Tracy Loses It at Las Vegas Nascar Speedway
One of the best descriptions of Anxiety I have ever heard is this: You go to bed happy after a good day. You get comfy and cuddle up with the dog. You think to yourself, today was good, and I only have to do a few things tomorrow, what could go wrong? And anxiety says, “Oh, I’m so glad you asked. Let’s talk about that for the next three hours.”
Vacation Tip #4 While it is completely understood that many adults would like a vacation that involves napping, sunning, cocktails around the pool, reading a book and another nap, kids need to be somewhat entertained. The older the kids get, the more adventurous they want that entertainment to be. I am in favor of booking a once-in-a-lifetime experience on vacations: something that the kids will never forget and will talk about for years. I recommend that if possible, you schedule this event for the middle of the vacation…something to look forward to for the first few days, a few days after the event to reschedule due to weather, etc. However, I have just learned that planning these “dream” excursions and managing them, if you have anxiety, are two different things.
I looked at every adventure Vegas had to offer, from shooting AK-47’s to adult laser tag to four-wheeling through the desert, to a helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon. I finally found it. I read the website three times, checked three times that the boys qualified, and finally booked it. I signed them up to take the “Rookie” class at the Nascar Speedway, which would culminate in them getting to drive their own cars up to 150 mph.
I have an “inside joke” with my closest friends. About once a year, when things go awry, when I’ve yelled at my kids, or sworn at them, or overreacted to something, I am known to say, “Well, I won’t be getting Mother of the Year. Again. For the Fourteenth time in a row.” And, my friends and employees will call and share their parenting fail, tell me they aren’t getting Mother of the Year, and I’ll remind them that I haven’t gotten it in twenty consecutive years, so yeah.
But, this time, by booking Nascar, I thought I might just actually get Mother of the Year!
As an aside, my dad, Dennis, who passed away last August, was a big race fan, both of the local dirt tracks when the World of Outlaw Sprints were in, and of Nascar. He was once given tickets and a free hotel room to Charlotte Speedway, and he talked about that trip for ten years. In addition, as custodian at Next Step Therapy, dad ALWAYS had a story or joke for incoming therapists and parents. He loved to entertain.
I asked Noah if he wanted to be surprised by our adventures, or if he wanted to know what we were doing. He chose to be informed. I told him about Nascar, and he was beyond excited. I then asked if he wanted to surprise Kahlil or give him a heads up. Noah decided to tell him. Noah texts Kahlil, “Hey, have you ever been in a Nascar simulator or gotten to drive a racecar?” Kahlil texts back, “You know I’m black, right? I have never even watched a Nascar race.” Noah and I laughed so hard we had tears. My dad would have loved that story and would have shared it with fifty people.
So, the day finally comes. Tuesday. Day five of our excellent adventures. We’re up early to get breakfast and get to the track on time. I am so nervous I can’t eat breakfast. The guys cannot wait. I cannot breathe. My anxiety is saying things like, “What were you thinking? They could get killed, paralyzed.” Left brain says, “Oh for heavens sakes…they do this every day, and if people got killed, you would have seen it on the internet.”
We’re a little early to grab a taxi, so I tell the guys I’m going to smoke, will meet them in ten minutes. I have a machine I’ve played off and on for four days. It’s new. I put money in it, light a cigarette and hit the button. On the third spin I get the “Golden Spin.” Yay! The Golden Spin goes around, and says I get 15X (fifteen times) whatever I get on the wheel. The other wheel spins, and I get $100. Oh my! I just won $1500! Anything over $1200 has to be hand paid by a casino employee, after they take your drivers license and social security number, so that they can fill out a W-2G form so that you can pay taxes on it.
Twenty minutes later, I’m still sitting there with the bells and lights going off, no casino employee. I motion over the cocktail waitress and tell her I really need someone to come and I give her five dollars to get someone. Finally, I get taken care of and paid, but we are now at least twenty minutes later getting into the taxi than planned. I hate to be late. My dad would have said I’d bitch if I got hung with a new rope, and he’d be right!
We get into the taxi, tell the driver that we are going to the Nascar Speedway, and off we go… eight blocks down the road, into a parking lot beside the enormous “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign. What? I look at our driver, and realize he speaks not one word of English. “No, no, the racetrack. Nascar. Speedway.” And I gesture. And he finally gets it. Back on the road we go, doing 80 mph on four lanes, weaving in and out of traffic to the point that I am no longer afraid that one of the guys will get hurt at the track – I’m worried about all three of us dying here. We finally slow down, because construction has stopped traffic. Bumper to bumper.
When we walked into the Richard Petty Racing Experience at the Nascar track, I was a nervous wreck, between the cab ride, being late, and worrying about the boys. There were cars on the track, and they were so loud! There were six fighter planes overhead doing maneuvers, and they were so loud! I wanted to come out of my skin.
The guys get checked in, sign the waiver, and get into their jumpsuits. They looked so cool! We were told to go tour the garage, while we waited for their class to start. We were in Richard Petty’s garage at the Las Vegas Speedway! There were cars, and tools, and three walls covered with pictures of stars who had done this same experience.
