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Naturally, I had to give Sunnie a love for the Nations Greatest Sport. 🙂 Tom invited Sunnie to attend a NASCAR race with him. Unfortunately, while it is entertaining, it needed to be cut from the book. Here it is, in it’s wonderful entirety. PS…12 days until the Daytona 500! GO KYLE!!!
Dana and Ro…especially enjoy!
CHAPTER NASCAR: POCONO RACEWAY
“I cannot believe we’re finally here!” Sunnie announced when Tom pulled off the highway and into Long Pond, PA. The long ride started before dawn, with a breakfast stop. Along the way, Sunnie talked Tom into allowing her to try driving the Jeep. The ensuing argument over her gear shifting skills lasted a good portion of the remaining ride.
Sunnie pouted a few miles before apologizing for any damage to the gear box she may have caused.
“I’ll be sure to let Jude know he failed to teach you anything about driving a stick,” Tom assured her. He laughed when Sunnie folded her arms over her chest and stared out the window.
“The ride wouldn’t have taken so long if you weren’t pouting the last twenty miles.” He held up a hand, stopping Sunnie’s retort. “Sunnie, please, let’s enjoy the day. We drove a long way to keep arguing over nothing. We could have stayed home and done that.”
“Fine. I’m sorry I can’t drive a stick, okay? You didn’t have to make me pull over on the side of the highway. I would have eventually found the groove.”
Tom resorted to eye rolling, and Sunnie snickered.
“And we would have had to camp on the side of the highway with no clutch. Okay, discussion over. Besides, we’re here.”
Tom gave the attendant a parking pass. They searched for a spot that was fairly close to the main entrance.
“Which driver are you going to chase down for an autograph?”
Excitement over the day erased any remaining annoyance on Sunnie’s part.
“Who do you think?” She playfully pointed to her shirt, emblazoned with an orange car, the number seventeen on the hood.
“You are such a geek. He’s been retired for over ten years! He’s got to be the most annoying voice in NASCAR.”
Sunnie put her tongue out. “That’s all you know. He’s one of the greatest drivers ever. I know right where to find him if we hurry! He always attends the chapel before he goes to the announcer’s booth. What are we taking with us?”
Tom pulled into a spot, then pointed in the back in answer.
“You take the red pack, I’ll take the black one. Ten bottles of water, sunscreen, hats. We should be good to go. Did you bring a camera?” He ducked a leftover coffee cup.
“Nice time to remind me! I’ll have to use my phone.” Sunnie shut the passenger door, pulling both straps of the backpack over her shoulder. Tom walked around the Jeep, shouldering his own pack.
“Sunnie, that’s got two straps, since you have two shoulders. Wear it right.”
“It’s fine this way. I carried books to school like this for years. Come on, let’s find the chapel.”
Sunnie grabbed Tom’s hand, pulling him towards the gates. He following along, amused by her alternating moods. They stood on line longer than Tom thought today’s short attention span would allow for.
They counted people tailgating, wondering what they were making.
“That may have been fun. We should have brought something.” Sunnie adamantly shook her head.
“I am having a hot dog, smothered in everything available, including chili. And the biggest soda you can buy me. And nachos. Maybe even some candy bars. This is a total junk food day. I’ll probably pay for it by Tuesday, but who cares?”
Tom handed the tickets to the woman in the booth, and asked about the chapel location. He showed all the entrance requirements and she cheerfully pointed them in the direction of the infield fan center off of Tunnel Road.
They wandered around the General Infield a while, taking in all the sites, sounds and smells of the raceway. Tom pointed out the concourse, the pits, and approximately where they’d be seated.
Sunnie took some pictures, including a goofy one of the two of them with the grandstands behind them. She was still fussing with her phone while they walked in the direction of the chapel.
“What are you doing Sunnie? You’ll miss your driver–they’re just coming out.”
She looked up to see the men exiting the small building that housed NASCAR’s official chapel at Pocono. The drivers were confidently striding out after praying for safety before heading for their three thousand pounds of fan delight. Tom winced when Sunnie gripped his forearm.
“Look! There’s Darrell!”
Sunnie stared in awe at the man she had watched as a child with her father. Though long retired from racing, Darrell Waltrip had always been part and parcel of NASCAR, announcing for several networks before settling at FOXSports. His trademark call of “Boogity, Boogity, Boogity!” started each race they hosted.
He was a bit more gray haired than he appeared on television, but the friendly smile and gleam in his eyes were apparent. Tom pried Sunnie’s fingers off his arm, then laughed at her gaping mouth.
“Go say hello. Here’s your Sharpie.” Tom handed her the black marker from his pack.
Sunnie took it from his hand, but stayed by Tom. He laughed, took her hand, and started walking, calling out to the famous announcer.
