Showing posts with label Dashboard Confessionals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dashboard Confessionals. Show all posts
Ashley Miller won a fly away trip to the Federated Auto Parts 400 thanks to RIR and Sprint

My mom, Susan, and I have been watching NASCAR races for the past 15 years. We've been going to Daytona International Speedway in February and July for the past 11 years. We consider our Daytona weekends our mother/daughter time, and always look forward to spending the weekend with each other no matter what it holds -- rain or shine! We also have been to Homestead-Miami Speedway several times, and sat in the rain to watch Tony Stewart win the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. However, this race season has been a difficult one for us with Tony announcing his retirement. I wanted to go to as many tracks as I could to see him one last time before he puts up his helmet.

I asked my mom last Christmas for tickets to see Tony at another track this year and tried again last month for my birthday. My mom is fighting blood and bone cancer, so she reluctantly told me she couldn't handle it right now because she is much weaker. I understood, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see Smoke in his last race of his career. So, I bought her tickets to Homestead-Miami Speedway for Mother's Day. After all we have been through, between the ups and downs, we have remained Smoke fans to the very end. It just wouldn't be right for us to not be there when he takes his final checkered flag of his NASCAR career.

No matter what occurs at the track, we have always built the most wonderful memories. However, I don't think this past Daytona trip will ever be topped! We started the Coke Zero 400 weekend like we normally do, hanging around the Sprint FanZone watching everything from practice to qualifying on Friday. We were on the FanDeck when Tony walked by the garage just underneath us. I screamed "We Love You, Tony" and he looked up, smiled and waved. My day was made. I told my friends and even said to my mom, "OK, we can go back to the hotel now!" Of course, we stuck around and continued our day shopping and watching the NASCAR XFINITY Series race.

Fast forward to Saturday afternoon. We arrived early to sign up for one of the garage tours that fill up so quickly, and then we had some time to kill in the Sprint FanZone. Two Richmond International Raceway staff members approached us there and asked if we had ever been to Richmond before, and if we would like to participate in the first-ever Fan Appreciation contest to win an ultimate trip to RIR in the fall. Of course, I said yes.

We had a couple come sit with us and we talked as the rain continued to fall. That's the great thing about NASCAR fans, they are like long-lost friends you haven't met yet! My mom was worried I wasn't going to be back in time from the garage tour and suggested we give the tickets to our new friends. They were ecstatic as they had tried to sign up and it was already full. They wished us luck and told us we hope you win, and off we went to find the RIR staff.

Well, they must have been good luck because we won! We met Dennis Bickmeier, the President of Richmond International Raceway, who told us we were the Grand Prize winners, and it was an "Oh my gosh, are you really serious right now?" moment followed by some tears and hugs. Dennis was headed to the Daytona Media Center to announce Fan Appreciation Weekend at Richmond and invited us to join him on stage.

It was a bit nerve-wracking looking out at a group of people who had no idea who I was, but were about to tell my story. One question that stuck out was when a man asked me, "Why do you like Tony? What is it about him that makes you like him?" My initial response was, "Do you really want the real story?" I explained to him that in my junior or senior year of high school, I had a group of friends who were into NASCAR. They would come over on the weekends and watch the race at our house, and they told me I had to pick a driver to root for. At that time, I had a big crush on a guy named Tony, so when I heard the name Tony Stewart it stuck with me. From that moment on, I have been a Tony Stewart fan.

Kimberly Meesters with Sprint also was on hand, and she asked me if they were keeping us from doing anything. In my head, I thought "Absolutely nothing!" because this was the coolest thing ever; but I told her we actually have an area we go to every Daytona race to see the drivers en route to the Drivers’ Meeting. Kimberly asked if we had ever attended a Drivers’ Meeting, and I told her we hadn’t. To our surprise, she then invited us to attend the Drivers’ Meeting — and with a great big smile I said, “Sure!”

Before I knew it, the meeting was over and Kimberly flew up out of her chair to grab Tony to come over and meet my mom and me. Dennis and Kimberly explained to him I had won the first Fan Appreciation giveaway, and was excited to see him at the track where he had gotten his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win. Tony told us Richmond was his favorite track. We also chatted about the Coke Zero 400 race that night, and how he needed to play it smart to get those nine points. He signed my winning case and our hats, and it was the greatest moment for my mom and me to talk to him and have his undivided attention.

After wishing Tony good luck, we went back to the media center and Kimberly had one more surprise for us. On behalf of Sprint, she told us, our tickets were upgraded to the Daytona 500 Club. This is one of those things my mom and I have said we were going to do one day, just to say we did it. We very graciously accepted, and with a great deal of thanks, we headed to the Daytona 500 Club.

