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The Subway Fresh Fit 500 was a welcome change from the season kickoff at Daytona earlier in the week- it wasn’t rained out and red flags didn’t keep us chained to our couches for hours on end, but at the same time after the drama of Daytona this race seemed ever so ho-hum. I would have to say that I really don’t even consider the season to really be in swing until race 2 – Daytona is such a wild card and the results of that race really don’t say much about the direction the season will go.

I didn’t find any truly amazing or messy moments in this race, but there were a few things that caught my attention that I will pay attention to as the season unfolds:

* Darian Grubb bringing Denny Hamlin to Victory Lane. This pairing could be one to watch out for.
* EFI troubles for Stewart- Let’s hope this issue doesn’t become a reoccuring problem
* Jimmie/ Chad trying to rebound from a dismal Daytona and potential pts deficit (pending appeal to NASCAR).

Daytona was so crazy, Phoenix didn’t really stand much of a chance of living up to that craziness, and this fan, for one, thinks it was just the tame race she needed to regroup and pull my belts tight for the rest of the ride this season.

Boy having to go to work after nearly a week off is a rude awakening.  I will get to putting all the adventures down in words for you all that I had over the last several days- but I wanted to share some pictures with you (all photos by ME!):

The hustle and bustle of the garage during practice as taken from a very crowded pedestrian bridge.

The hustle and bustle of the garage during practice as taken from a very crowded pedestrian bridge on Saturday morning.

Tony Stewart follows Kyle Busch into the garage for some adjustments during Saturdays practice.

Tony Stewart follows Kyle Busch into the garage for some adjustments during Saturday's practice.

This picture was a mistake because the fence is what is in focus- but I like it- I think its a cool effect.

This picture was a mistake because the fence is what is in focus- but I like it- I think it's a cool effect.

Arsenio Hall checks out the midway at PIR on Saturday

Arsenio Hall checks out the midway at PIR on Saturday.

Casey Mears at his merch trailer on Sunday morning at PIR

Casey Mears at his merch trailer on Sunday morning at PIR

The Office Depot crew hard at work Sunday morning before the race.

So that’s a smattering of pictures- words coming soon.

It is not cheap being a NASCAR fan.  Race tickets, driver memorabilia (especially if your driver changes teams), transportation, hotels etc can all add to the cost of being a fan if you go to a race.  This is not to say it is not possible to be a fan without going to races- but I don’t think any fan will argue with me that going to a track doesn’t enhance the experience of fandom by about a hundred gazillion times.   Case in point: for the race in Las Vegas in February/March- our tickets alone were $450 and yes that is per person. Granted we did get weekend passes and we got them for the Richard Petty Terrace (those terrace seats? They kick ass- great view!) and we splurged and got one day in the Neon Garage (only one day- Friday- which is the cheapest of the three days). And we sprung for preferred parking (probably won’t do that again- it wasn’t really that big of a savings and their signage on how to get there sucked and we ended up driving around in a big circle and we had even been to the speedway before so…not worth it really).

So I thought to myself, is possible to go to a race without dropping $500 (per person) or more for the entire weekend? I found out that the answer is: Yes! I just did it myself. If you read with any regularity you probably know that my friend and I decided, kind of last minute (or it was last minute to us- the obessive trip planners) to make a dash to Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) last month to watch the Subway Fresh Fit 500K live and in person.

Part of the reasoning for that quick trip? It had to do with the fact that we found out that some of the tickets at Phoenix were down to $25 dollars each (yes I am that Amy, in the stands in her Tony Stewart gear). Granted these tickets were in the first 8 or so rows- but we were told by someone who had been to Phoenix that you would pretty much have a good view no matter where you sat- so no need to spring for the expensive tickets. I will be the first to admit I was a little unsure sitting as far down as we were sitting (in the AJ Foyt Grandstands in row 8- which because of the stairs was really more like row 4) but I am telling you that we had awesome seats. Our whole experience at PIR was awesome really. The trick here- as I mentioned before is waiting as long as possible to buy your tickets.  We waited until a month before.  You want to wait long enough that some of the better tickets are lowered- but not so long that they might be sold out.

Next comes the hotel- because it was Phoenix and it was about 800 miles one way for me (and 300+ for my friend in vegas) we defintely needed a hotel.  We decided to use hotwire.com to book our room.  We have never used it before- frankly the idea of not knowing exactly which hotel I am staying at BEFORE I PAY scared me so I have never used it before.  But I decided to bite the bullet and try it. We found an awesome hotel at the airport for $50 a nite.  It saved us over 40%! It was a major chain and the hotel was extremely nice!

