For someone who doesn’t like to fly – I have logged more air miles in the last 13 months than I have in my entire life up to that point. Just within the last 13 months I have flown to Homestead Miami for Jeff Gordon’s last race, to Indianapolis Indiana for Tony’s last Brickyard. I flew to Phoenix for Tony’s last Phoenix race, and I flew to Vegas for Champions week (I also attended the Vegas and Sonoma races but didn’t fly for those). The thing about flying to Vegas for champions week- is that direct flights to Vegas run from my local regional airport only twice a week- on Thursday and Sunday mornings. Sure I could drive to the nearest BIG airport over an hour away and fly to Vegas nearly any day of the week- but the point was to not drive. Because fan fest is always on Wednesday I decided I would have to fly out Sunday and return home the following Sunday- luckily my best friend and co-blogger Misty lives in nearby Henderson so I didn’t have to worry about paying to stay in a hotel for a week…I could just kick back at her place and love on her dachshunds. Of course I would make my plane reservations before finding out that there would be no Fan Fest this year- so technically I could have flown out on Thursday morning and been fine. Oh well- as mentioned before Misty is my bestest friend and has been since junior high so I just had more friend time than I had anticipated. It was also the longest consecutive days I have gone with out being at work because I flew out to Vegas the Sunday after thanksgiving and didn’t fly back until the next Sunday which meant that was 11 consecutive days without work. It was a tad bit glorious I won’t lie about that.
I have been going to Champions Week in Vegas every year since they moved the festivities from New York. Boy has it changed since that first year. That first year my favorite part- “Fan Fest” was held at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. While the track is kind of “out there” from the main downtown Las Vegas that everyone loves and thinks of when they hear “Las Vegas” it was fun being at the track when it wasn’t really operational. The fan fest red carpet was right in the neon garage (which was open for free to all) and when they did the “game show” portion of fan fest which also contained a Q&A if you couldn’t fit in the room- you could sit and watch it on the screens in the garage area- which is what we did. The track is also quite near Nellis Airforce Base and I had fun watching the jets perform maneuvers in between activities and listen to the band and special guests who were on stage. Now everything has been moved so it’s more centrally located on the STRIP which is fine but the last few years it’s gotten worse.
Last year we were bummed out when they dropped doing driver intros before the Victory lap. It was very unceremonious last year and not worth standing in the cold for hours just to watch the drivers get in the cars and take off. There was no ceremony or hooplah. They did most of that during fan fest before the Game Show (last year it was Jeopardy) on Fremont Street.
Well this year? There was no fan fest at all on Wednesday. Instead of the drivers being available for fun (usually some sort of game show) only a few drivers were interviewed at the PARK at New York New York (I believe it was just the three Championship drivers- Jimmie, Johnny and Daniel. The Champions car was not at the WELCOME TO LAS VEGAS sign when we drive by on Thursday morning. And when we visited THE PARK to see the cars- they were all just lined up in the street parked like they were ready to be taken to the Victory lap. It was fairly impossible to get too close to them and a transporter nearly took out Jimmie’s car because he was trying to to get by him. Also a huge let down? No Championship Merchandise was for sale when we stopped by the park (someone in my party wanted a championship shirt). There were tents but they were all closed or in the process of being torn down). Apparently we had missed all that. Oh and I totally forgot to mention that New York New York (and many other hotels on the strip) now charges to park. Like my friend who lives in Henderson says- why would we want to go to the strip, pay $7 bucks to park to then go and pay for a meal (we are not big gamblers). All that did was make it so that we won’t go down to the strip more (and while she lives close by and doesn’t often go- when I visit her I often drag her off to the strip if for nothing else to eat).
Because of the lack of Driver Intros during the victory lap last year- we decided this year to skip waiting for hours on the strip for the victory lap driver intros. Even if we decided to instead camp out at one of the spots they were doing burn outs- we would have had to split our party because some wanted to see some driver’s burn outs and others wanted to see other drivers- since they were split into two groups that would have been an issue to then try to meet back up and head to After The Lap. So instead we would head to After The Lap early and watch from there on the screens where we wouldn’t freeze to death. Of course it was there that we found out that they indeed did do driver intros. At After The Lap when you first walked in you were greeted by a huge display of tshirts. Attendees could get a free T-Shirt- and how they did it was awesome. They had four different designs: Team Chevy, Team Ford, Team Toyota, and 7X Champ. You go up and tell them the size of the shirt and they hand you a plain white tshirt in that size and then you go to another station and tell them what design you wanted- and they would screen print the shirt right there in front of you. How ingenious is that- so as long as they have the right size shirt they will never run out of a certain design. If you were wondering- I got the team Chevy design because it had Tony’s name on it! We watched the Victory Lap from our seats and Miss Sprint Cup actually gave away seats to the fan viewing area on the Red Carpet at the awards by doing crowd trivia. She then later came back and did more trivia and gave away autographed hats.
Finally there was After The Lap. It was always fun and I felt like it was great that all the drivers were on the stage at the same time- but we didn’t get to hear from some of them hardly at all. I don’t know if that was the emcees fault (Rutledge Wood and Guy Fieri) or if it was by design…but we hardly heard anything from drivers like Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, etc. The only reason we heard from Kyle Busch I think is because he has mad googling skills.
Anyway- at the end of After The Lap the confetti flew and I noticed as it rained down all around me that the white pieces were emblazoned with one of the three designs- the SMOKE logo, Tony’s signature, or “Thanks NASCAR Fans” in Tony’s printing. Something told me to grab it by the handful and shove it in the pocket of my Eldora hoodie that I wore that night. So if you are a Smoke fan and you get a Christmas card from me…open it carefully. You just might have a little confetti in your card.
I didn’t personally attend the awards ceremony- I watched on TV…but if you weren’t touched by NASCAR’s gift to EB Research in Tony’s name- I question if you have a heart in your chest. It was clear when they brought Eddie Vedder out that Tony had no idea he would be there. It was also clear when they announced the donation in Tony’s name that neither Tony nor Eddie had any idea…the looks on faces? Priceless. The fact that Tony was so stoked for the donation shows his heart and why Tony is my driver. IS not WAS. But more on that another day.