“Mr Waltrip? Mr Waltrip!”
Sunnie nearly fainted when not only Darrell, but his equally famous and friendly brother Michael turned in answer. They caught up with the pair, who were genuinely happy to greet a fan.
“Lookie here, Mikey! She’s wearin’ a Dee-Dubya shirt!” The elder brother teased the younger.
Tom introduced Sunnie to them both. After the initial shock wore off, they chatted a few moments before signing the back of Sunnie’s shirt. Tom snapped a few pictures, then wished them a great day. Sunnie hugged Tom’s neck as they walked away.
“Thanks. I don’t know what happened, I just couldn’t move!”
Tom slung an arm around Sunnie’s shoulder. “Sunnie Young, star struck. I wish I would have taken a picture of that!”
Sunnie poked his ribs with an elbow then laughed when Tom, usually more reserved, stuck his tongue out at her.
A tour of pit road followed. They met several of the newer drivers, who were eager to appease the fan base. Cameras and phones snapped pictures of the veterans, who came out of their garages on and off to greet and chat with fans.
“Should we load up now on all that garbage you want to eat or wait till the first caution?” Tom laughed at the look of shock on Sunnie’s face.
“You should talk about what other people eat! How many chili dogs are you scarfing today? I need to find the ladies’ room before we go sit. That will not wait till the first caution.”
They found the facilities needed, meeting each other at the water fountains when through. Tom chuckled at Sunnie’s face when she emerged from the crowd.
“I swear, I am going in the men’s room later. Some of these chicks are….well, let’s just say groupie, okay? I feel contaminated.”
“I’ll bet none of them have the Waltrip brothers’ signatures on their shirts.” Tom quipped, to which Sunnie replied “They barely have shirts on!”
They climbed the grandstands to their assigned seats, several rows from the front, just to the left of the start/finish line. They sat and people watched a while before the opening festivities started.
The crowd rose to their feet for the national anthem, sung by an a capella group of Marines. Tom and Sunnie both were teary eyed by the end.
The machines roared to life, pulling out onto the pit road for a final inspection as their drivers rode a parade lap, waving to fans. Flagmen climbed into the flag stand. Sunnie peeled off the sweat shirt she had never returned to Tom and reached in the pack for sunscreen. Tom watched her slather the thick liquid over her arms, face and even her ears. She offered him the tube before she put it away, and laughed when he declined.
“You’ll be sorry, Red. Ooo, look, their getting in the cars. I love the sound of those cars! I say there’s no caution until the required one. What do you say?”
“I say before lap ten.”
“Before lap ten?!?” Sunnie shook her head. “No way. Not until the required yellow. If it’s before lap ten, I’ll buy the hot dogs.”
“You’re on,Young. Before lap ten, and even better, car fifteen will cause it.”
“You are out of your mind! Okay, I buy the hot dogs, if you’re right…”
“Which I will be.” Tom sat back, his arms stretched along the backs of both seats beside him.
Sunnie leaned back on his muscular arm, closing her eyes. “We’ll see. I’m resting for five minutes, you better reconsider sunblock. I can feel it on my face already.”
Tom glanced at her face, already well tanned. He liked her head resting against his arm and enjoyed his unobstructed view.
His view didn’t last all that long, as Sunnie jumped out of her seat as soon as she heard the cars starting again. The seats they had were perfect for being able to view the whole tri-oval shaped track. Sunnie stopped jumping and cheering long enough to drag Tom to his feet from the seat, then resumed cheering on the line of cars on their way down the front stretch.
Lap nine thundered by them, and Sunnie tugged on Tom’s shirt. “Better get ready to go…don’t forget one dog, smothered in everything.”
Tom pointed to the track, and Sunnie looked over to Turn Two just as the announcer called out, “Caution! There’s been a crash involving car number fifteen!”
Tom snapped a picture of Sunnie’s crestfallen face, then her sticking her tongue out. He quickly made that picture his phone’s background for the day.
Sunnie returned from the concession stand and watched Tom consume three chili dogs before she was finished with half of her own. He was working on a bag of chips before she decided she couldn’t finish her hot dog. She surrendered it to Tom.
The race continued on, from white flag to yellow caution, back to white. They sat for a while, Sunnie jumping up every so often to cheer or boo.
There was a minor rain delay called, the race being red flagged close to the final fifty laps. Sunnie and Tom took the opportunity, along with half the stands, to make a trip to the restrooms. She found Tom by the concession stands, eating yet another chili dog. They bought three huge chocolate bars, then headed back to their seats. The race had resumed, under caution, while they had been away from their seats.
The final twenty laps arrived, with half of the field out due to crashes or engine difficulties. The cars roared past them again; no one in the stands was sitting at this point. The real race, for the checkered flag, was on now.
