Monday, June 27, 2011

The Difficult Third Album...

Apparently it's hard to keep the success rolling so, for this (third time to this race for me, hence the title) edition of the 'Lugnuts hit Sonoma', I changed a couple things in the lead up (or forced to in some cases);

- gone was the quick gas and go to Lyndon a few weeks prior to pick up a cheap US cell phone as I changed onto a plan so I had global roaming this time.

- gone was the BART trip to meet up with Kristen as Orbitz changed my flights and had me getting in around 8pm Thursday...four hours at Sea-Tac was rather dull though, you can only walk by the same shops so many times before it gets old. Kristen said she'd just pick me up directly from the airport this time.

- gone also was my chance of getting sick (sore throat, blocked nose) at the hotel as I decided to do that the Friday before leaving...yes, I probably could have done with a session from our resident Doctor although she may have heard my frustrated screaming anyway.

- and last, but not least, gone was my trusty backpack that I bought about a month after I arrived in New Zealand back in January bit the dust over Christmas so I got a new one when I was home. That backpack was very well travelled having been to the Australian Grand Prix twice ('05 and '07), Sonoma twice ('06 and '10), Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, BC, Alberta and Alaska, not forgetting the Can-Ams visit to NZ back in '07 at Teretonga Raceway near Invercargill and a few stages of Rally Otago since the company I worked for sponsored it back then.

But enough stalling, on to 'the weekend that was'.

I had been waiting a little while Thursday evening for Kristen who told me that she was stuck in traffic. Then some texts flew around, followed by a phone call or two asking me precisely where I was. I told her that I got spat out in front of the US Airway signs...of course, I did neglect to mention departures while she was doing laps in the arrivals a level below. can I put this?...freshening up (a month at Googa in High School made me an expert of the deodorant shower), I just followed the people out of the airport, I didn't even think about what level I was on :S

The less said about bathrooms the better...right, Kristen?

Heading to the track Friday we bemoaned about the lack of a World Cup to listen to on the radio, how Marcos probably wasn't going to win due to the pressure (I agreed with initial trifecta pick was going to be Menard but Kristen said how you all left me my boy, aww), how ticked the double deuce team were that Brad won a points race before Kurt this year, and the reasons behind just why someone would make off with Kristen's Dale Jr emblem that had been on her car last year but now wasn't...more to come on that later actually (no, I didn't have anything to do with it. Well I did, but not how you're thinking!)

As most of you probably saw, Ambrose was using a special paint scheme for the race; he had the name of one child from each State of the USA who had been in and/or are still in hospital for an extended stay. First thing I saw while wandering around after Kristen had rushed off to the garage had me thinking that 'The King' was on a seriously tight budget if this was their hauler.

But no, this had the demo car that was going to unveil the paint scheme in VL later that day. After scoping out exactly who had their merchandise here this year, I made my way to my seat to click merrily away while cars were put on the ramp and hopefully appease Kristen after what happened last year when none of us saw her pushing the car down pitlane on raceday as we were all at driver introductions.

The good thing about sitting there on Friday is you never know who might come out of the media room.

The last one was when Marcos came out for the deal in VL...won't put up many of it but I can say that on Ambrose's facebook album, in one of the photos, you can see me in the background!

After Marcos' time there, and after practice was done, the new inductees, Allison and Jarrett took center stage before Jarrett stayed to help David Ragan unveil his Brickyard paint job (the 6, not the 11 obviously...the 11 would never pass inspection *laugh*).

Kristen has already been over the issues that Kurt had before qualifying so I won't rehash that other than reiterate how much of a shock it was that Joey stuck the thing on pole...I don't think even he knew how he managed it. To the stage for 'Trackside' then where (can we just give it to him already?) the leading RotY, Andy Lally as well as Ambrose were the guests. They moved the stage around so where I was standing last year would have meant I'd be behind the stage for this one yet where Melissa stood last year meant she was in front this I stuck with Melissa and hoping my trusty boxing 'roo flag could entice Marcos to visit after his segment was over.

It did (I think *laugh*), and in my attempt to remove the lid from the pen, I dropped the bloody thing and my "oh bugger" comment may have clued him into my nationality...the shiny new Ambrose shirt could have done it as well I suppose. Anyway, we had a little chat where he said it was great I was there and it was good to see me. Yes, you read that right, I thought that *I* was supposed to be saying that to him! Bottom line is he signed the hero cards that Kristen snagged earlier (one's heading your way soon, Indy!) and I left the track with a smile that rivals Marcos' usual one.

Saturday dawned and opting for the KTS (Kristen's Taxi Service) saw us at the track around 8:30 where we encountered the lawn mowers. Considering I moved from a place where sheep outnumber people by a significant margin, I can't say I was as enthused about it as Kristen was but, even so, it was pretty funny to see. I went down to turn 7 for both practices, you could tell who was 'on it' and who was cruising just by the how much kerb (same deal as 'tyre' I'm afraid) they were using...

