It’s Become A Way Of Life

By Susan Phillips

Greetings from my hotel room in beautiful Bentonville, Arkansas! I am here for work all week. I fly home Friday afternoon just in time to drive down to Barber Motorsports Park and meet up with George, who will already be at the track, late Friday afternoon. I’m excited! Our racing season is about to start.

Until George took me to the 2002 IndyCar race at Nashville Superspeedway, I had never been to an IndyCar race in my life. The only race I had been to before then was in 1984, when Nascar used to race at the Nashville Fairgrounds. A friend of a friend had gotten pit passes for me and my boyfriend at the time. We were in Bill Elliott’s pit and all I remember about it was it was hot and loud. When my boyfriend said he was ready to go, I didn’t argue. That was my only exposure to racing for almost twenty years.

When George asked me (told me) about us going to the Nashville IndyCar race, that hot loud sweaty race was all I could think of. I really would have preferred to stick sharp objects in my eye instead of going to another race, but I kept my mouth shut and went along.

Not only did I go along, I even got on the track’s website and found that they sold Garage Access passes for $30. After he bought the tickets, I surprised him with the garage passes. He was ecstatic – especially once we got there and we were allowed to walk right up to where they were working on the cars. George struck a conversation with one of Helio Castroneves’ crew guys and was still talking to him when Helio walked up to sit in the car while they adjusted the mirrors. I had no clue who he was at the time, but Helio spoke to us and signed autographs. When he left, George told me that he had won the last two Indy 500s. Needless to say, I was impressed. Not because he had won Indy, but because he was friendly and took the time to speak.

I may not remember much about racing, but I do remember Alex Barron won that race. We saw him earlier in the day, because I remember how cute he was. I asked George who that guy was and once he told me, I remembered the name and was cheering for him that night. With the garage passes, the friendly crew guy, Helio’s friendliness, my guy winning and George’s enthusiasm with the whole experience; I had a whole new appreciation for racing.

We went to the Nashville race together the next year and every other year until it went away. George started taking me and my son Eric to Indy in 2004. Eric was 14 at the time. We had tickets behind the pits. There was a downpour before the race and we had to seek shelter under the suites. I was afraid Eric would be miserable if we kept dodging raindrops all day. As it turned out, that’s exactly what happened. The race started late, they had a rain delay in the middle and then it was stopped early for rain. To top it all off, when we were walking back to our car in the middle of the infield in a downpour, we heard an announcement to take cover because a tornado was headed for the track.

I was afraid Eric would never want to go back. But he loved it! He picked Tony Kanaan as the driver he wanted to win. Since that day, Tony Kanaan has always been Eric’s favorite driver. This year, as a 28 year-old, he gets to buy all-new A.J. Foyt merchandise to add to his extensive Tony Kanaan collection.

Eric still goes to Indy with us each year. In fact, he and I haven’t missed one since that rainy day back in 2004. This will be the fifteenth straight for both of us. He went to Barber with us for a few years but hasn’t been recently.

As I look forward to another race at Barber, I look back on how I have immersed myself into a sport and learned to love it when it was once nothing to me but a loud memory from a hot Sunday afternoon in the early 80s. Do I know much about it? I know more than the average Joe, but probably far less than most of you reading this. I know which drivers have won Indy for the last 15 years, but I can’t tell you what year they did it. I know everyone is driving the same car this year and it looks better, but I couldn’t tell you which driver has a Honda or Chevy. I know Penske has Chevy and Hinchcliffe does Honda commercials and that’s about it. George knows all of the stats and useless trivia. I’ll leave that to him.

But just because I haven’t followed this sport all my life and know all of the facts about it doesn’t mean I love it less. I don’t really care who runs for Honda and who doesn’t. But I do enjoy the human part of this sport. I like reading up on the personal lives of James Hinchcliffe and Will Power. We’ve gotten to know Josef Newgarden pretty well since he’s from Nashville. But when he and I have talked, we don’t talk racing. We talk about high school hockey in Nashville. He’s a couple of years younger than Eric, but Eric’s hockey team played Josef’s high school and we know a lot of the same people.

The people have become what intrigue me about IndyCar racing. Going to all of the races we’ve gone to over the years, we have met a lot of people and developed long-term relationships with some of them. There used to be a major sponsor of the series that still wishes to remain anonymous because they did a lot of nice things for us, including loaning us their suite at Indy so that we could get married there. The sponsor has pulled out, but we are still good friends to this day.

Since shortly after George started this site, we have struck up a longstanding friendship with Paul Dalbey. He’s almost a generation younger than we are, but we’ve all hit it off. He took our wedding photos and we’ve been to each other’s homes to visit. Paul married Kelli last fall and she has fit into the group nicely. We’ve also gotten to be friends with James Black, another fellow blogger. James is younger than my kids and George’s kids, but he is much more mature than all four of them. James, Paul and George crack me up when they get together. You’d think they were all the same age, but they do have one thing in common, their love for racing. I have found that at a race track, the love of racing transcends any age or other demographic barrier.

So while James, Paul, George and other friends will sit around at different tracks talking racing until they are blue in the face, I like the people. I like the people involved with the series, the few bloggers that are left and I like the fans that we’ve met, sometimes many times.

This weekend is our first race of many this season. It’s always fun to go back and see friends for the first time since last season. If you haven’t been to an IndyCar race in person, give it a try. Since that first race we went to together in Nashville sixteen years ago, this sport has become part of my life. Now I can’t imagine not going to several each year. It’s become a part of our lives. Our last race was last August at Gateway. I feel like that’s been too long. I can’t wait to get back to the track this weekend.

7 Responses to “It’s Become A Way Of Life”

  1. Yes Susan I agree. It’s the people that have made me such a huge fan of IndyCar. The drivers and teams are great, always willing to talk to you. I also meet up with the same friends every year. Looking forward to seeing you and George in Indy.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    I cannot overstate how much I enjoy that feeling of going to that first race of the season.

    For me this year, it was 2 weeks ago. It was 40 degrees, windy, threatening rain, and a generally miserable time to be outside… but when the cars hit the track, I enjoyed EVERY minute of it.

    The first of many.

  3. BrandonWright77 Says:

    I’m never happier than when I’m at a race track, the rest of the world and all its problems just disappear from my mind.

  4. I so agree with you, Susan. I love the sights and sounds, but it is the people. I attended Long Beach last weekend and we had a blast. I like to attend the small and large autograph sessions and get a chance to meet the new drivers. You never have this close access in other series, so we are blessed. I also enjoy talking with other fans. Highlights this weekend included meeting Robert Wickens and talking about St Pete and Phoenix; Kyle Kaiser couldn’t have been nicer; and then meeting Scott Pruett and Parnelli Jones on Sunday before the race at the legends session. I hope you and George come out to LB some year.

  5. You managed to get yourself into one of them racin’ deals Susan. Hopefully I can meet you and George at RA this year if it ever quits snowing.

  6. old story….back in the Bentonville days when few knew about Walmart, i had a meeting at their home office. entering
    my motel, the Holiday Inn’s sign said: Welcome KKK.
    oh, how i wish i had taken a picture to prove it.

  7. Truly miss seeing you and George every year at the tracks. Hopefully next year we can change that and spend a weekend at a race!

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