The feeling of summer

By Paul D. Bowker
Posted 6/3/21

Ah, summer has arrived.

No doubt about it. It’s June. Temperatures are on the rise. And soon, summer thunderstorms.

The smell of burgers and steaks and chicken being cooked on grills will …

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The feeling of summer

Posted

Ah, summer has arrived.

No doubt about it. It’s June. Temperatures are on the rise. And soon, summer thunderstorms.

The smell of burgers and steaks and chicken being cooked on grills will soon fill the evening air.

For high school athletes, baseball and softball seasons have begun.

As an aside, how cool is that? High school baseball and softball being played in the summer. In my travels, this is the first state in which I have seen any high school sports being played in the summer. I’m all in.

I grew up in Massachusetts. That meant summer trips to Fenway Park, beach time on Cape Cod and the best college baseball players in the nation playing in front of Major League Baseball scouts for two months, nearly every day, in the Cape Cod Baseball League.

But when I moved to the south for a sports editor job in South Carolina years ago, I quickly learned something.

The mark of summer in the Carolinas came with the Coca-Cola 600 race on Memorial Day weekend at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

I remembered that fondly as I watched this year’s race on television on Sunday night. The race was won by Kyle Larson, who less than a year ago captured a pair of sprint-car titles in Knoxville, Iowa, while he was suspended by NASCAR.

The Coca-Cola 600 is NASCAR’s longest race. There are two weeks of races and activities leading up to the race. The speedway is actually located in Concord, North Carolina, which is a mecca of NASCAR teams and garages located just northeast of Charlotte. For two weeks, Charlotte is Race City and nothing else. Folks drive from all over the country, probably including Iowa, and set up shop in their RVs in the huge parking lots surrounding the speedway.

For a northerner who had all kinds of biased opinions about NASCAR, it was actually breathtaking.

Remember the first time you walked into Kinnick Stadium? Or Wrigley?

It’s like that.

I spent a race day stationed near pit road.

There is no better place to watch the Coca-Cola 600. This is where the action is, where the race really takes place.

I have always wanted to sit in the Red Sox’s dugout at Fenway Park during a game to catch the words of the players and the manager, and watch a game unfold.

Same with the sideline during an Iowa football game.

Pit road at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the middle of NASCAR’s biggest race is powerful. Every car has a pit crew. Every crew has a crew chief. Decisions are immediate. Complete tire changes and re-fuels are completed in a matter of seconds. Tires are flying everywhere. Drivers cut in front of each other constantly while not trying to capture the attention of NASCAR officials, who can be noticeably seen in their white shirts and monitoring every movement of every car.

If a driver breaks a rule entering or exiting pit road, they are penalized by not being allowed back onto the track. It’s NASCAR’s version of a hockey penalty box.

If a crew member loses a rolling tire on pit road, it’s a penalty and, well, maybe the last thing they’ll ever do for that crew.

Meanwhile, the crew chief watches all of this from high above in their viewing stand, communicating with the driver and crew members via radio.

And if you’re lucky enough to get a pit road credential, you’ll have a front seat to all of this.

Keep that in mind the next time you go to a race at Iowa Speedway or some of the smaller tracks. Keep an eye on the crew.

That’s just one thing summer brings us.

But, hey, there’s also the beach and weekend camping trips.

 

Paul Bowker can be reached at bowkerpaul1@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter:  @bowkerpaul.

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