Monday, March 17, 2008

Burnin' rubber at Bristol

BRISTOL, Tenn., March 16 -- Well, it wasn’t Vegas, but it was enough.

My pal Matt Shelton had promised months ago that we’d take some kind of trip for our 30th birthdays. His is in February, mine was last week. Shelton’s wife, Susan, loves Vega$, so we thought we might go there.

But house payments, vocations and the realities of life got in the way, as they always seem to do. It’s OK. Birthdays, I suspect, should be more about spending time with friends and family and less about getting and going.

Never fear, though. Things have a way of working out. Shelton called Saturday night to say that he had an extra ticket to the NASCAR race in Bristol. His uncle couldn’t go. Was I interested?

"What the heck?" I thought. I haven’t paid regular attention to it since Richard Petty retired, but I’d never been up close and personal with the NASCAR drivers before. Sounded like fun. Definitely a cultural experience.

Shelton picked me up just before 9. The traffic wasn’t too bad, considering that 150,000 people were all converging on a small town in upper East Tennessee. We were sitting in the shadow of the speedway by 11:30.

I made sure we found the Petty truck. And, as usual at these kind of things, I found a hat to add to my collection.

Shelton was all decked out. He has the gear. His headphones even hook up to his scanner, so he can listen to the drivers chatter. My scanner tore up several months ago. Course, I bought it in 1988, so I guess that’s a pretty good shelf life.

My favorite part was the pit crew. Talk about a bunch that works for a living. I’m doing well to get out of my car in 15 seconds, much less change tires and fill up any gas. If there are any unsung heroes in NASCAR, it’s got to be the boys in the pits.

Meanwhile, back on Rocky Top, I learn that the UT baseball team swept LSU following a double header. First time in school history. The given-up-for-dead Vols sit atop the SEC East and are playing great baseball as March heads toward the home stretch.

Geez. Maybe I should go to Bristol more often. Doesn’t look like they need me at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

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