A late-afternoon monsoon nearly drowned close to 100,000 fans’ hopes of seeing a race on Saturday.
But a legion of burly pickup trucks towed giant dryer systems around the track to “blow dry” it, banishing the moisture in time for a 7:37 p.m. green flag for the Quaker State 400 in the Sprint Cup series.
During two days immersed in the NASCAR scene with Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 World Vision car and the Furniture Row Racing team, I learned what it takes to ready the car for the big race. I talked with fans who invested plenty of money and travel time to experience the weekend of racing in Sparta, Kentucky.
After two days, I thought I was initiated.
I was naïve.
You haven’t experienced NASCAR until you’ve stood in pit row and absorbed the shock wave that overcomes you the moment 42 super-charged racecars scream by, in formation, on the opening green flag.
“Ready … ready … green, green, green. All rolling,” says Furniture Row’s spotter over the radio as Martin takes off from the 10th row, inside.
As soon as lap one was complete, Martin began the conversation with the crew chief and the spotter, who watches from high atop the grandstand and helps the driver maneuver around opponents.
In cool, damp conditions, the car wasn’t running as well as the team had hoped, they say, but Martin held his own thanks to the crew analyzing a continuous feed of data, such as lap times and speeds, from the pits.
“[No.] 48 (Jimmie Johnson) is gonna try to dive-bomb you,” notes the spotter early on.
By lap 45, Martin ran in 24th place with a lap time hovering around 31.10 seconds. The car struggled to grip the track to Martin’s satisfaction. But he moved up several positions after a number of accident-induced caution laps allowed time to fuel up and get fresh tires.
Spotter on lap 42: “31-flat with a pass.”
Martin about 45 laps in: “Good news is I’ve got some good rear grip.”
Spotter after Martin passes an opponent with 44 laps to go: “clear, clear, clear by four (car lengths).”
The final lap came and went – a relatively uneventful night.
Martin finished 19th – the same position he started in. Brad Keselowski, in the No. 2 car, won after leading 199 of the 267 laps at Kentucky Speedway.
Radio traffic went silent. Martin and his competitors sped into the garage area while the victor spun donuts in victory lane.
Within minutes the Furniture Row Racing crew loads the car back onto the top shelf of the hauler.
“This is another race – to get outta town,” says team member David Ferroni.
An hour later, all of the haulers are gone—headed for Daytona.