Every NASCAR fan has a Bucket List. Going to the Daytona 500, meeting their favorite driver, and touring the shops in Charlotte are experiences that are probably on most lists. I have been lucky enough to check all of those off my Bucket List in the last few years. However, I knew that the one experience on the top of my NASCAR Bucket List would be hard to accomplish. I knew that it may not happen until I get my dream job in NASCAR so it is still hard for me to believe that I have already been able to add it in my Bucket!
What could possibly be so elusive that I might not ever accomplish it? The NASCAR driver’s meeting. This is one of the only ways that a person can see all 43 drivers for a race in one place. You can watch as the drivers interact with each other, the crew chiefs, and special visitors. You can observe as drivers and crew chiefs get final instructions from NASCAR officials for the race. You can feel the excitement in the air as everyone gets ready for the next few hours.
The driver’s meeting was held in a big white tent that seemed much smaller than it actually was because of all the people inside. I arrived early enough to be able to stand at the very front of one side. I watched all the drivers and crew chiefs drift in. They seemed both focused and relaxed at the same time. I rattled off the names of all the drivers to my parents as the drivers walked in the tent and chatted with each other. All of them sought out their crew chiefs as they entered the tent and sat beside them as they waited for the meeting to start. I was starstuck seeing all the drivers gathered in one place. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica sat near where I was standing. Matt Kenseth, the eventual race winner, sat in the back. Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jeff Gordon, and Kasey Kahne sat on the other side of the tent from me, but I still had a clear view of them. Clint Bowyer sat in front of Jeff Gordon. A few minutes before the meeting began, Chad Knaus walked in and looked around for a seat. He walked over towards where I was standing and sat down right in front of me. Not long after, Jimmie Johnson walked in and sat beside his crew chief. I was standing less than a foot away from Jimmie Johnson!! One of the hardest parts during this time was not asking for a picture or an autograph from any of the drivers or their crew chiefs. As fan-friendly as NASCAR drivers are, I didn’t want to disturb them because I knew they were on the job!
The meeting started with Robin Pemberton introducing special guests and then a video was played explaining the rules. In the video, many race details that many fans might not think about are reviewed. Drivers were reminded of Darlington’s specifics - the locations of the emergency vehicles, the restart zone, pit road speed, green-white-checkered finishes, and pit road timing lines are just a few examples The drivers were so focused on the video; they didn’t let anything take their attention away from the directions being given. And it seemed that as soon as it had started, the meeting ended. I stood there watching the drivers and crew chiefs leave the tent - trying to soak in the whole experience and etch it into my memory.
Everyone has things they look forward to…things they hope to experience at some point in their life. Sometimes, after the event happens, we realize it wasn’t all we hoped it would be and even feel disappointed. This was NOT the case with my experience at the driver’s meeting in Darlington! Every aspect of this behind-the scenes was a dream come true and even better than I had imagined it could be! So, no matter what your dreams…NASCAR related or others….don’t follow them – CHASE THEM!
Special thanks to the gentleman in NASCAR who made this Bucket List dream come true for me- you know who you are and I cannot thank you enough!
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Clint Bowyer and Mike Helton
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson