Danica Who?

Danica Who?

Danica Who?

Move over Danica! I’m ready to go racing and the Richard Petty Driving Experience (RPDE) is making that possible. Within the next few weeks, I’ll be strapped in a race car in sunny Florida ready to go fast. I really can’t wait! Another item off the bucket list.

I guess you could say auto racing is in my blood. My grandfather and my dad raced stock cars at the local level and, of course, were NASCAR fans. This was in the day when Junior Johnson and Rex White were hot shots on the track. While most kids my age were excited about watching the Super Bowl, every February on a Sunday afternoon I couldn’t wait to tune into the Daytona 500. Richard Petty was a very common household name. You can imagine how excited I was to meet him in June 1986 when I attended my first NASCAR race, the Miller American 400 at Michigan International Speedway. I was 14. That day, King Richard made the 1,000th start of his career, the first driver in NASCAR history to log such, and I was there to see it. And if meeting Richard Petty (and Kyle, too) wasn’t enough, I watched the race from pit wall. There’s nothing like feeling the rumble of the engines beneath your feet and smelling the unmistakable scent of racing fuel. At that time, my family’s towing, truck rental and repair business provided the hauler for James Hylton Racing. (More about Hylton in a minute.) This allowed for access to the garage area and the pits. I also came face-to-face with Harry Gant and Cale Yarborough that day. It was amazing to see it all up close and personal, truly an experience I will never forget. While I’d been around racing in some form my whole life, it was at that time I realized the sport is more than cars just driving in a circle seeing who can get to the start-finish line first. It’s about engineering, mechanics, calculations, timing and athleticism. It all has to come together for a winning team. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to meet Jeff Gordon during his rookie year, Brett Bodine a couple of times and the late Davey Allison.

As time has passed, NASCAR has evolved and become more mainstream. The fan base has grown and what began as a southern sport born on a beach in Florida is now big business. The guys I rooted for decades ago have since retired and now have children and grandchildren competing, but for a gal who got a real taste of racing in the 80s, it’s still just as exciting. Instead of Richard Petty, I’m cheering for Jeff Gordon (at least for one more season), Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick. One of my high school buddies landed a job on a Stewart-Haas team after getting his engineering degree, so I can’t help but wish good things for a hometown boy.

Now, about Hylton. He remains a personal friend of my dad’s and is still toying with racing at 80 years young. Hylton got his start in auto racing as White’s mechanic. The Cup Rookie of the Year in 1966, Hylton is the oldest driver to race in each of NASCAR's three highest divisions and spent the last several years of his career racing in the ARCA series. On January 30, during the 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Hylton was brought on stage to present White with the honorary Hall of Fame ring. It made watching the ceremony on TV kinda cool. I played putt-putt golf with that guy!

There’s no doubt that I’ve had once in a lifetime experiences as a race fan and those experiences are fueling my excitement for the RPDE. (And of course I just want to go fast!) And a big shout of thanks to my dad, who thought the RPDE would be a great Christmas gift. I’m glad he doesn’t mind having a daughter who is a bit of a gear head.

Check back in a few weeks. I plan to share my experience on the track with you through another blog. Now I’m just waiting to hear those famous words, “Gentlemen (and lady), start your engines!”

  Move over Danica! I�m ready to go racing and the Richard Petty Driving Experience (RPDE) is making that possible. Within the next few weeks, I�ll be strapped in a race car in sunny Florida ready to go fast. I really can�t wait! Another item off the bucket list.