How NASCAR Helped Heal a Post-9/11 World For This Fan
Today marks the seventh anniversary of 9/11, a day that none of us will ever forget. In 2001 I lived in Arlington, VA in a high-rise apartment that faced the Pentagon. Although I have since relocated out of the city, today feels just as real as it did seven years ago. Even the weather is eerily similar, blue, cloudless skies with a slight cool breeze in the air.
Compared to others who lost loved ones and family members my story could seem insignificant, but it was a day that changed me completely. I watched it all unfold in real time from my apartment window.
I had been getting ready for an appointment that morning when I heard on the Howard Stern Show that a plane had hit one of the Trade Center Towers. I turned on the television and watched in horror the second plane hit. I stayed glued to the TV as long as I could, but had to rush out to make it to make it to my 10:15 schedule across town. It was 9:40.
I had just passed the Pentagon when I heard the explosion and watched the thick black smoke billow into the sky from my rear view mirror. Traffic came to a standstill and there in the protective bubbles of our own personal vehicles we all silently stared at one another, no one knew what to do or where to go.
To this very day, I can still see the sheer terror on the faces that looked back in my direction. I turned to the local news radio station and heard for the first time that the Pentagon had been hit by a plane, the announcer was crying. I was crying.
I felt sick and scared. I tried desperately to contact my parents, but the cell phone lines were jammed. I pulled my car onto the shoulder and made my way to the next exit, I just wanted to be home.
The police were already closing down the main arteries, I had to produce my ID to prove where I lived. Cars were littered all along my route. People were standing on their hoods & roofs to get a glimpse of the unimaginable. As I pulled into my parking lot, the stench of jet fuel was heavy in the air and the smoke even thicker.
I avoided the elevator an ran up five flights of stairs, from my window I watched as the Police shuttled Pentagon employees like cattle down the street in front of my building, they were running for their lives. I got through to my father on my land line, the first thing he said was "Get in your car and start driving South, I don't care where you go, just go!"
But there was nowhere to go, Arlington had been locked down. My father, a retired Military Officer who served in Vietnam and made it through the Cold War, sadly uttered in his slow, southern drawl. "Sugar, it was my wish that in your lifetime you would never have to go through something like this."
Because of the uncertainty of what was to come, that day I said my "good-byes" and "I love yous" to my family who lived hundreds of miles away. It was the hardest thing that I've ever had to do.
I was paralyzed with fear as I sat in that window for hours praying that I would make it through the rest of the day. Obviously I made it through to see many more days to come, but that morning took a little piece of my spirit and faith in mankind away.
Less than one month later I attended my first NASCAR race at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, NC. It was a great day, Lee Greenwood performed "God Bless the USA" and Firefighters were being honored during the pre-race celebrations.
Just as the race was gearing up to start, it was preempted by breaking news. Tom Brokaw appeared on the big screen to announce that the United States had just launched an attack on Afghanistan. It was October 7, 2001, the beginning of what would come to be known as the "War on Terror." The crowd erupted in cheers and began chanting "USA, USA, USA!"
It was any given Sunday where stadiums, arenas and race tracks were packed full of hundreds of thousands of sports fans. My sister turned to me and said "What if they start bombing us, we are in the perfect venue to wipe out over 150,000 people."
Our new found beer-bellied buddy sitting behind us answered her question in his own eloquent way. "Honey, ain't nobody gonna mess with the likes of us, Bin Laden wouldn't stand a chance against this group of drunken, hell-raisin', bonafide Rednecks!"
No truer words could have ever been spoken. We were sitting in the safest place on earth that day. After clinking beer cans and a "Can I get a hell yeah ladies?!" we "drank to that!"
NASCAR and sporting events in general were back in full force, proving that although life had changed after 9/11, we as Americans could not and will never be stopped. Today as we still lick the wounds of a freshly debrided scars, we are reminded that anything is possible.
We come from all walks of life, together we are strong and proud sharing a common bond for the love of the game. Sports helped heal a Nation seven years ago and continues to do so to this very day.
As trite as it may sound, on that October day, NASCAR and it's fans helped restore my faith and brought my spirit back to life. I've faced many challenges over the last seven years and have learned that nothing can or will incapacitate me like it did on 9/11 ever again! That was the day that I achieved my self-proclaimed "Super Hero" status!
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