I had written a well-received piece called “Grief Comes Out of Nowhere,” about my dad. Everything I wrote then remains true now. We’re touring the garage when I have the sudden thought that my dad would have loved this. He would have been so excited for Noah. He would have memorized the day and time, complete with time zone adjustment, and would have texted him good luck in the morning. Noah would have texted him when he was done, and probably called him later to tell him all about it.
It was like being stabbed. It hurt so bad for just a minute that I could have laid down on the floor and curled into a fetal position. Before I could even comprehend what was happening, my eyes had welled up with tears. Oh no. “Pull yourself together! Do NOT ruin this experience for these guys.” I head to a tissue box, breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth. I grab a tissue and wipe. The next thing I know, Noah has put his hand on my shoulder from behind me. “Mom, are you alright?” I turned around and said, “Yes.” Noah said, “Oh mom, tell me you aren’t so nervous about this that you are in tears!” I had two seconds to decide what to say. “Yes, but no. It just occurred to me how excited Grandpa would have been for you, and it made me miss him. I’m fine.”
Just then, thank you Jesus, we got called to start the class. Class was a twenty-two-minute video, after which the instructor told the students that half of those things on the video were no longer true (track upgraded, changes to cars). We were told to head to the track. Noah says, “Mom, I thought we got to practice in a simulator.” I said, “I thought so too.” On our way out, I bought a bottle of water, dug deep into my purse, pulled out my bottle of anxiety pills and popped one.
It works like this: They send one car out, let it get half-way around the track, then send a second one. At the top of the stands, each driver has a spotter who is in contact with the driver via headset/microphone. The spotter tells you when to shift, when to come out on the track, and guides you to a “lane” if you are being passed. The spotter has a “kill switch” that stops the car instantly if you get out of control.
Folks, Noah has his own car and drives on the interstate four days a week. Kahlil does not have a car and drives very little. He is at a distinct disadvantage for this adventure. Neither kid drives a manual.
Kahlil gets his helmet on and gets in his car first. The instructor shows him how to work everything. Its his turn. He stalls it. They fire it up again, re-instruct, and he stalls it. Now my anxiety flips like a gymnast. He’s not going to be able to do it. This whole expensive adventure is about to be ruined. In my head, I said, “Dad, I know you’re here, you wouldn’t miss this. Kahlil can’t get the car into gear. Would you please get in there and help him?” They fire up the car again, Kahlil pops it into gear, and off he goes down pit lane. However, instead of catching the next gear, he continues at about 60 mph out of my sight. He eventually comes back around and into the pits. I found out later that when he was being instructed, they had turned off his headset, and forgot to turn it back on. He had no contact with the spotter, and therefore followed his safety training to come back around. They turn on the headset, he goes to take off, and stalls it. They fire it up again, boom, he’s in gear, heading down pit road, boom, catches next gear, and he’s off.
Kahlil does his six laps, comes back to the pits, waits for the crew to take the steering wheel off, gets out of his harness, crawls out the window, and pulls off his helmet. All I see are teeth. When people say, “grinning from ear to ear,” this is what they mean. He looks at me and all he can say is, “Awesome. Fricking awesome. Omg! I have to go to the trailer and get my stuff!”
Now its Noah’s turn. Same deal. Stalls car. Stalls second time. “Dad, Noah is having the same problem, get in there!” Whoom! Noah catches the gear, and he’s gone. Approximately eight of the longest minutes of my life, and he’s back safe and sound, same enormous grin that Kahlil had.
Fortunately for me, the type of anxiety I have is situational, and not my normal state of being. The minute Noah was out of the car safely, I was fine. The package I got them included a video taken by a camera inside of the car that they got on a “thumb drive” to take home and use on their computers. They got a picture of themselves in the car, helmet on, mounted on a wooden plaque. They got a certificate that stated they had passed Rookie School, with their top speed on it. Noah hit 148.9 MPH, Kahlil slightly lower. They got T-shirts that said, “150 mph club,” and their choice of Nascar hats.
There were a few comments made by other patrons at the racetrack that gave me pause. Comments about how young the guys were to be having this “bucket list” experience that some of them weren’t having until their 60th birthday. My experience has been this: everybody’s bucket list is different. There is no end to the things that can be put on a bucket list. Taking my kids deep sea fishing only made them want to do it again. Taking them on a helicopter ride made one of them get a headache and not want to do it again, while the other would like to see many sights from a helicopter. Taking my kids in a submarine made both of them consider learning to scuba dive.
In this case, driving a race car at 150 mph, at twenty years old, the guys were far from checking an item off the bucket list. Four weeks later they are still trying to decide if they would want to go back to the same track and get the next package up (faster and more laps), or if they would like to try to hit the other ten tracks in the USA that do this, or if they would like to do the “Dream Racing” event that was directly across the parking lot from where we were, where they could drive a Ferrari, Lamborghini, or Maserati. What is a “bucket list” experience for some can be a “whetting of the appetite” for others.
We took the Racing Experience shuttle back to the hotel (I should have arranged that for the trip out). Interestingly, the racetrack employee who drove us went exactly the speed limit, in the same lane, while regaling the riders with explanations of why some tracks could do this experience and some couldn’t. The boys were enthralled. I gave the guy a $40 tip, simply because the ride was free, it was cheaper than a taxi, and he didn’t scare me.
Despite my anxiety, and crying over my dad at the racetrack, I think I still qualify for Mother of the Year, don’t you