Bank of America 500 Pit Note #17 - Pre-Race Entertainment
PUMPED UP … WAY UP – Nik Wallenda has arrived at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and he said his adrenaline is already pumping.
“I don’t get nervous, really, but my adrenaline starts pumping like crazy,” Wallenda said when he arrived at the Media Center about 2:45 p.m. Saturday. “It started about an hour ago, and it will keep ramping up until I get up on the wire. When I get up there, I get real calm.”
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the seventh-generation tightrope performer actually finds his Zen place more than 100 feet above an asphalt surface … but it is.
“I’m excited,” Wallenda said. “I can’t wait to get up on that wire. And then I get to watch the race!
Wallenda will attend tonight’s Bank of America 500 as a guest of the speedway. But first he’ll have to cover 750 feet from an upper grandstand down to pit road on a 5/8-inch wire. For Wallenda, who this summer also crossed the treacherously windyNiagaraFalls on a tightrope live on television, it’s all in a day’s work.
SAVE A HORSE, RIDE A … STOCK CAR? – John Rich – one half of the country-music duo Big & Rich – has a healthy respect for all things NASCAR, just as any good Texas-born Southerner should. Which is why, as his tour bus rolled toward the Holy Grail of racing, Rich found it to be the perfect opportunity for an early-afternoon stogie.
“When you’re rolling in here, this is a party atmosphere,” Rich said. “I did light me a cigar and celebrate, because this is awesome. How many people get to do this? Come ride up in the middle of the belly of the beast and sit here and watch a race like this and provide music for these fans, some of the greatest fans in the world. I mean, it’s a reason to smoke a cigar.”
Speaking to the media from Winner’s Circle just hours before the duo’s pre-race concert presented by Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Rich said he expected Saturday night’s 45-minute show to be a doozy.
“A Big & Rich concert, combined with a NASCAR race, is like nitroglycerin,” Rich said. “I mean, something’s gonna blow up somewhere. We’ve been looking forward to this gig for a long time.”
Perhaps best known for their country anthem “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy),” Big & Rich just released its first album in four years, Hillbilly Jedi. Rich said the duo will play both old and new, but he surmised that “Save a Horse” would be a fitting anthem for the evening’s performance.
“Our music fits well with NASCAR: We’re rowdy, we move fast and we don’t apologize, and we come at it hard,” Rich said. “I think that’s why this is such a great American sport. Everybody is out there to win, and this is the ultimate horse race.”
It’s also the ultimate thrill-seeker sport, which seems perfectly fitting for this outlaw duo. Unbelievably, Rich said he had never been in a race car at full speed. He did, however, admit that he and Big Kenny had managed to take one lap around Daytona in a rented Cadillac before being escorted off the track by a kind police officer who, incidentally, did not arrest the pair.
But even that doesn’t top the list of NASCAR memories.
“My coolest experience ever with NASCAR was back in the late ’90s atBristol, and I actually got to be in Dale Earnhardt’s pit crew,” Rich said. “I got to put on the gear, put on the headphones, and I got to hear Mr. Earnhardt speaking back to the pit crew the entire race. That was the day I went, ‘I’m hooked; I’m in.’”
BANK OF AMERICA 500 PIT PARTY – Former driver Jimmy Spencer was in attendance at the Bank of America 500 Pit Party along with Steve Park, “Tiger” Tom Pistone, and former crew chief and ESPN NASCAR analyst Tim Brewer.
Fans were treated to a question-and-answer session with Richard Petty Motorsports driver Marcos Ambrose and team owner and NASCAR legend Richard Petty.
“Fans are everything to our sport,” said Ambrose. “No doubt about it. For every NASCAR fan, I am a fan of them. Most drivers understand that without the fans, the sport would never be where it is. We’re privileged to have such a loyal fan base. You know, I haven’t had a bad experience yet with a race fan. And I love them for enjoying what we do.”
Pistone is a NASCAR legend, has plenty of stories for today’s fans and drove in the 1950s and ’60s when he earned the nickname “Tiger.” “What they are doing right now, this is the best thing that could happen for racing,” said Pistone. “The fans want answers [to questions about racing], and they don’t know who to talk to, so this is the best thing they can do. They should do this more often. We never had time to do this kind of thing when we were racing. Because in our day, we drove the truck, we drove it after the races, you never had any time. You couldn’t even go to the drivers’ meetings sometimes because you were your own crew chief.”
“This is really good,” said Petty. “We are probably the only sport in the world that the drivers and car owners get to talk to the fans, and the fans get to talk to the participants. And stuff like this is really great. It just keeps that enthusiasm. They go home and tell people about how friendly the race people are. So, it’s very important that they do this.”