As we settled in at the Club, I assume we looked like we didn't have any idea what we were doing, but the staff was very accommodating and made sure we knew all the ins and outs. We finally had a minute of downtime when I could call my husband and my mom could call my dad, and then we sat back and just enjoyed a Coke. My mom's Coke can had the song lyrics, "A moment like this," and it truly was a moment some people wait a lifetime for. A moment that we just had that might never have been, but everything aligned and it was our moment. We went to the top of the Daytona 500 building to listen to the national anthem and watch the flyover and then took our seats on the start/finish line inside the Daytona 500 Club. We watched the cars race by, pit stops so close it felt like we were in the box with the crew, and a beautiful sunset over the track.

The craziest part is I still get to take another amazing trip to a state and racetrack I've never been. I have a countdown clock going on my phone to let me know how far away our trip is. I can't wait to have another amazing experience with my husband, but I'll probably be just as excited to call my mom and tell her all about it! For now, my awesome fan experiences are coming to a pause, but will soon pick back up again when my husband and I get on a plane to Richmond in September. No matter what happens in Richmond or who wins the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship, we will be NASCAR fans. We will probably never have a connection to another drive like we do to Tony, and it will take some time to get used to not seeing him on the track. But we will continue to spend our weekends watching races, and making memories as a mother/daughter racing duo for as many years as we can!

Thank you again from the bottom of my heart to all the staff at Richmond International Raceway and Sprint who made the most amazing weekend for my mother and me. You have no idea how much it meant to us!
Leonard Wood

Proud of My Home State
Leonard Wood writes into our Commonwealth Corner Series

Sixty-six years of racing, and I still enjoy racing in my home state of Virginia. I especially love winning here. And, Wood Brothers Racing has done that a lot in the Commonwealth.

Our love for racing started when my older brother Glen took his personal car to a practice session his friend was running in. He took his car out on the track, and he was able to keep up. He thought if he had a real race car he would be able to do quite well. That’s how it all got started. At the time, Glen was 25 years old and I was only 15. I was always the mechanic in the family, and was always tinkering with the engine and tuning cars. So, I was Glen’s chief mechanic at 15. According to the media, I stayed 15 for like 10 years.

It wasn’t long before we were sitting on poles, setting track records, and winning races. Our first race was at Morris Speedway, close to Martinsville Speedway. Then, it became a business. In 1956, Curtis Turner and Joe Weatherly, both Virginians, went to Ford Motor Company and told them they should put us on board. We got connected with Ford Motor Company in 1956, and have been with them ever since.

What inspires you to do something is wherever you’re lacking or need improvement. In 1960, we saw Fireball Roberts and Smokey Yunick change two tires and fuel the car, and it took them 45 seconds. We were thinking there is room for improvement here. We just began working on it and what the weakest link was. We worked on each part, like changing tires, speeding up the jack, and speeding up fuel to go in the tank. It wasn’t long until we were down to 25 seconds. We began to improve on that. You think it’s the fastest you can get, and you just keep working at it. You come up with new ideas to speed it up in a certain area. When we would make a pit stop, we would end up a half a lap ahead. It didn’t take them long to catch on to that.

I still love winning to this day, and we have collected 98 wins over the years. Glen actually won a race at Richmond in 1957. I was just drafted into the army, and I was riding down the road, and got word that he won the race in Richmond. It’s a nice size track, and a very fun track to run on. The most rewarding victory lane was in 2011 with Trevor Bayne in the Daytona 500. He was the youngest driver with the oldest team ever.

Kyle Petty won his very first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond. Many drivers have gotten their first win while driving one of our cars and it’s very rewarding. A few races before Richmond, Kyle had been racing with Dale Sr. He passed Dale in practice, and he bumps Kyle and Kyle hits the wall. We had to work late into the night, even after the track had closed, to get the car ready for race day. Dale saw me the next day in the garage and puts his arm around me, and asks, “How bad did it tear the ole car up?” Dale was extremely competitive, but he had a big heart as well.

We definitely enjoy running Richmond. Any track you win on, you like it. Just the whole Richmond area with all the modifieds that use to be around there at places like Southside Speedway. You would watch people like Emanuel Zervakis, Sonny Hutchins, and Ray Hendricks. All those guys would run up there, and they were super tough. Richmond at one time was the hub for some of the best modified racing in the whole United States. The Richmond area is also home to Junie Donlavey, my good friend. There’s just something in the atmosphere coming to Richmond, and it just has a good feeling.

