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An Amazing Day in Dover

NASCAR came to Dover last week with the likes of Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jeff Gordon.

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It also brought more than a hundred thousand fans and some rain showers.

I was lucky enough not only to be in the grandstands for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, the Autism Speaks 400, but I also got to walk through pit row on both Saturday and Sunday and scored a one-on-one interview with superstar driver Tony Stewart.

Here’s the recap of my weekend…

I leave my house at 8:30 a.m. Saturday for the two-hour drive to Dover International Speedway. Along the way, I grab a bite to eat at Burger King, catch up on some sleep and prepare some questions for my big interview with Tony Stewart.

Around 10:45, my Dad and I finally arrive at the track. We go down to the pits and meet up with NASCAR representative Leslie Maxie who takes us into the garage area, right in front of Stewart’s trailer.

After about 30 minutes, we’re brought into the Old Spice/Office Depot hauler (it’s called a hauler because that’s what it does between races: hauls the cars from track to track.). Stewart is still in his jumpsuit, fresh from practicing with the other top drivers in what’s called “Happy Hour.” The trailer is narrow and we do the interview in the center aisle.

As I expected, he is one of the nicest guys I have ever met: easy, relaxed, funny, and interesting. What more could you want? (The full interview is right here!) After the interview is over, we head back home.

Sunday arrives quickly and we drive back to Dover – this time with my brother along for the ride. Today will be the fourth NASCAR race I’ve ever been to.

Before the race, they play the Star Spangled Banner and I feel the adrenaline rush from four F-16 fighter jets flying, and those four famous words, “Gentlemen, start your engines!”

About 50 laps into the race, I head to the pits and watch a pit stop from just 20 feet away. I am close enough to smell the race fuel and the burning rubber of the peel outs. Dover is a one-mile track, so the laps are quick and the stadium is constantly rumbling.

To get to the pits, I cross a glass walkway that goes directly over the track. As I walk over the bridge, the cars whiz underneath me, hitting a top speed of about 150 miles per hour. The walkway shakes. It’s an experience like no other. It is one of the coolest experiences of my life.

Back on the track, with only 36 laps left, most of the drivers jump off to get fresh tires and fuel, including Greg Biffle, Stewart, and Jimmie Johnson. Johnson chooses the conservative play, replacing all four tires. Biffle and Stewart take just two tires and leave the pits in the first and second spots. Johnson falls back to ninth place.

But Johnson, although initially behind, has the edge: Four new tires means better grip, and that means he can pass easier. With 10 laps to go, Johnson is in third and soon passes Biffle and Stewart to take the lead and eventually the checkered flag.

The crowd goes wild. A guy in the row behind me yells out, “That’s the best 25 laps of racing I’ve ever seen!” I’d agree with that.

Johnson is in the winner’s circle that day, but Stewart’s second-place finish gives him the Sprint Cup Series points lead. With the season almost halfway over, Stewart, cool and calm in his trailer (and a beast on the track), has put himself in position to take yet another series championship.

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