Monday, March 19, 2012

Bristol Tennessee to Sudbury Ontario

So here we were yesterday afternoon, cruising away from the track and into Bristol on the Volunteer Parkway with hardly any other cars around. But we were aware that there was a tsunami of traffic that would be right behind us so we didn't slow down. As Satchel Paige once said. "Don't look back, something might be gaining on you".  The GPS was set to take us to I-75, although we had one miscue when it tried to take a longer route than I wanted. No problem, we managed to leave Bristol on US 421 North  after instructing it.

Our decision not to take I-81 due to the bridge construction at Marion might not have been necessary since we were so fast getting away, but we heard on the radio that there was a crash on 81 just north of Abingdon, Virginia so I guess our choice was for the best.

US 421 to Gate City was an excellent motorcycle road. It twisted and wound and, once we left the city, there was no one ahead of us. After Gate City, it was more four lane than two and, although the traffic picked up, it wasn't a problem. Instead of taking a northwestern diagonal to meet I-75 at London, Kentucky, the Garmin directing us more southwest on US 58 to Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. This is the spot where Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia come together and was a major point in the people migrating west to the frontier. There we turned north on US 25E into Kentucky. As soon as we started on 25E, we went through a tunnel that had interactive over height warning signs. First time I have seen those.

We reached I-75 at Corbin, Kentucky where we stopped for fuel ($3.58 per gallon, the best so far) and had a bite at the DQ Brazier. I had an excellent mushroom/Swiss burger. Many of the people in there were heading home from the race.

Tom took over driving in Corbin as the sun was going down. I dozed off and on as we worked our way north. Just outside Dayton, Ohio, we met some heavy rain but the Rocket Stick hooked me up and showed it was very localized. By the time we got through the never-ending Dayton construction, it was all over. Then we encountered fog entering Michigan, stopping at a TOA in Monroe for more fuel and coffee.

Finding the tunnel in Detroit would have been virtually impossible without the GPS. Once we got to it, getting through it was pretty convoluted, too. And the toll was $4.50 Canadian but only $4.00 US. What a rip. We used my US credit card to pay the lower fare. Canadian Customs was friendly, efficient and non-demanding, welcoming us home. Tom had driven all the way from Corbin and now Heather took over for an hour through heavy fog. Tom took over again in London and we pulled into their driveway in Woodstock at 6:00 AM.

I could have taken a break and slept for a few hours but I wasn't feeling too bad so I headed right out. After calculating that our 100 KPH pace had cost substantial time on the way home (20 KPH faster over 10 hours equals 200 kilometers more distance covered), I left town flying low as the fog dissipated. I was moving with the faster traffic at 125 to 135 as the sun started to rise. I even opted to splurge on the ETR407 Toll Road, which got me headed north out of Toronto before the big rush hour jam. Good thing because I heard Highway 25 was closed at Nobleton due to a wreck. I hit the drive-thru at the King City Service Center Tim Horton's and kept going. North of Barrie, I was back into fog but the traffic was light.

More stinking fog

I had been hearing a light clunk in the right rear that sounded like rocks bouncing into the wheel well. But always the same wheel? I finally stopped in Point Au Baril to check on it and found that I had been dragging my computer power cord since Woodstock. The end that plugged into the Netbook was toast. I'd need to stop at Staples in Sudbury and look for another cord. Damn.

Mangled Netbook power cord

The fog cleared by Parry Sound until I reached the four-lane at Estaire. From there until town, the tired caught up with me. I decided that this was just a little too much and, next time, I will pull over sooner. My ability to push my limits is not as great as it was when I was younger. I reached town at 11:00 AM and, after a quick stop at Staples for a new cord, pulled into the driveway. As expected, there was only a tiny patch of snow left.

I did consider the next Bristol trip. Ideally, we would take the motorhome and camp at Earhart for nine nights for the fixed $200 price. We would spend the early part of the week exploring the area and then, on Friday, we would pay $5.00 each to watch qualifying and practice. We would experience the ambiance, the tailgates and the cornhole tournaments. Then, on Saturday and Sunday, we would sit in the motorhome and watch the races on satellite TV while listening to the track through the windows. Comfortable couch versus metal seats, instant replays and commentary and a place to nap. It just doesn't get any better than this:-))

Today's Route (1,035 car/van miles):

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bristol Motor Speedway Sunday

It started raining about 4:00 AM this morning. This was our main concern because, with Heather and Tom's work schedule, there was no way we would be able to stay over another day in case of a rain out. I didn't see any water coming into the tent so I went back to sleep.

It was still coming down at 8:00 AM when we got up and drove over to the shower building. I skipped the shower, just brushing my teeth and washing. I discovered the little bottle of hotel shampoo had lost its lid so my trusty old shaving kit was pretty messed up inside. Nothing o do about it until I got home. Outside, I waited for Heather and Tom with the same crew from Maine that was here yesterday.

Mainers hanging out in the rain at the showers

We had planned to tear the tent down later, after the dew dried. We were pretty sure nothing was going to dry now but we were hoping for the rain to stop so we put on our disposable Walmart rain ponchos and headed for the iBelong Reunion over at the Creekside Hospitality Area (wherever that was). Following the creek, we found the Reunion, held for the season ticket holders. As I mentioned, Richard had loaned me his iBelong ID cards so we got in for free.

