Friday, July 10, 2009

Homesick just isn't quite right

Chicagoland Speedway in the rain
-- courtesy of Chris Henrichs

Opening my desk drawer to retrieve a nail file, I happened to catch a glimpse of an old press badge. Judging from the name of the newspaper displayed on the yellowed, plastic card with a much younger version of my face on it, I imagine it to be from before 1999.

That badge predated the completion of the Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, where I would be right now, if it were possible. I'd love to be at the NASCAR races this weekend. I've never been to a race, though that doesn't detract from my status as an avid fan, even if I must settle for television coverage.

I watched them build the Chicagoland track. It was miles from where I used to live. I even took a picture of the work in progress as the local reporter in a nearby town back then. I remember thinking that it was massive; it rose like a monolith on the flat, fertile land. In those days I didn't understand. I had very limited knowledge of racing. I knew nothing about NASCAR or drivers' personalities, or the speeds at which the cars are driven. I had no idea that this huge endeavor would add to the billion-dollar industry that is NASCAR. I had heard names like Richard Petty and Davey Allison, but knew nothing of who they were.

I recall meeting one of the track promoters at a local gathering, though I can't remember her name. She was very interested to learn that I worked for a newspaper, as she was obviously trying to publicize the track's activities. She offered to show me around the completed race track. And she said to call her if I was interested in press credentials, or if there was anything else she could do for me.

My how things have changed. Somewhere around 2004, I had my NASCAR awakening. My son, Chris introduced me to the sport and to Ryan Newman, his favorite driver. My adoration may have even surpassed that of my son. It didn't take long before I was completely obsessed, like so many others who worship at the oval altar of concrete and asphalt, banked turns, three-wide racing and photo finishes nearly every weekend. Friends and family know not to call me on race day.

Retired now, home is in Arkansas, not Illinois. I love living here, in the beautiful 'Natural State.' I'm not homesick for Illinois, but it sure would be nice to be there, if just for the weekend.