Drivers were becoming territorial, wanting to keep their positions on the track. Better yet, claim another position toward the front. Two cars that had been battling slammed into each other rounding Turn Three. Another caution was called as they hit the wall right in front of the seats Tom and Sunnie were in. She ducked her head into Tom’s chest, covering her ears from the screeching metal sounds as the cars scraped the wall, sending dirt and small car parts through the air. Sunnie felt it raining down on her head, even as Tom tried to shield her from it.
The cars stopped before Turn One, one driver exiting his car to kick the fender hanging off the other car. The crowd roared, many in the area running down to the safety fencing to snap pictures and razz the drivers.
“This race better end under green, or I’ll go crazy!” Sunnie shouted to Tom once the race was back under the white flag. The final lap blew by, the two cars in the lead not giving each other any room. They bounced off each other several times on their final way around the triangular track.
Sunnie seemed to see the final crash in slow motion, as the two lead cars careening around the far turn they turned head on into each other. Out of the cloud of smoke from screeching tires and broken engines came the line of cars that had been following them.
To the cheers of thousands the red eight crossed the line, the flagman waving both the checkered and yellow flags together. Sunnie jumped up and down, one arm around Tom’s shoulders, cheering the young driver who had just won his first race.
Other drivers made their way around the track waved to the crowds. Sunnie turned to Tom, her arm still around his shoulder. Feeling words were inadequate to express the lingering excitement, Sunnie threw her other arm around Tom’s neck and kissed his surprised face.
Several people whistled as they walked by the couple, who were oblivious to any of the subsequent celebrations going on. Realizing they were the object of the whistling, Tom and Sunnie managed to contain themselves, gather their packs and walk out of the stands. Several people applauded them. Tom nodded to their fans, earning a few more rounds of clapping.
Tom pulled Sunnie along through the crowds to the pits, where they were able to find a place close to Winner’s Circle to watch the mylar confetti fly over the crowd. Neither had realized it was night until the fireworks started shooting off over the track, rainbows of sparks falling.
“So, do we stay and see who else we can get to sign that shirt? I’m sure it’ll take us an hour just to get out of the parking area.” Tom asked Sunnie, picking a piece of mylar out of her hair.
“It’ll take us an hour to find the parking area. Let’s start walking. Better yet, let’s find the bathrooms one more time. Try to contain yourself when standing by the concessions this time.” Tom chuckled. “Really, how many chili dogs does one man need in one day?”
Sunnie was correct in the time it took to walk back to the parking area and find the Jeep. Tom was correct in the time it took to get out of the parking area. Sunnie cheered when they were finally out on the highway. “I wish this had a bench seat. I’m exhausted.”
“I won’t be insulted if you want to lay down in the back. I’ll tell you from experience, it’s not the most comfortable place to lay down, though. It’s not long enough.”
Sunnie looked in the back to ponder the possibility.
“Maybe later. Are we stopping anywhere besides a bathroom break?”
“I saw a diner about halfway when we drove up. I could kill a stack of pancakes.”
Tom scowled when Sunnie rolled her eyes. “You know, Sunnie, that’s the one most annoying habit you have. You have such a beautiful face, then you ruin it.”
Sunnie–not sure how to respond–stayed silent.
“What was the best part of the race?” Tom asked, unruffled by the long silence from Sunnie.
“Well, that crash was one. So glad no one was hurt, but really, what are the chances of a crash right in front of you? Oh, the whole race! It was something. I’m surprised I can still talk. You must think I’m crazy.”
“Nope, I’m glad you enjoyed it so much. We’ve been a few times, but it was different being there with you. No one ever kissed me like that after the race.”
Sunnie glossed over the comment about the kiss.
“I assume, of course, you want to go again.”
“I’d love to. Isn’t that a bit optimistic of you? Assuming we’ll be dating a whole year from now?”
“You assured me of that today, Sunnie. Besides, I don’t think you’ll give up Picasso that easily.” Sunnie laughed. She did become attached to the beautiful horse, Tom’s father, along with Tom himself.
The area of discussion to avoid was coming up, so Sunnie looked in the back seat again. “So, it’s really that uncomfortable back there?”
“You’re so obvious, Sunnie. Even though your shorter than me, you’ll have to curl up in a ball. If you normally sleep that way, it’ll be fine.”
“I am not shorter. I’ll make due, I’m pretty tired. Sure you don’t mind?”
Tom shook his head again. “There may be a blanket way in the back. I’ll wake you up for pancakes.”
Sunnie climbed carefully between the seats, leaving Tom with the scent of her hair for company. He felt her hand on his shoulder after a few minutes, and he glanced in the rear view mirror. She smiled, then waved before she laid down.
Tom waved back and settled into driving through the night. Thinking about the race events, he always came back to Sunnie’s kiss.