Eating some breakfast at the Reunion

They had some things laid out for the regulars. There was a Little Bristol track with radio control cars. They sure could take a beating. There was a bank of driving simulators and a tire changing simulator that Tom tried out. I skipped that one because my knees would have rebelled. There were a few classic muscle cars, two of which were from Ontario. Brad Keselowski spoke to us, with a lot of commentary directed to Twitter and cell phones in race cars. Jeff Burton also put in an appearance. And we got to see Twiggy the Water Skiing Squirrel. Actually, Twiggy VII and Twiggy VIII because this show has been going since 1979.

Little Bristol Speedway

Plymouth Superbird with Ontario plates

Ontario Dodge Charger

Brad Keselowski

Tom tries out for a position on a pit crew

Probably not a good enough time but at least he didn't break a lug

Oh look, a squirrel

Twiggy really seems to like it

Jeff Burton

On the way back to the tent, we passed the Official Cornhole Tournament. OK, these guys were good.

The Cornhole professionals

Back at the tent, the rain had pretty much let up. We stowed the gear and folded a very wet tent and fly. These would need to be hung up to dry when I got home. I hate putting away wet gear but at least it wasn't actively precipitating as we did it. We managed to get everything shoe horned into the trunk and back seat, turning the car in anticipation of a quick escape after the race.

Heather and Tom packing their stuff

We walked over to the track and slowly climbed all the way up to the top level and our Row 57 seats. Sandy said Kellie Pickler was supposed to be doing the pre-race show but we found out later that they had cancelled it due to the rain. Lee Greenwood traditionally sings Proud To Be An American but they had to use a recording this time because Lee was also a weather no show. As we ate pizza and Arby's while watching driver introductions (Kyle got booed again) and opening ceremonies, the skies started to clear.

Blue skies coming our way.......

Smoke from the opening ceremonies fireworks

Binoculars helped

Jet dryers, where is Juan Montoya?

Pace laps and many empty seats

About the empty seats. Bristol has long been the most popular track on the NASCAR circuit and traditionally sells out. Season's tickets are passed to family members in their wills. And today almost 1/3rd of the seats were empty. Discussion afterwards debated the suspected causes including the morning rain, the general state of the economy and possible the new track configuration which makes for less aggressive racing. I'm not sure what the right answer is but it sure was unusual to see.

I'm sure the scalpers took a beating this weekend. They hang out just off the track property and, to a man, all the ones I saw were African-American. In fact, they were almost the only black people I saw near the track. I see the same thing in VROC. Although we welcome everyone and anyone with any evident racial bias gets dealt with quite harshly, we still end up being an almost totally lily-white group. It makes me wonder why.

The last bit of context has to do with the VROC Yahoo NASCAR Fantasy League. We have been doing this for years and both Mom and I have been season champions early on. I haven't done so well lately and today was no exception. I pinned my front line hopes on Kyle Busch, who has swept a whole weekend here in the recent past. But today, my choice jinxed him and he was caught up in the first wreck right in front of our seats.

The rest of the race was extremely uneventful considering this was Bristol. Dale Earnhardt used to describe racing here as "frammin' and jammin' ". But the new track results in more than one racing line and we saw three wide a few times. I fought nodding off again as the cars ran round and round.  In the end, Brad Keselowski crossed the finish line first.

Goodyear Tire guys grilling in the infield

Kyle's "Bristol" car (no fenders or hood)

Marcus Ambrose in Bristol trim as well

As soon as the 500th lap was done and the checkered flag waved, we started for the stairs. By the time we got to the bottom, we were surrounded by a sea of humanity all trying to get out of there. We walked quickly to the campsite where I got behind the wheel and we were rolling. I threaded my way around pedestrians but didn't encounter another moving vehicle until we were almost to the main road. Withing five minutes of getting to the car, we were rolling towards town on Volunteer Parkway with almost no other cars on the road. I have never made this clean a getaway from any of the tracks I have been at.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Bristol Motor Speedway Saturday

Happy Saint Patrick's Day. Since my grandfather was a staunch Orangeman, I tend to downplay the green on the 17th but Irish eyes seem to be smiling this morning.

First thing, we climbed into the car and drove across the campground to the shower building. It wasn't nearly as busy as I expected and I managed to find a free shower stall right away. My only complaint was that the little change area didn't have a bench of any kind. It would have been easier if I was wearing sleep pants and Crocs, but I managed to enjoy the hot water anywaay. After getting clean, I took advantage of the coffee they had made outside while talking to some other Mainers (not Bo's group) out front.

After driving back to the campsite, we walked up to the main road and surveyed the "unofficial" vendors. There were many selling diecast replica cars but one had a series of plastic display cases for these models. I had never seen that before. Some were just plain cases while others had themes like the three vehicles Kyle Busch used for his Bristol Sweep or all seven cars King Richard used for his championships. These make the replicas much more attractive in my mind.

