The Face of a Fan
By Melissa Face
I didn’t watch my first NASCAR race until I was in my twenties. My cousin Leslie’s husband was working for Dewalt and frequently went to the races to promote and sell merchandise. And, the two of them were living in Concord, North Carolina – very close to Lowe’s Motor Speedway. So naturally, they were race fans.
I credit (not blame) Leslie for formally introducing me to NASCAR. “Just watch a race. Just one. You’ll see what I mean. It’s really fun,” she said. “Plus, the drivers are hot!”
So I did. I sat down in front of my television on a beautiful Sunday afternoon and watched a race. I tried to get into it. I really did. I especially looked for the “hot” drivers. But the guys I saw were wearing more gear than an astronaut. I couldn’t tell if they were good looking.
For some reason, it just wasn’t working for me. Perhaps my television was too small to enjoy the race properly. Or, maybe I had not consumed enough beer to appreciate the sport.
A few months later, Leslie called. “We’re going to get tickets for the fall race in Concord. Do you and Craig want to go?”
I still didn’t think there would be much fun in watching a race; but, I did like the idea of visiting Leslie and Bo in their new town. I wanted to see their new house and eat at some different restaurants. She clinched the deal when she mentioned a huge mall that was nearby. I was excited, and I was sure that the race would be okay too.
When we arrived at the track, I was amazed at the number of people tailgating in the parking lot. Many of them had enough food and drinks to camp for weeks. They all laughed and joked with each other. And many of them, as they rode by, shouted out their favorite drivers’ numbers while pointing to their garb. I was oddly out of place wearing a Jimmy Buffett t-shirt.
But I didn’t let that get me down. As race time approached, we made our way towards our seats. We had seats (my cousin’s husband swore they would have backs to them) that basically consisted of a slab of concrete.
“It cost over a hundred dollars for this?” I asked.
“We’re across from pit road, Melissa,” Bo told me.
I would later realize that sitting across from pit road only means that you have rubber from tires flying at you throughout the race. That is the only benefit, if you can call it one.
I forget the name of the band that performed that night. And I don’t remember who sang the national anthem. But I do remember how I felt during the flyover. When those synchronized jets zoomed overhead, I felt vibrations in my bones, and my heart rate increased. I knew I was in the right place.
As the evening went on, my feeling was confirmed. I listened through my headphones and heard the drivers having heated discussions with their crew chiefs. I gasped when another driver got “bumped” or pushed into the wall. I also realized that those left hand turns are pretty cool when they’re happening right in front of you at an excess of 150 miles per hour.
A couple of hours later, I was screaming and cheering with the rest of the crowd. I didn’t boo any of the drivers though. I didn’t think that was very nice. I spent the night cheering for a guy named Carl Edwards. I didn’t know very much about him, but I was told that the race would be more interesting if I picked a driver. So I picked one. And my reason for choosing him was very important. He was hot.
Carl didn’t win that night though – Jimmy Johnson did. But I was too excited on the way home to care. I could barely talk from screaming for four hours. And my back was a little sore from the weight of the intoxicated man who fell on me during the race. But I was happy.
I slowly walked upstairs to get ready for bed. I ran some hot water onto a white washcloth and washed my forehead, nose, cheeks, and chin. When I looked at the washcloth again, it was completely black. I laughed aloud and stared into the mirror. And staring back at me was the face of a fan.