Ahhh. It was Christmas day.
It also happened to be my birthday, and I was turning the big 1-8.
Everybody was full of energy and excitement, drinking eggnog, and eagerly eyeing the colorful wrapped presents under the aroma filling Christmas tree. Everybody was waiting for my grandfather to get up.
Finally! Here came my grandfather, walking down the hall on his way to his creaky and ancient rocking chair.
As soon as my tired grandfather sat down everybody started jockeying to get their presents first. It was like the last laps at Talladega—just no money, anger, and betrayal going on (haha).
My younger sister (at the age of 12) would end up winning this race to the finish line, getting to open up the first present of the day.
I can't exactly remember what it was, but I think it was a Boston Red Sox World Champion sweater.
After about 45 minutes everybody was done opening presents. I was totally happy with what was given to me for Christmas and my birthday.
One item that was given to me by my mother was a 1:24 scale die-cast of Dale Jr.'s winning Daytona 500 car with actual race damage and tire marks on the special born on date paint scheme, along with an actual piece of one of the tires that came off that car.
I was sitting comfortably watching Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal go at it on ABC, when my mother walks in with an envelope with the words happy birthday written on front of it.
As she hands it to me I look into her eyes and see a twinkle and kind of excitement I rarely see in my mother.
"What is it?" I asked mother, knowing darn well I was going to have to open it with out her telling me what it was.
I tore open the envelope and in my lap fell two sheets of computer paper with words and emblems on it. As I read the writing, my eyes lighten up. I couldn't believe what I'm seeing.
It read, "Welcome to the Richard Petty driving experience in Las Vegas, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway."
I was going to get a ride in real NASCAR race car at the fast Las Vegas Motor Speedway!
Was I reading this correctly, am I in a dream?
I was tempted to ask my sister—who was sitting on the floor next to me—to slap me just to make sure I was not. Thank God I didn't, because I think my sister would have enjoyed having a free shot at me all too much.
I must have been having a blonde moment (no offense to anybody), because I had finally realized I was going to Las Vegas for the first time.
LAS VEGAS!! The City of Sin, and girls, and...maybe I should stop.
Me and my step dad would end up leaving the next morning on the 26th, and spend a total of four days there, with the ride along at LVMS happening 29th.
We left the morning of the 26th at 9 a.m. and arrived approximately at 6 p.m. in Las Vegas, Nev.
I was finally able to respect the atmosphere, lights, and great vibes being exerted from "the strip" in Las Vegas. It was like nothing that I have ever seen before. I was hypnotized and couldn't keep my eyes from the crowd and action going on in the streets.
The first two days were some of the funnest days ever in my life, but the 29th couldn't come fast enough.
The 29th had now arrived and I was sporting a Dale Jr. sweater, and a Dale Sr. beanie. As we entered the shuttle that would take us to the speedway, we were followed by about a dozen other NASCAR fans eagerly waiting to feel that NASCAR thunder.
On the way there everybody was chatting about their favorite driver and what they were most looking forward to about the ride, but I wasn't. I was still in shock that this was even happening.
The closer we got the more antsy people got.
Finally the speedway came into view, and it took my breath away.
As we drove by the grandstands to get to the tunnel under Turn One and Turn Two, we drove by the Earnhardt grandstand with a banner hanging down from the top with a picture of the legend's face.
Everybody grew quiet to show respect to the fallen face of NASCAR.
We were now entering the tunnel and had then entered the infield of the speedway.
As we all stepped out of the shuttle everybody just stopped and admired the sights and smells of the track.
On TV the track looks small, but oh boy in person was it ever big!
One of the track officials then came to lead us to the pits, where we would suit up with our grey fire suit and open faced helmet.
There were only two cars allowed on the track at once, and they were allowed two high speed laps.
I was third in line.
As I waited patiently, the butterflies started appearing in my stomach. I tried my best to calm my nerves and keep my composure.
"You're up," said one of the track officials to me as he pointed at Kasey Kahne's Budweiser Dodge COT. I slid through the window on the passenger side and strapped myself in.
My driver asked me if I was ready? I gave him a big toothy grin, and a thumbs up. As he started the car the engine's roar sent a tremble through my whole body. He eased on the gas, and we were off.
As soon as we left pit road and entered Turn One, he mashed the gas. I could feel the g-forces pushing me back in the seat. We then raced down the backstretch and into Turns Three and Four.
Right before he came across the start finish line he yelled to me, "Would you like to go faster?"
He mashed the gas a little harder and dove the car to the bottom of the race track, and played with the throttle a little, along with the brake, heading into Turns One and Two.
As he exited Turn Two, he mashed the gas again. He kept the car up against the wall and then as we entered Turn Three he darted towards the bottom of the race track again.
As we came out of Turn Four he shouted to me, "Who's your driver!?"
"Dale Jr.," I shouted back.
"Well here goes a Dale Jr. move for you," he said as he entered Turn One for the last time.
This time he didn't dive to the bottom, but instead kept the car up against the wall and rim rode it all the way through Turn Two.
As we raced down the backstretch for the last time, I started to think at how gifted these guys are to be able to do this, and not even flinch or think twice, but act as if they've been doing it since they were born.
Again he was right up against the wall all through Turns Three and Four, and as he came across the start finish line.
Whew! I had to catch my breath!!
As we made a cool down lap around the track the driver turned and looked at me and just smiled, and said, "Are your pants still dry?"
I looked at him gave him a little chuckle and gave him the thumbs up.
As we pulled into pit-road I tried to imagine what it must look like on a race day where the crew members are racing over the wall trying to be the fastest pit crew, and get their driver out first.
As I got out of the car—with the assistance from a track official—I noticed how much my hand was shaking.
As I walked towards my step dad, who was getting ready to cross the pit wall and get into Jeff Gordon's Monte Carlo, he looked at me, looked at my hand, and then doubled over in laughter over the pit wall. I even laughed a little bit too.
My hand continued shaking for the next 10 minutes!
After everybody finished their two laps around the speedway, we entered the shuttle again. We then would travel to a shop out of the speedway that carried about three or four cup cars that weren't being driven at the time.
I remember two of them.
One of them was Dale Jr's DEI Chevy and the other was Kyle Busch's Chevy.
We took some pictures, then left the shop and headed towards the gift shop in case anybody wanted to purchase any souvenirs.
As we left the track everybody was talking about their experiences in the car. Again, I sat quiet, but not because of the dream I still thought I was in, but to keep the memories of how the car smelled and felt going around this 1.5-mile track.
One thing I gained from Las Vegas Motor Speedway was memories. But one thing I left at the track was a piece of my heart.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway will always have a place in my heart that no other track can take. Not because I rode in a NASCAR, but because it was the ride of my life.