Darryl Waltrip Diecast Replica Display Case

I was looking for souvenirs for Sandy. Her favourite driver is Kevin Harvick, so I managed to get her a can koozie and a ticket lanyard with #29 on them. I also found tie-dyed Bristol shirts. Real tie-dyed, not a silk screened fake. Across the road, I bought an official race program and a race pin. I have a pin from each race I have attended.

Sam Hornish Jr. signs autographs

We took the merchandise back to our tent and then returned to the track because Nationwide qualifying was scheduled for 10:30. On the way, we stopped at a replica Bowyer car for publicity shots. Unlike the real thing, this one has a door.

Heather in Clint Bowyer's car

Tom tries the 15 on for size

And me (I use the sponsor's product often)

Reaching the track, it was time to find our assigned seats. Kulwicki Grandstand, Section L, Row 57. We knew that this was pretty much on the line between Turns 1 and 2. We climbed some stairs to the first level. then we climbed some more and went out into the stands. Then we climbed a long way up to where our seats were. It was nice that they were on the aisle but there were lots of stairs.

The track as seen from our seats

Tom using his new DSLR camera

Fine looking fans

We watched the qualifying intently even though we didn't bring our program and couldn't remember who was in which car most of the time. Give us a break, we follow the Sprint series a lot more closely.

Everyone knew Danica's car

After qualifying, we went up a couple of rows to the top concourse and found a table for lunch. I had Arby's while Heather and Tom had Godfather's Pizza. We shared the table with another couple from Maine, this time a little older. Veterans of New Hampshire races, this is their first time at Bristol.. The New Englanders seem to be everywhere this weekend.

Lunch time at the track

After lunch, we headed down the outer stairwell, all twelve industrial sized flights of metal steps. We wandered through the merchandise trailers and vendors looking for some things Heather wanted.

Heather and Tom discuss souvenirs

Danica is everywhere

Who says the Waltrip team doesn't have a sense of humour?

Too funny (too true)

Nothing is serious with the 55

Scanners with screens, in car cameras and instant replays

Our stairwell is behind the Food City banner

Another brand of legal moonshine

Deep fried Oreos??

Yes, deep fried Oreos

Modern high powered ice cream maker

Back at the track, we paced ourselves as we climbed and climbed. Someone could make a fortune selling oxygen and nitroglycerin at the top of the stairs. We met a nice couple doing Bible outreach and talked to them a bit. I didn't for one minute let them know my true beliefs. They are volunteering here and there was no need to cause them any consternation.

Raceway Ministries

Our tent is on the other side of the parking lot

It sure is

I saw these two haulers somewhere on the road last summer

We took our seats in time for the driver introductions. Kyle Busch got the biggest boos.

Kevin Harvick on left

The stands are far from full

Danica in green

Some typical NASCAR race fans

Lots of people in the pits before the race

The green flag drops

The race got underway at 2:00. It was relatively uneventful for a Bristol race. The reconfigured track seems to have led to a lot more mannerly driving with a lot fewer cautions. In the end, Elliott Sadler in the 2 car won it going away.

Spotters on the roof

Sadler wins

Back at the tent, we needed more water. We decided to drive out and do some shopping. First, we went towards Bristol and stopped at Subway. On the way, we passed an erratic old pickup truck driven by an older man drinking from a Pepsi bottle. No one was willing to bet that it was just Pepsi in the bottle.

No one ordered the featured sandwich

We stopped at the liquor store across the street. I was looking for Catdaddy moonshine for a friend back home and maybe a bottle of Popcorn Sutton moonshine for myself. Since Popcorn passed away, they have been making his shine legally. Having had the real stuff, I wondered how the legal stuff compared. Amazingly, the store had big displays of both kinds. There was a video playing of Popcorn's funeral and they were trying to sell by the case. I bought one bottle of each, with the Sutton coming in the traditional mason jar.

The next stop was Walmart where I got a car charger for my new phone and a copy of the video game Plants and Zombies. Tom said I needed it. We got a case of water for what one bottle costs at the track and we each got an eighty-eight cent plastic rain poncho. Then we headed back to the track. Surprisingly, it was 7:00 PM and we were not allowed back into the campground because cars and people were still leaving. We returned to Walmart where I set up the voice mail on the new phone and we checked Email (since we hadn't been able to sign on wth the Rocket Stick at the campground, probably due to too many people with too many phones).

The track is inaccessible

Cloud formations from the Walmart lot

After 8:00 PM, the left turn into the campground was still blocked but, after going up and making a U-turn, they allowed us to make a right turn into the property. Back at the campsite, we decided not to go to the Saint Patrick's Day party that George Wendt (Norm from Cheers) was hosting but we did notice they dyed the creek green. Heather and Tom took a walk while I talked to Judy and Steve.

Heather and Tom relaxing

Steve and Judy in green

I turned in fairly early, again serenaded by generators and loud partiers.

On a sad note, I spoke to Sandy this afternoon and she told me that fellow Freedom Rider Al Barrowcliffe had succumbed to cancer. Al was a good man and we will miss him. Our thoughts are with Ruth and the family.  Rest In Peace, Al.