Those are my two major tricks. Here is how the weekend broke down monetarily (and I rounded up and this would be for me- who lived farther from the track):

Hotel: 50 (per night- there were two of us and we stayed two nights so that’s 50 per person)

Trip Insurance: $4 per person

Gas: 150.00 (rounded up- based on driving 1700 miles round trip in a car getting 25 mpg with gas being 2.20 a gallon- my trip through three states had gas being anywhere from 2.35 to 1.89)

Ticket: 25.00

Track food: 10.00

Track drink: 20.00 (and yes I took in a beverage- but I didn’t want to get dehydrated- it was the desert)

Merchandise: 65 (I bought two hats and a plastic backpack)

Food (travel food off track): 75.00

Splurge of the trip (pit passes): 50.00

For a total of $449.00 a person for the entire race weekend trip. About the same price I paid for just my race tickets for the Vegas race. So not exactly CHEAP but there are a lot of things you could pare down from my list…if you didn’t splurge on the pit pass that knocks 50 bucks off right there.

Well this was a race that I attended in person. The first leg of my journey was driving 500 to Las Vegas. Hung out with BFFM and on Friday BFFM drove 300+ miles to Phoenix where we checked into the hotel.  We tried to use the hotel’s computer to check qualifying while we were in the lobby but it was running slow so BFFM used her blackberry to get us some answers.  The next morning we drive to the track- it was easy to get to.

Yeah the track is out in the middle of the desert- but it was actually a really nice track. The only kabuffle we had the entire day was figuring out where to trade in our pit pass tickets for actual pit passes and after getting misdirected a couple times we finally got that taken care of.  The midway was probably the smallest midway of the tracks we have been to but then again- the track was a lot smaller in general than the other tracks (Las Vegas and Fontana).

TSR-Jones show car at Team Chevy booth at PIR Midway

TSR-Jones show car at Team Chevy booth at PIR Midway

Joey Loganos merchandise trailer was the LEAST populated one.  The most populated ones were of course Jr, Gordon and Stewart.

Joey Logano's merchandise trailer was the LEAST populated one. The most populated ones were of course Jr, Gordon and Stewart.

We made our way to the pedestrian tunnel and under the track and into the infield and were amazed that basically we were allowed to just meander around the pits pretty much.  That was pretty fun although I admit that occassionally I felt like I was in the way- even though I tried to be extremely cognizant of all the work going on around me- and to be sure not to impede that.

The Garages at PIR were a buzz with activity

The Garages at PIR were buzzing with activity.

Tony Stewarts Office Depot pit crew gets things ready for the evening race.

Tony Stewart's Office Depot pit crew gets things ready for the evening race.

Jimmie Johnsons Lowes pit crew gets things race before the evening race.

Jimmie Johnson's Lowes pit crew gets things ready before the evening race.

Mike Houston, tire carrier for the #24 Dupont pit crew of Jeff Gordon, seeks some shade on pit road.

Mike Houston, tire carrier for the #24 Dupont pit crew of Jeff Gordon, seeks some shade on pit road prior to the start of the race.

Pit Road at Phoenix International raceway

Pit Road at Phoenix International raceway.

Let me speak for a second about the picture above. This I took from pit road looking towards turn four.  See that hill right there? For $35.00 you can drag your chair up the hill- called Rattlesnake Hill and not just for sport and sit there with no midway access. I do not understand why you would want to do that when you can pay $25.00 to sit in the lower level grandstand seats. Crazies. I mean you might get to see a little more of the track but still…I like the ability to be able to go to the bathroom or get a hot dog easily if needed!

Now for the actual race. We were sitting in the AJ Foyt Grandstands in the close seats (row 8 I think) and they might be “cheap” seats but I thought they were pretty damn good- we could see most of the track.  During the warmup laps I was fascinated by the fact that I could actually see in the right side and into the cockpit. I don’t know WHY this fascinated me but it certainly did. I could literally see Tony Stewart sitting in his car hands on the wheel when they drove by (and other drivers as well)…and it was kind of cool to see them right in there car.

When the green flag dropped so did my jaw. Literally.  I think I spent a good 10-15 laps slack jawed.  I do not have the right words to describe the experience but it was louder and faster and just more exciting than any of the previous races I have gone to.  I have mentioned recently that going to an actual race can almost be an assault on your senses…I had no idea!  I don’t know if it was because I was sitting closer to the actual track that I have at other tracks but it was just completely amazing.  It was constant action on that track. I don’t know how the race played on TV because while I did DVR it- I have yet to watch the national broadcast. My brain did not have time to rest at all.  Of course I was paying attention to Tony on the track.  I was trying to keep track of where Ryan Newman was in relation to Tony (the scoring pylon only went up to 15th place) – which became increasingly difficult as the leaders started lapping cars.  I was watching the packs running close together for trouble.  And while I love the smell of a race, being this close actually started to give me a little bit of a headache towards the end from the fumes (of course not leaving my seat for the whole race probably didn’t help the headache).

