On Friday, July 23 I came within .47 seconds of accomplishing #8 on my Life To-Do List.
What is #8? Accept a novelty oversized check for ANYTHING.
(Preferably while shaking hands with a celebrity of moderate to exceptional fame, smiling for flashing cameras.)
To give you some context of my life goals: #7 is to see someone run full-speed down the street in between two men who are carrying an absurdly large pane of glass. #9 is to see someone step on a rake and get hit in the face with the handle.
I was invited to represent NUVO as part of the “Sprint Cup Media Challenge,” which is a promotional event for the Brickyard 400, hosted by Miss Sprint Cup (Monica Palumbo). The winner was to receive a novelty oversized check for $1,000, made out to the charity of his or her choosing, and an interview with Ms. Palumbo.
The contest was a virtual NASCAR race amongst local “top media personalities” (their words, not mine!), which was broadcast on the big screens and over the P.A. system throughout the track, during Friday’s qualifiers. I was racing for Keep Indianapolis Beautiful.
I felt good about my chances; the likes of Rich Nye (WTHR13 Sports) and Eva Pilgrim (FOX 59 News) surely have way less free time than me, and while they might be more successful than me at their jobs, service to society and life in general—I was confident that I would be better at video games.
I even went downtown to practice last Sunday morning at the Circle Center Mall. And by “practice” I really mean that I played one racing game and then spent two hours playing ski-ball and Mortal Kombat with my fiancé.
So I was feeling good about my chances, especially after safely fighting my way through the intersection of Georgetown and 16th and settling in at the track. The media personalities and I were lined up in the “Sprint fan experience” area, where 7 or 8 fans wandered around haplessly.
Palumbo stood at the center of the pavilion, in front of the Sprint Cup trophy, calling the name of each media personality, along with a quick bio of their accomplishments and charity of choice. In one of the most bizarre experiences of my life, I was introduced to a crowd of no one. The other racers and I smiled uncertainly, enjoying the spectacle and awkwardness of being introduced to the scattered applause of only one another.
We were then led into the simulators, and separated into three heats. Rich Nye won the first heat handily, and a racing radio broadcaster won the second. I settled into the sixth seat for the third heat.
Palumbo did commentary on the entire race as it unfolded, and I tried to have fun with her and the cameras. I barked at other racers for tailgating, cheesed for the video cameras, and talked as much trash as I could think to, trying to make it fun to watch. None of the drivers picked up the cue from my trash-talk, and they leisurely went about their afternoon drive. But Palumbo went with it, and made fun of me for every wide turn and slick maneuver through traffic. She was very personable and funny, and did a great job of making us look less ridiculous.
I was able to stay on the track for my entire race—which seemed to be the defining characteristic of each winner—and placed first in the third and final heat leading up to the finals.
When choosing my virtual driver for the championship race, I stuck with the only recognizable name I saw on the roster: Kyle Busch. From what I know about NASCAR, Jimmy Johnson is the best, Dale Earnhardt Jr. hasn’t won in forever, and Tony Stewart is an asshole. I remember overhearing someone once describe Busch as a “reckless jackass,” so I went with him.
I started behind the pack, but made my way up to the lead by the end of the second lap. The front was a bad place to be; the game is centered around a strategy of drafting to fill up a meter, and then utilizing the ensuing “power boost," which sends the car flying past the rest.
I managed to hold on until about halfway through the fifth and final lap, when I was about to lap two computer-controlled cars, which collided in front of me and spun out. I “t-boned” the careening driver, and spun into the wall. Not surprisingly, Tony Stewart was the culprit. Even with my limited knowledge of NASCAR, I could have told you it would end this way.
There was roughly half of a lap left, and I dropped down to sixth.
I was able to quickly fill up my drafting meter, and went flying to the front, with the checkered flag in sight. I was rapidly pulling up on Rich Nye and Shane of 102.5 FM’s “Morning Brew,” and was within a split second of passing them both, when the three of us crossed the finish line—my front bumper even with their steering wheels.
Crushing. Absolutely crushing.
But I had a blast doing the race, and Shane’s winning charity was American Cancer Society. So my loss was for a good cause.
As we stepped out of the trailer and back into the 95 degree heat, I enviously watched Palumbo present Shane the novelty oversized check and do her interview over the speakers of the track. I was disheartened. I had a bunch of good jokes lined up about practicing in my 1994 Geo Metro and accusing the other drivers of abusing methamphetamines. I was going to challenge Tony Stewart to a foot race.
But Shane won the day. We all posed for some pictures, made some small talk, and went our separate ways.
#8 will have to wait until next year. In the meantime, I’ll have to keep working for #6, which is to be the guy in a burger commercial who takes a bite and is both surprised and intrigued by how good it is, like he’s listening to an old man tell an interesting story he’s heard before.
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