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One recent Sunday afternoon, I climbed up on a stair machine at a gym and noticed that a NASCAR Winston Cup race was being shown on a television screen in front of the cardio platform. As I began to sweat through the rigors of my workout, I focused my full attention on the race, paying no attention to the baseball game or the golf event that were playing on the other sets."You don't like this kind of racing, do you?" asked a doctor who was exercising next to me. He grinned as if it were a stupid question, as if it wasn't possible for a woman like me — a white-collar professional, well-educated, traveled, and especially feminine — to like stock car racing. I have heard his tone of voice many times when the subject of NASCAR racing arises. It is one of regal condescension, the kind that seems to call for embarrassment, apology, denial, or defensive explanations. But I no longer explain or defend. For now I am part of an enormous audience in the world of sports. I am a NASCAR fan.I turned my attention from the television screen to look him squarely in the eye. "As a matter of fact," I replied coolly, with a confidence I had gained over the years, "NASCAR racing is my favorite sport."
His eyes bulged and his mouth dropped open, but he quickly recovered and assumed a "you're just kidding me" look. "No, it's not," he said, chuckling at either the ridiculousness of the idea or the fact that he had almost been taken in by my reply. Without a smile and without a word, I continued to look straight at him. With a quizzicalexpression, he tilted his head. "You're not serious, are you?"
"Dead serious. What's wrong with that?"
He began to stammer. "Uh, uh, nothing. I just wouldn't have ever taken you for a stock car fan, that's all. I just thought that was kind of a redneck sport."I knew the stereotype he had in mind; but before I could continue with a retort intended to increase his discomfort, a businessman on a treadmill behind us spoke up.
"I don't see how you get anything out of this," he interjected. "It's not interesting. All they do is go around in circles."
I smiled, more to myself than to them, remembering when I had once used those same words. That's the battle cry of all those ignorant about one of the world's most fascinating sports. I saw an opportunity to preach to the racing heathens, to convert two fans of other sports, to show them the intrigue and excitement produced by a NASCAR race.
"Oh, but it is interesting," I replied enthusiastically. "It's the strategy that makes it interesting."
Both the doctor and the businessman cast their eyes upward to the television screen and watched for a few moments.
"Why don't they all drive on the inside of the track?" the doctor asked. "Why do some of them race in the middle of the track and some up high?"
I laughed, but not because it was a stupid question; it was really a good observation from a racing neophyte. "That's where strategy comes in. Of course, you want to race on the inside of the corners because that's part of the shortest way around the track. If you'll notice, the cars running best are running the apex of the corner. They hug the inside of the track close as they go into the turns, then they bounce up higher to a certain point between the turns on the straightaways and then dive back to the inside for the next turns. If they stayed on the inside all the time, they'd stay on their brakes and lose horsepower and speed. When they bounce up on the straightaway, they can rev up rpms and increase speed. Occasionally, you'll find a track where the outside groove, up high on the track, is the fastest path. But the inside groove in the corner is usually the best because the shortest way is the quickest way."
"Hmmm," the doctor mused. "But why are some cars higher on the track than the ones leading?"
"That's part of the setup strategy," I continued. "You see, it isn't always the car with the best engine or best driver that wins. It's the car that handles best that has the edge, and it takes a lot of strategizing to produce the best car. The driver and crew have to figure out which shocks, springs, gear ratios, tire stagger, and such will help the car ‘handle' and take the best way around the track. A good-handling racecar is a fast car. If track conditions change during the race — for instance, because of a brief rainfall, cloud cover, hotter sun, or slicker track created from the rubber of the tires — that will affect the handling, and the strategy has to be improvised."
With amusement, I noted that their interest was piqued, and they began to watch more closely. There were thirty laps to go in the race and the cardio area fell quiet, except for clicking stair climbers, humming treadmills, and buzzing racecars.
"So the car's that leading now is gonna win, right?" someone asked. "There are only thirty laps to go."
"I'd love to see him win," I replied, referring to Dale Earnhardt Jr. "But I'm afraid he won't. The car's that's probably going to win is running fifth right now. Dale Jarrett."
The doctor shot me a skeptical look. "Now, how can you tell that?"
The camera was following the leader as he headed into a turn. "Watch. The back end of his car is a little loose. It's kicking out from under him just a little as he...
My Life in the Pits. Copyright © by Ronda Rich. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted June 15, 2003
I picked this book up and could not put it down! I read it in one day. The author gives such great insights into the minds of legends in stock car racing! The stories that fill this book add depth to people who most of us only see on television.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 4, 2003
I got this book for Christmas and could not stop reading it. Just as someone else has already said, when you are done reading it, you will wish there was more. I am an aspiring motorsports public relations lady, and Ronda's book is hands-down the most insightful book about the "inside" of this sport that I have read. Her point of view is different from most writers, in a very refreshing way! If you are new to the sport, or a fan for life, this book will turn you on to the sport, or let you in on a special side of the lifestyle you already know and love. I want to thank Ronda for being so helpful to me, and sending some much needed advice my way. I would recommend this book to anyone that has ever wanted to experience "life in the pits."Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 17, 2002
This book was a delightful surprise. It wasn't what I was expecting --- it was much, much better. One of those books that you don't want to end. I found myself savoring each paragraph and trying to stretch it out to make it last. It is the most unusual book on NASCAR or any kind of sport that I have ever read. Yes, it's about NASCAR drivers and people in racing but it's much broader than that. The author writes from a personal standpoint of how she, as first a young sportswriter and later as a publicist on the circuit, was influenced by heroes of the sports like Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Bill Elliott, Darrell Waltrip and many more. The stories she tells show an entire new side to racing and its people. When I finished, I felt that I had been walking side by side with her as she encountered these extraordinary people and events. Be prepared --- she pulls at every emotion the reader could possibly have. I laughed --- it is extremely humorous and entertaining --- and a couple of times, I wiped tears from my eyes. It is rich with both anecdotes and emotions. I highly recommend it ---- whether or not you're a NASCAR fan, treat yourself to the experience of My Life In The Pits.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 18, 2002
What a Great Book! I am a diehard NASCAR fan and I thought My Life in the Pits would be about just racing, but it is much more than that. It is about having the courage to follow your dreams. Ronda tells about the side of the drivers most of us never see. How big their hearts are and how much they do to help people down on their luck. Ronda's stories about the racing wives and the agony and heartaches they endure brought a tear to my eye and a new level of respect for them. She is a great storyteller and some of the hilarious stories had me rolling in laughter. Even if you are not a fan of NASCAR this is a must read book. I highly recommend it to both men and women of all ages.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.