Dorothy Talan-Quaid: NASCAR fan heaven |

Dorothy Talan-Quaid: NASCAR fan heaven

Life as a journalist can be very rewarding, whether you are following your heart, your passion, your conscience or your dreams. A press pass brings access to political arenas, crime scenes, movie sets, celebrities, politicians, the average working Joe (or JoAnn) and so much more. Invites to many events often include meals and “swag”, to remind us of the hosts and/or happenings.

In addition to allowing me to practice my craft (writing), my career in journalism has allowed me to follow my passion; auto racing, and in particular, NASCAR. I’ve met up with quite a few of yesterday’s and today’s stars and have been invited to participate in all sorts of activities revolving around the sport.

A few years ago, I suited up and piloted an actual dragster for a short run down the drag strip at Infineon Raceway. This year, I jumped at the chance to ride in an actual stock car around that facility’s road course AND meet former football star Jerry Rice, the grand marshal for the Nextel Cup race on Sunday.

The decision to ride was a no-brainer but I was worried about the requirement that you have to be able to get in and out of the stock car through the passenger window opening. Oh, it would not have been a problem 20 years and forty pounds ago, but nowadays I have to figure in the extra pounds and lack of flexibility brought on by middle age.

Not wanting to embarrass myself at the track in front of Rice and my colleagues, I did what every other woman in my position would have done: I practiced getting in and out of a stock car in private, at Bill McAnally Racing (BMR) in Antelope (thanks, Kara!). In spite of my fears, there was room to spare in that 15×30-inch space and I made my reservation for Monday’s media event.

It was high noon at Infineon as I made my way to pit row, where the Richard Petty Driving Experience (RPDE) had set up its trailer, tents and gear to outfit the media and some lucky fans, all of whom would get to ride shotgun in actual race cars set up with passenger seats. It was the first time RPDE had brought its program to Infineon Raceway and we were all excited to be a part of it.

Also participating for the first time at any racetrack was Jerry Rice. Although he has watched NASCAR racing on television, Rice said he had never actually been to a racetrack before and had never been inside a racecar. Although we media members both teased and reassured him it would be the experience of a lifetime, Rice said he was intimidated by the idea that he would be driven around the 1.99-mile road course at about 120mph (slower than the actual race pace, but plenty fast). Like the rest of us, Rice suited up in a driving suit and helmet and climbed into the racecar for his four-lap ride.

I was on my way to my car as Rice climbed out of his. I called out, “How was it, Jerry?” He replied, “Awesome”. I asked, “Are you ready to go again?” and he replied, “Hell, no!” I’m told he was hanging on for dear life and ready to stop by lap three!

I wasn’t worried at all, especially after I got in the car. With the HANS (Head And Neck Support) device and safety belts in place, you really can’t move around much, let alone turn your head, so you’re safe, snug and protected. I wasn’t sure where to put my hands, so I just placed them on my lap and got comfortable.

Jerry was right – it was awesome! My driver, Brian Zackerias, twisted and turned around the track, downshifting into the tight corners and hitting the rumble strips on the turns. It was kind of like a wild roller coaster ride for two and I pounded my leg, trying to tell him to go faster. My two laps were over far to soon; I could have gone for at least a few more trips around the course!

I, however, was more than ready to get out of that hot driving suit and helmet. It was a warm day in Sonoma, but I’ve been there when the temperature was 10-15 degrees higher and the track temp is much higher than that. Sweat poured off all our brows before and after our rides, making me wonder just how drivers and their crews manage to stay dressed like that all day long.

Add the heat from the car and all those metal surfaces to the mix and you’ve got extreme conditions that would melt all but the most dedicated and passionate participants. Drivers can lose 10 pounds or more during a race just through fluid loss, so staying hydrated is really a matter of health and safety. Now you know why those ice packs and water bottles on pit road are so important!

Riding in a stock car is a great experience and I recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to do so. RPDE has facilities at 25 locations across the country with a variety of programs at various prices, starting at $99 for the ride-a-long. I’ve already made my reservation for next March at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where I hope to actually drive the car! More information about RPDE is available at 1-800-237-3889.

Track Walk: Infineon Raceway will host its 2nd Annual Track Walk after Sunday’s NASCAR Nextel Cup race, where fans can walk the length of this two-mile road course 30 minutes after the race ends. To make the event more fun, the raceway will hide five “golden lug nuts” around the track, each of which is redeemable for some killer prizes, including shopping sprees, VIP packages at the raceway, a DLP HD television and a $4,100 Snap-On Tools starter tool set. There is no charge to participate, although donations will be gladly accepted, with proceeds benefiting local Sonoma County youth groups through Speedway Children’s Charities. More information about the race, this event and others is available at or by calling 1-800-870-RACE (7223).

Correction: Jesse Myers, who did the awesome sticker job on the pace car for the Nevada City Bicycle Classic last Sunday, asked me to give credit where credit is due in regards to the ’67 Chevy Camaro that was also featured in last week’s column. Myers said that John Hughes, of Nevada City Classics, actually did the fantastic multi-layered paint job on the Camaro while Myers did the powder coat on the wheels and engine compartment components. Great job, John!

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