...or by how much they messed up their braking point.

Not a whole lot really happened on the 'lazy day' I think Kristen said, but CR did show up between practices so we were able to get some good openwheel talk going before Melissa turned up (I *knew* I should have stuck with my Vettel jinx pick, grrr!) having been delayed by a slow pitstop for fuel I believe it was. Rest of the day we watched the Nationwide race in the hotel, then went to dinner with Kristen's inspection buddy...that sounds wrong, um, don't read it like that please...who explained things like what gears the teams could use this weekend and why Kurt's car didn't pass inspection before qualifying. Alas, he could not tell me exactly why Ambrose had to use the rookie stripe in 2009 while Keselowski didn't in 2010 when both were ineligible for RotY honours in those respective years having run too many races the year before. He thought it had something to do with Brad running more than half a season while Marcos didn't however.

To Sunday then, where, after a fair bit of deliberation and a lightbulb moment by Melissa, I went to the track with Kristen again since she would be taking me back Sunday afternoon...little did we know the events that were to unfold. For some reason, the nearest Starbucks couldn't get my name right and insisted on spelling it with a 'i' instead of a 'y'...I suppose that's how they roll in San Rafael, Kristen found it somewhat more amusing than me, have to say *laugh*

We got to the track earlier than the previous two days (by over an hour). Jeff Gluck was doing a 'tweet-up' at 8am just behind VL and his guest today was my (apparently, if the 'Trackside' thing was anything to go by) good mate; Marcos Ambrose. Kristen, being the legend she is, snapped a once-in-a-lifetime photo of 'us Aussies'...well, for me it was, Marcos probably not so much.

Why yes, this is now my laptop I not that predictable?

After that was done, I went for a wander down pitlane and bumped into both CR and Melissa. I elected to skip going to the stage for driver intros this year and waited for Kristen's texts keeping me up-to-date over when the #22 would come rolling down the pits. Of course, when it did, she wasn't looking my way, so I have a shot of her going off at Tony (she probably was actually since he likes to tease her), one of the officials.

I then went back to my seat to watch the rest of the pre-race stuff...didn't miss the intros in the end so I snapped a fair few drivers this year and, with the aid of photoshop, I can bring you the Sonoma edition of Juan Smurftoya!

I believe that Kristen will have a blow by blow account of raceday from her perspective and it's highly likely that you guys watching it on TV could keep up better than Melissa, CR and myself so I'll close with seven more pictures before my final blurb.

Joey leading them off on lap 1.

Kurt taking off on a restart.

Kurt taking the win...and Kristen can finally breathe again!

Now, last year we took a group photo of the four of us but that didn't happen this year so you'll have to make do with me, Melissa and CR...

Three quarters of our group...Kristen wouldn't let me photoshop her head in place of Bobby's. the final member of our group ditched us for a postrace date with 'Vicky'!

The new line of 'Where's Wally?' books featuring our very own Kristen! She's in that melee somewhere...

CR and Melissa left, leaving me the recipient of one of the biggest bear hugs I've ever gotten in my life when Kristen was able to tear herself away from the festivities (I told her to take as much time as she wanted). The drive back...I'm not sure I could do it justice really. Only word I can come up with is 'surreal' which is still pretty poor. For some reason I'm reminded of the movie 'Almost Famous'...which I've never seen but, from what I gather off the wikipedia page, it's basically about someone who is trying to bask in the glow of others. That's kind of how I felt, but not really...does that make sense?

In case you were wondering, yes, she did pilfer some victory confetti...and yes, she gave me some.

However, it was very, very, cool to share in her elation with 'her guys' finally winning a points race when she was there, and on her home turf no less!

So that was the race experience, but it's not the end of the story if you've been eagle-eyed and see only six photos, not seven like I said. For there is a hobby shop where I live that has NASCAR stuff from a few years ago so when Kristen said about her missing car emblem and not wanting any #88 Dale Jr stuff, I said I'd have a look when I got back. They had quite a selection and, hiding beneath a group of Tony Stewart #20's and Mark Martin #6's car doohickeys, was a lonely old #8.

Quite possibly the only piece of Dale Jr merchandise I'll buy in my life.

It's not a very fair trade though for everything she's done; driving me everywhere for the last two years here, got Marcos to siggie my flag last year, honoured our verbal (written?) bet over the NHL Conference final, got me into Gluck's tweet-up with Ambrose, dragged an inspector to dinner with us and nabbed some confetti from Kurt's win (along with, I'm sure, a gazillion other things)...and all I get her in return is, in her words; "HOLY CRAP!!! IT'S A PERFECT REPLICA!!!"

Yeah, I don't get it either...I'll post it down this week though, Kristen :)

I don't think the race itself was as good as last years but, personally, the overall experience was better (sorry Jon, wish you were there, mate!) thanks hugely to Melissa, CR and Kristen for making it possible. Nicking the NHL slogan; this is what we live for!