Sunday, February 06, 2005

What I did at NASCAR Camp.

Well, lets make one thing straight, this was not camp. I spent the week at NCCAT (N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching). This just happened to be a renewal seminar called: NASCAR - Science on the Race Track.
I had been wanting to go to NCCAT for many years. A friend of mine, Mary Jo Johnson from the NC School for the Deaf had suggested that I go about twelve years ago and put my name on their mailing list. I had never gone but finally when the Nascar seminar was included in the selections I knew it was my time to go.
I had no idea what to expect other than that we were supposed to stay at the Victory Junction Gang Camp that was established by the Petty family for terminally ill children. I also had been told that we were going to learn about the different aspects of Nascar and its history. We arrived at the camp and were soon to learn that we would be meeting the Petty's! Yes, Pattie, Linda and Richard Petty. We all thought at the time that we may meet and great them but that it probably would not last long. Boy were we wrong! They came in on Tuesday morning in what was called "Adams Garage" that is a gigantic race car building that houses not only multimedia activities for the children but also offices and a boardroom. We were all sitting around a huge table and listening to some details about the camp. I was sitting in front of a glass wall and on the other side were a set of stairs. As we were looking the other way, the King came up the stairs and was watching us from behind. It was a moment that was surreal. Richard, Linda and Pattie Petty spoke with us for almost three hours. They answered as many questions as we had. There were no off limits questions and the crowd of curious teachers asked about many different things. They were more than happy to discuss all details of the Camp, The Petty Museum, their children and the history of the sport. I had heard the story of where Petty Blue came from but it was a great thrill to hear it first hand from the King himself. Afterwards, they all were even more generous with their time. They posed for pictures and signed autographs. The week of "renewal" had begun with a chance of a lifetime and who knew where it was gonna take us. Some of us even spoke that if the week were to end that day, we would have been more than happy! We spent the afternoon at the Petty Museum in Randelman, which is just a few minutes from the camp. There we saw a large collection of history from their whole family. Of course Richard had his race cars, uniforms, helmets and trophy's displayed. His wife Linda had her doll collection of almost 1,000 dolls and stuffed animals on display. His son Kyle and grandson Adam had items in the museum also. It took you back in time and you could really see how times had changed in the racing world.
All along up until this time in the week, we were all working in groups to build our own race cars for Knex building blocks. We were associating what we were learning to how the dynamics of toy cars were really close in design. It was fun and we were all getting to know each other really well by now and had only been together for no more than a day. We really had a get to know you the night before when we played games in the gym. "Swap Circle, "Elbow to Shoulder" to name a few. Being teachers, we were familiar with such "fun" games as we were meeting each other.
On Wednesday morning, we had to rise bright and early and depart the camp for Mooresville, NC. This was gonna be a long day, but would prove to be exciting as well. We arrived and made our way to the NASCAR Research and Development center. This is the place that Nascar started to develop and maintain safety. They had each and every car and truck model for every racing series. They even had the new Dodge Charger, but it was undercover and we were not allowed to view it. We got to the the "Car of Tomorrow" the the Nascar Engineers are developing with safety mind. This car is so important, it will not even be on the track for another 3 years at best! They showed us from a distance the impound area in which we saw the #'s 20, 42 car bodies hanging from the ceiling. They were taken by Nascar in the last year or so for not fitting the specifications for a race car. This was really cool to be there and knew that not many people outside the sport gets that far in the door. After leaving the R & D center, it was decided to try to check out Rouse Racing which just so happened to be across the street. There we saw a museum and store. Pretty cool but kind of a let down from what we had already become used to. After lunch, it was off to the Sam Bass Gallery and Lowe's Motor Speedway! There were took a tour in big passenger vans. Our van had about 8 of us and had "Grandma" driving the van. I call her that because she was much older than expected but she was really great at pointing things out. After driving through the infield, she drove out on pitroad and then pulled up on the banking in Turn Number 1. After pointing out the new safer barriers, "Grandma" floored it with her lead foot!!! Several people were scrambling for their seatbelts and someone even yelled out "80!" as were were shooting down the backstretch. It felt like "Grandma never lifted her foot all the way through turns 3 and 4 and then we slowed down right pass the start finish line. Way to Cool! Who can say that their "Grandma" gave them a "Hot Lap" around a 1.5 mile speedway? After posing in Victory Lane, we were off to the 7th floor of the main building. Just outside of Humpy Wheelers office, he is the man in charge, we met with the speedway legal counsel. She was great and proceeded to show us out on the roof for a "skyview" from the lights. After leaving the speedway, we