melted into grins that went on for days as they looked around the speedway in awe. “Is this for real?!” Ethan shouted over the noise. Dave looked down, tousled Ethan’s hair and smiled. “You bet it is!” The bright green flag waved, and they were off. Everyone was on their feet cheering the drivers on as they blasted their colorful cars down the back straight before whizzing into the turn. Our seats were great, but Simon practically had his binoculars glued to his face, clamoring for a closer look. “Here they come!” he yelled as the pack dove around another turn then rocketed past us in a multi-colored blur. If the adrenaline pulsing through my veins resembled even the smallest bit of the rush the drivers were feeling, I couldn’t imagine how they kept their cars steady on the track. As the race went on, I started daydreaming about taking our minivan into the shop and having my oil changed, pit crew style, before racing through the neighborhood streets and spinning perfectly into a parallel parking spot in the carpool lane at the boys’ school.
I was deep into that daydream when I suddenly heard the crowd roar, and Dave and the boys went nuts beside me. My eyes snapped back to the track and I saw the black and white checkered flag waving. Then came the victory lap and champagne and confetti in the Winner’s Circle, and the crowd went wild again. This time I was paying attention and cheered along with them, feeling the mass euphoria as it swept through the grandstand.
“Dad, you should buy a Camaro,” Ethan cried out as he bounced alongside Dave on our way back to the parking lot.
“Or a Chevrolet SS!” Simon chimed in. “And paint it yellow and red!”
Dave just laughed and said our minivan and his truck would have to do for now.
On the way home, that minivan sure sounded like a stock car thanks to Simon and Ethan’s vrooming and revving noises from the back seat, as they pretended to be behind the wheel.
I had felt the energy of the track from the moment we parked, but the thrill of the race had stayed with us.
“So, when’s the next race?” I tossed the question out with a grin. Dave looked at me with one eyebrow raised and then smiled back. “Welcome to the racing life, babe.”
The boys erupted into cheers, and Dave and I couldn’t help but laugh. Thanks to our exciting day, we all couldn’t wait to get back to the track.