I have always been proud of our home state. We used to run Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, NC. It was the Myers Brothers against Glen Wood and Curtis Turner. They were the Virginia boys and the Myers Brothers were the Carolina boys. I have always been extremely proud of the state of Virginia and being from Virginia.

Virginia is Home
Jeb Burton chimes in on our Commonwealth Corner Series
Growing up in Halifax, Virginia, NASCAR was always on my mind. Which you may not expect in Virginia, since most people know that North Carolina is one of the world centers for stock car racing.

For as long as I can remember, I’d been watching my dad, Ward Burton, race in the Cup Series and even got to travel with him on the circuit until I was old enough to begin racing on my own. One of my favorite memories is when he won the Daytona 500, and I got to miss a whole week of school and travel with him to all of the media events that followed that win. It was an indescribable feeling, especially because he had a real shot at winning the year before (in 2001), when he led 53 laps. That set the standard for the 2002 race, and even though he only led the last five laps, they were the most important laps of that entire race.

I always liked going to the races, but it took a while for me to get interested in the driving part. For me, I started out racing on two wheels, competing in motocross events throughout tracks in Virginia. When I decided to start racing go karts, I finished second in my first race. Then, I got interested in and really wanted to race stock cars.

I can really contribute my start in stock car racing to South Boston Speedway in Virginia. It was a family affair at the track. Dad and my Uncle Jeff launched their stock car racing careers at South Boston Speedway. I raced in the Limited Late Model series until I was 20 years old, when I got my first start in the ARCA Series but still drove late models. I eventually landed a part-time ride with Dad in the Camping World Truck Series, and through my experience was able to compete full-time when I was 20 years old for Turner Motorsports.

From there, you may know how the rest of the story goes. I drove in the Truck Series full-time in the 2013 and 2014 seasons, which led me to my first season in the Sprint Cup Series in 2015. While that season may not have gone as I had planned, it was valuable experience, and I think was what got me to where I am now, racing for “The King” at Richard Petty Motorsports in the No. 43 car in the XFINITY Series.

For me, I think it’s one of the best opportunities we’ve ever had, and even though the deal came together less than a week before the season opener at Daytona, the guys at the shop have been working their butts off to get me the best race car we can, and I can’t wait to see what we do this season.

While racing has brought me to North Carolina and traveling across the country, I always will think of Virginia as home. Throughout Dad’s racing career, he never moved out of Virginia, and still lives there today with my mom. My sister also lives in Virginia with her husband, and I have a place there as well and will come home a couple of times a month when the racing schedule allows.

While I may consider North Carolina my place of residence, Virginia is always going to be home. It’s the place that shaped my racing career, and a place where I still return home and race as often as I can. I’m really excited to race at Richmond International Raceway this year, not only because it’s the only Virginia track on the XFINITY circuit but also because the No. 43 XFINITY Series team always performs well there. Winning in my home state would make me so proud. Not to mention, my Virginia Tech Hokies are there, so you know where to find me when college football season rolls around in the fall. They say you can’t get where you’re going without knowing where you came from, and Virginia is that place for me.
ESPN's Marty Smith talks about NASCAR, racing in Virginia

I'm a Virginian. Born. Raised. Educated: school and sanctuary and stadium. My body's gone to Carolina and all over the sporting world on a million airplanes, but my values and my depth and my manners are rooted in the Appalachian Mountains of Southwest Virginia.

I adore my home state. Commonwealth, as it were. There are only four commonwealths: Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and us. I don't know why.

Virginians are a regional bunch. You're not just from Virginia. You're from Northern Virginia or Virginia Beach or Southwest Virginia or Appalachia or Piedmont. Or Richmond.

We're more prideful about our native regions in our native Commonwealth than our native Commonwealth itself. I love that about Virginia, because environmental factors are pivotal in shaping our clay.

A lot of us talk weird. Those reared in the I-95 corridor between Richmond and DC, and east to the shore, sound normal. But the rest of us, from south of Richmond all the way west to the borders of Tennessee and West Virginia and Kentucky, are a potpourri of glorious and unique dialects, immediately noticeable and authentic -- even if some folks around this country still don't believe mine is real.

There's the easy cadence of the Piedmont, from Emporia west to South Hill and South Boston, where R's don't purse the lips and I's bare teeth. Further west, beyond Martinsville and Roanoke you fall into the Appalachian drawl -- my accent -- with sentences that meld one word to the next and tend to end in vowels, and inch thicker and longer the further you move towards the coal fields in Grundy and Haysi and Big Stone Gap.

I don't know much about other states or their particular sectors. But I can't think of another one -- maybe New Jersey -- that so distinctly separates its regions.