went across the street to the Hendrick Motorsports garages and museum. I took a few pictures but having stayed in the Daytona Cabin at the camp, I had almost had enough of Jeff Gordon. (He paid for the Daytona Cabin and his pictures and cars were all over the building!) Now we were on our way to the hotel for the night. By the way, have I mentioned how great the NCCAT people are? If not, I should say it in every other word. They treated us great and there was not many details that were not worked out well in advance and it showed. I would recommend it to any teacher to attend a renewal week. There are many different types of workshops from touring the coast of NC to hiking and camping in the mountains. You can't beat what all they offer and you surely can not beat the price. . . FREE!!! Thursday morning, we were actually able to sleep in an extra hour. Now I am not complaining but we had been on the go every morning and it was appreciated for the extra few winks. We headed off to Penske South Motorsports. Now, I had already heard that this place was huge, but words and pictures can not explain how big it really was. They have 3 race teams assembly areas located side by side each other in one BIG complex. Each area has enough room to assemble 10 race cars so think about 30 cars in a row from start to finish. We have to think that way because they were not fully moved in and only had one car from each team in the respected areas. Now, most know that my driver is Rusty Wallace and this is his race shop so you can imagine how I was feeling. It may have been just a wee bit better if he had given the tour, but who can complain. We started out at Penske with an introduction from Deb Williams. She is the Public Relations manager for Penske. She was great and gave us a great insiders look at racing. We met their marketing and licensing mangers as well. Don Miller, the president of the company came by and introduced himself as well.
Deb Williams went to lunch with us all and we had the pleasure of getting to know her better. She was also able to arrange a trip to the Penske Technology Wind Tunnel.
On our way to the Wind Tunnel, we stopped off at the N.C. Motorsports Hall of Fame Museum. If you are a race fan or if you love history, this is a must see! Words can not explain what they have, you will just have to go!
The wind tunnel was across the street from the museum and we entered. We had to ask permission from the team that was using the wind tunnel that day. Luckily, it was not Evernham Motorsports testing some top secret car! The staff at the tunnel was wonderful. They showed us from start to finish how they develop a 1:2 scale car. They start on the computer which was right up my alley and proceeded to the modeling lab where they build their cars. The cars were the size that would be about as long as a dinner table. Made from carbon fiber and plastics and took about 8 to 9 weeks to sculpt from hand. They were perfectly working scale models and all inside mechanics were functional. We were able to see the mechanics with the model in the tunnel. As the airflow increased, you began to see the car begin to move just so much to see that it was feeling the effects of the turbulence. After they stopped their test, we got a grand tour of the tunnel and even got to look inside and see the big 10 long propeller! The tunnel itself was made from steel and plywood. Not what you would expect but still cool! Now it was time to head back to the VJG camp. We were all mostly tired but I found myself having to interpret the wind tunnel and how it related to the race cars. It was great as I usually go to teacher workshops and most of the time, others have to help me understand.
That night, after we arrived back at the camp, we found that some local church women had cooked us a wonderful meal. We then raced our Knex cars and learned some more. The next surprise was getting to view the Nascar Imax 3D movie in the camp theater. Another moment that can not be explained!
All week long, we had been told that we were not going to be touring Petty Enterprises because of safety reasons and that they were one of the last "real" race shops. Apparently, when we were speaking with Richard Petty, we made an impression. He visited the race shop after spending time with us and setup an impossible tour for Friday morning before we left. Their race shop is still officially his dads first race garage. They have just added on over the years. Today, it is small in comparison to the big mega shops but they like it that way. Richard Petty visits most days and pats all the workers on the back. He keep mementos around to make sure they stay grounded but respect where they work with a little Petty history around every corner. While touring, we ran into Kyle Petty, who was busy working with his guys. It was understandable that he did not speak to us as he had just arrived back in the state at 3am and was in the shop early getting his teams ready for the new season that was only a week away.
It was now over, we had spent our final hours as a group and there was not much time for let downs. The memories that I have will stay with me for a long time. I took away so much from this experience that I am still having trouble processing it all. As I tell my stories to my students and other friends and family, I realize that most people have a hard time understanding just what we all experienced. To start the week off with the Pettys and then finish up with a tour of their race shop was memorable. If we had not met the Pettys earlier in the week, the wind tunnel would have been the highlight of the week with many second place visits not far behind. Even though I have visited the VJG camp three times now, I can not explain the effects it has on you. More on this soon . . .