Tony and Team Office Depot/Old Spice did well throughout the race. There was one kinda crappy pit stop – from which the team rebounded from quickly and well. Tony was in the top five most of the day and even lead the race for a while.  In the end Stewart just did not have enough to catch Mark Martin at the end, coming in second- the highest place finish yet for the newly formed Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Office Depot/Old Spice.  I really can’t wait for Stewart-Haas to get their first win.  It’s coming soon. I can feel it. The team is clicking really well- and as soon as that last component snaps into place this team will be in Victory Lane.

This coming weekend: NASCAR is in Talladega.  And Amy will be watching between her fingers!

I got back from my Vegas/Phoenix trip Monday afternoon. I have so so much to tell and show you but things are always a tad crazy for me right when I get back and it takes me a while to get back to where I get my rhythm of posting back.

I will tell you this: So far? Phoenix International Raceway has had the best actual racing action that I have witnessed live and in person.  I will explain more about this later…and YES I took pictures (although honestly? I “only” took 180 pictures the whole time I was gone.  That for me? Is a record LOW.  I usually take a bazillion pictures.)  So I promise to soon give you a detailed account of PIR…but for now…just take my word for it…it was a fun trip and definitely worth the 1700+ miles driven!

As humans some of our personality traits are things we can not control- and for me one of those is a slightly anal quality when it comes to planning things out.  I can only speak for myself here- but I have a need to feel like I have some control over a situation and part of that control is planning. That being said I LOVE to plan a trip.  And when I say I love to plan a trip- 98 percent of my travels beyond spontaneous day trips involve planning things out months and months in advance of the actual date.  Case in point- BFM and I purchased our tickets to the Shelby 427 nearly as soon as the tickets were opened up for sale.  Now because BFM lives in Vegas I didn’t need to worry about hotel- but if I had- you can be sure I would have reserved a room at about the same time.

We should have learned our lesson last year with the fall Fontana race.  Once we decided to work in the Fontana race into our year last year- I was calling the box office as soon as I did a little online research about track and it’s facilities.  BFM’s favorite driver might be Jeff Gordon but I knew her second favorite driver was Jimmie Johnson- and I knew from my internet research that sometimes Fontana has a special Jimmie Johnson ticket package that includes not only race tickets but usually some kind of Q&A session with Jimmie and part of the proceeds of the tickets actually go to the Jimmie Johnson Foundation.  Sounded like something that would be fun- something that we would definitely be interested in.  When I called the box office I inquired about if there would be a Jimmie Johnson package for that particular race because I did not see anything about it on their website. The ticket agent told me that he wasn’t pulling anything up but that sometimes these special ticket packages weren’t set up right away. He kindly suggested that I wait about six weeks and call back to see if they had heard anything.  And that is exactly what I did.  Don’t think it wasn’t torture for me and my anal/control freak ways- let me tell you.  I waited six weeks on the dot and called back. Again I asked about the Jimmie Johnson Foundation tickets.  Again I was told that they did not have anything and that maybe I should wait. Well I had waited about as long as my obsessive nature would allow so I got us tickets and was finally at ease. Race Tickets? Check. Hotel? Check.  It’s all good. I am sure that you can tell what is coming up next.  Yep you guessed it- the Jimmie Johnson package came up for sale two or three weeks later.

Learn from my mistakes race fans. If you are like me and plan things out way in advanced- that isn’t always the best way.  While so far the ticketing offices that I have worked with have all been extremely helpful and willing to exchange tickets for others (I did this for the first race in Vegas actually- I had initially ordered up neon garage passes for Sunday and changed my mind- deciding that passes for Friday might let us see more action in the actual garage stalls- and the ticketing office was more than willing to accommodate my request for a change) sometimes it pays in aces to just wait to buy your tickets.  Especially now that tracks aren’t selling as many tickets as they would like- often facilities are forced to drop ticket prices closer to the date of the actual race.  Many tracks, in an attempt to drawn in more fans, are offering special ticket packages that might include things like driver Q&A’s or appearances, special food or hospitality discounts, and other deals on track amenities but these ticket packages are often last minute deals (or last minute to people like me who like to plan everything out well in advance).  Keep in mind that sometimes you will end up sacrificing better seats for some of the package plans- it is still something to consider because it might be that one time you get to get closer to your favorite driver.  So learn from me- sometimes it pays to NOT plan so far ahead.  Case in point,  I personally got a great deal on tickets for the Phoenix race (yes the next race) by going against what is natural to me and not planning the trip until about a month before the race.  By waiting we got seats in a section that was previously earmarked at a higher price for a lower price.  Now there were reasons we waited so long- and that was just one of them. And this whole upcoming trip to the race in Phoenix is going to be fodder for another post I am planning on writing after that trip- so expect this to be revisited a little in a couple of weeks.  But just be aware…sometimes it pays to procrastinate a little.