I've been all over the world, and I've never seen any place more beautiful than the Southwest region of the state. Gorgeous purple and navy mountains tower over stunning streams and rivers, and the simple life provides a profound experience.

You learn how to work. You learn how to pray. You learn how look a man in the eye and shake his hand. You learn to hunt and fish from your dad. You learn to love high school football -- and lean on it, too. I still do, almost a quarter-century since my last game at Giles High School.

Athletes, man. Arthur Ashe and Allen Iverson and Michael Vick and Joe Smith and Anthony Poindexter and Ronald Curry and Alonzo Mourning and Bruce Smith and the Barber twins and Ralph Sampson and Russell Wilson and Kam Chancellor and Thomas and Julius Jones and JJ Reddick. On and on.

I remember the magic of watching Park View High's Allen Pinkett run the football against my high school in 1980. Magic is an honest description. I was four years old. He went on to glory at Notre Dame and the Houston Oilers, but his legend lives differently in my mind. It is a foggy image of possibility. Of hope.

And racers. They were my hope. I hitched my wagon to the Wood Brothers, the Burtons, the Sadlers and Ricky Rudd. Rick Hendrick. And later on, 2016 Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin showed up. After he won the 500, Hamlin and I took a photo together displaying our Virginia pride.

I remember sitting on the Richmond pit wall in June 1998. I'd just graduated from Radford University, and I was on assignment for the Lynchburg News & Advance to cover the Pontiac Excitement 400. Practice was underway, and the white and blue No. 2 car screamed by.

"Rusty Wallace. That's RUSTY WALLACE," I thought.

Zoom! The rainbow No. 24. Zoom! The black No. 3.

"Dale Earnhardt. That's THE Dale Earnhardt."

I was so overwhelmed by that moment. The show. I was here. I made it.

And I was at Richmond International Raceway, a place that my father always appreciated so much. Fairgrounds, he called it. My mom had passed away just before this, on May 24th. And every time I go back to RIR, I think about that moment. And I go sit there at that same spot before every race.

And I feel my dad and I feel my mom. It's special to me.

When you grow up in small town America, you fall in love with the idea of getting out. Some do get out. Most don't. And that's just fine. They drink beers with lifelong friends whom they've known since kindergarten. Some fall in love and marry their high school crush. Some meet a girl from a neighboring town and a rival high school and plant a "house-divided" sign in the yard.

And those that leave fall in love with the idea of getting back. I often consider getting back. Maybe it's the idea of what was, that blurry nostalgia of all that possibility. I don't know.

What I do know is this: When I enter the Commonwealth, regardless of which corner I enter, it feels like home.

And it's the only time I experience that feeling.
We're pleased to have Track President Dennis Bickmeier contribute our first guest blog post
The Chase Grid. It’s more than just the final field for drivers who have a shot for NASCAR’s coveted title. It represents success, that your driver has raced their way into Victory Lane during NASCAR’s grueling regular season, or has raced well enough to remain among the point leaders after that season comes to a close in Richmond.

It also represents a chance, and that Road to Richmond is filled with those chances. Every race represents an opportunity for a driver to race their way onto the Chase Grid and secure their place in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Sure the likes of McMurray, Menard, Newman, Gordon and Bowyer are in for now, but those on the outside looking in can score a win in two weeks at Darlington or in the Last Race to Make the Chase at RIR on September 12. Not even Jeff Gordon is safe yet – no doubt he’ll be fighting harder than anyone to prolong his final NASCAR season.

Ever since The Chase was born in 2004, our September event has been “The Last Race to Make the Chase.” But when the Chase Grid was born last year and winning meant everything, what did it mean for Richmond International Raceway?

Everything. It means everything. It all comes down to Richmond.

When the checkered flag falls for the Federated Auto Parts 400, 16 drivers will officially have their name on the official Chase Grid. As it stands today, five spots are still up in the air. There will be a lot of drama over the next few weeks as the on track action heats up and the pressure to win becomes even fiercer.

It all culminates in Richmond, the cut-off race before NASCAR’s 10-race playoff kicks off in Chicagoland. Who’s in and who’s out, you’ll want to join us in Richmond to find out.

And when the field is set, join us on the track for our Post Race Party and celebrate the 16 drivers who qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. It’s a unique opportunity in our sport, unlike the ‘stick and ball sports.’ All the competitors with a chance to compete for the Sprint Cup championship in the same place at the same time. It’s a celebration of their accomplishments over the first 26 races and an opportunity to blow off some steam and then get ready for the Chase, and our Post Race Party is we put you right into the action.

Everyone with a ticket to the race can come down on the track after the race to celebrate with the drivers.

- Dennis Bickmeier
President, Richmond International Raceway