Car Racing : A Family Event by Bonnie and Bill Neely

NASCAR races are a favorite event for our family to watch together on TV each week during the season. The kids grew to love it when they were very young and could pick out the logos with which they were familiar, like M&M’s and Pepsi, on cars as they whizzed by. As they grew up the children began choosing their favorite drivers and then had fun competition within the family as we gathered in front of the TV each week. Then the grandparents announced that they would treat the family to a NASCAR SPRINT CUP CLASSIC Race in person at Texas Motor Speedway. The kids were ecstatic, and we were too. The zoom, zoom does get into your blood.

The children did extra jobs for us and neighbors to earn some spending money to buy items with their favorite car numbers on the big day. We were happy that the April week-end was beautiful, following a week of springtime severe storms. On race day we got up very, very early and packed the car with picnic and snack items and a cooler of our favorite drinks and headed out to try to beat the crowds. We couldn’t afford to purchase expensive tickets and just hoped for close-up parking, and we were in luck because we did beat a lot of the other traffic, although race day always has crowded highways near the Track.
Grandmother had stated, “No need to dress up because it’s Texas and it’s NASCAR… you’ll only need cut-offs and tank tops if it’s hot.” Fortunately, we didn’t go that briefly clad, but jeans and tee shirts were all we saw. We overheard some experienced track fans, who had special passes to go into the Garage and Pit area, say that no bare legs, sleeveless tops, or open-toed shoes are allowed. It is a good thing to remember if we ever get to go to that more expensive area, but the kids have to be over 18 for that also, so for us it will be a long time yet.

Never had we seen so many collectibles available to purchase. And the fans would stand in long lines to get up to the trucks holding the goodies that were sold with each driver’s symbols. Sipping our lemonade as we walked along, we had several hours to visit all the booths and watch the crowd gather,. It was fun just watching as more and more people arrived. We were so glad we had arrived early enough to get parking up pretty close to the track and just hoped we could remember where our car was at the end of the day. Thousands of cars streamed into the parking area, and many fans had quite a long walk to the gates.

In the vending areas there were many free attractions to keep us busy and excited, some for kids and some for adults. My husband especially enjoyed posing with the skimpily clad young woman dressed in checkered flags! The kids loved talking to Sparky, the NASCAR mascot. And of course, everyone wants autographs. In the general ticket area there are not many opportunities, but sometimes before the race a driver may be featured and make a brief appearance and give some autographs, but that is rare on the actual race day. More often it happens on Time Trial Day or on the Practice Day.
We were excited to learn that since we arrived early we could participate in the 2008 Track Walk at Texas Motor Speedway benefiting the Texas Chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities and The NASCAR Foundation in the early morning on race day. The children were thrilled that they could meet several of the drivers at this event and actually walk the real track with them and hundreds of other fans.

When our family first began watching NASCAR I was afraid that the youngsters would grow up to be speed demons when they were of driving age. For a few minutes I was able to walk with Terry LaBonte, a retired driver, and I asked him what he thought about this concern. He replied, “I think race fans are the safest drivers on the highways because they are intensely aware of all the dangers of speed driving and are knowledgeable about the extreme safety features that protect us in our official race cars: the safety of our gear and our cars themselves. Fans know that only professionals should race and only on the track with proper protections.” That relieved my mind because the children are nearing driving age.
We were glad to have sun protection, sun glasses, and hats, because when the race started the sun was bright overhead. Texas sun can get hot, even in April and November! Grandparents and parents enjoyed the day as much as the children. We even rented a pair of earphones to share in order to hear the drivers talking to their pit crews. Everyone was saddened when Jeff Gordon, a favorite of many children and adults, had to leave the race due to car trouble. He had been the one our kids most wanted to cheer for. The noise level of the cars and the cheers is enormous. It’s wise to purchase ear plugs, but the racing sounds increase our enthusiasm and fun.
There were many inter-generational families we saw in the huge crowd of about 160,000 fans that day in April. Racing at Texas Motor Speedway is definitely for all ages and is a bonding event. It was fun to see the RV’s lined up along the Infield fence, with people sitting in lawn chairs on top of their rigs, with hats and drinks in hand watching the race. Some of these camper fans cooked on grills beside their rig as they watched. We had our picnic and then stood in line for the many other snacks available. We were surprised and happy that the bathrooms at the track were kept clean, and the Track is well staffed for fans’ emergencies. There are many scheduled races and events at TMS throughout the year, and the next NASCAR SPRINT CUP CLASSIC and NATIONWIDE races are on the week-end of November 1, 2008.

Grandpa had read about the many other attractions in Fort Worth area and surprised us by announcing near the end of the race that we could go to the Stockyards for supper. We left the Track a bit early in order to beat the crowds, but the traffic was well organized by the extra police force, who place cones to guide extra lanes for leaving, and the traffic ran smoothly. We made our way to the site of the historic cattle drives and had great fun going into the various shops in the authentic old saloons. We could not believe the prices of handmade cowboy boots: thousands of dollars, but if was fun to see. One kid with us insisted on riding the electric bull, which nearly bucked him off. The other youngsters and Grandpa had a great time getting lost in the maze, built to resemble old wooden cattle pens for directing cattle to slaughter. We could stand on the platform above the maze and know the way out for them if they got extremely lost. There were many NASCAR booths and displays and a live, outdoor concert.
We loved looking at the historic Stockyards Hotel, which was opened in 1907 and still welcomes guests. It was fun to see the lobby’s original furnishings. We had a great meal at H3, known for its Anita Ritas” are margaritas made with Fresno pepper infused Triple Sec, unique and really refreshing! We wanted to look at the Texas souvenirs in the many shops within the old barns along the ancient railroad that used to carry Armour and Swift meat away to feed other states. Several of us enjoyed the historic old west museum near the Visitor Center, and we had our photos made with the cattle drivers. But we had arrived too late to see the actual, authentic long-horn cattle driven by these cowboys on horseback, just like the drives that were in past decades, some originating in Mexico.

We didn’t have enough time to enjoy the many things that are historic and fun in the Stockyards. Next time we will come back for a Friday night Rodeo, which is every Friday night year-round. And when the kids are old enough, we want to go dancing at Billy Bob’s, the world’s largest saloon, where they teach line dancing and Western dancing on week-end nights and have live entertainment most nights. We’ll plan to stay at the new Hyatt Place Hotel behind the Visitor Center, so we can walk to everything and not have to find parking, which is crowded most nights because there is always something happening at the Stockyards. When we return we’ll also have to have Tex-Mex dinner at the famous Joe T. Garcia’s nearby and at Cattleman’s restaurant, known for the best steaks in the world and for calf fries…(Guess what they are!)
We also must return for a cultural week-end in Fort Worth to enjoy the many museums located in the cultural district: The Amon Carter Museum, The Kimbell Art Museum, The Sid Richardson Museum, The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, The Modern Art Museum-Fort Worth. We could spend hours in each museum and learn so much.

And on another visit we will plan to take in a play or musical performance at the Bass Theater in Sundance Square. I hope we can stay at the beautiful Etta’s Place Bed & Breakfast Inn, which features exquisite rooms and the history of the Sundance Kid. Sundance Square has wonderful shops, galleries, and fabulous restaurants. We must reserve a spot to dine on the porch of Reata’s, famous for its atmosphere and delicious Southwest cuisine and the view overlooking Sundance Square. I have to try the legendary Chocolate Bread Pudding Tamales!

There is so much to see and do in Fort Worth that we may make it our permanent vacation spot for many week-ends to come. A perfect Family holiday for any time of year and any preference of fun and entertainment. We WILL return many times!