Sunday at Auto Club Speedway was a big day, not just for the Pepsi Max 400, but for all of the couples that were getting married and renewing their vows on the track. I was so excited about the whole thing and totally looking forward to seeing how it would all go down.

Couples who wed at Auto Club Speedway before the Pepsi Max 400 took a ride on the Lap of Love tram on October 10, 2010I noticed most of the couples were dressed in casual clothes (think jeans and a veil) but there were a handful that actually wore bridal gowns and suits. Families were gathered around the stage setup on the start/finish line and were taking pictures before the ceremony started.

ACS President Gillian Zucker presided as the officiant of the ceremony with Michael Waltrip on hand as the Best Man and Miss Sprint Cup Monica Palumbo on hand as Maid of Honor. Couples gathered on the stage and just in front of it, facing each other ready to say their vows.

The vows were fun, completely racing related stuff like “I promise to be with you through Bristol and Talladega,” etc. It was really cute but it wasn’t until I noticed one of the women on stage wipe a tear from her cheek that I got choked up, too. It seems silly but I realized that this was the real deal, these people loved each other and really wanted to be together, that this was their moment to make (or remake) their commitment to each other in front of friend and family (and complete strangers like me). It was so incredibly sweet and I had to tell myself to knock it off and not cry! It was also at that same moment that I thought this was the coolest idea a track has had in a really long time. So much fun to witness those couples getting married. They even released doves at the end!

Once the ceremony was over and Michael Waltrip and Miss Sprint Cup gave their speeches the couples filed over to the tram setup to take them on a “Lap of Love” around the racetrack.

I attended the driver’s meeting back in the Sprint Cup Series garage, and walked in to find the room packed with people. I stood in the corner right next to one of the room’s two exits. I tried to stand as close to the wall as possible so as not to be in the way of the people coming in and out. It turned out to be a great place to be because it was the door that actress Sharon Stone, the Honorary Starter for the Pepsi Max 400 that weekend, used to enter the room. I felt like such a geek, I tried to look but not stare. All I can say is that she looked freaking amazing. She looked great (much better than she did in that horrible Catwoman movie she did with Halle Berry awhile back). After Jeff Gordon arrived I saw her walk over to him, in the middle of the room, and introduce herself to him, “Hi, I’m Sharon Stone.” I don’t know why that struck me weird, maybe I was jealous ‘cause I wanted to talk to her and Jeff Gordon got to because he’s a championship racecar driver and I’m, ya know, not.

So then Dale Earnhardt Jr. walked in and past me and I REALLY, REALLY wish I had a photo of what I looked like when that happened. I mean, drivers were shuffling past me the whole time, like Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr, Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton and Scott Speed with his iPad. But you know Dale Jr. is my favorite driver so I held my breath and sucked my stomach in and “acted natural.” 🙂 Not that he even noticed me there, I don’t think any of them did, I was hugging that wall after all. I wish I had photos for you guys but they were walking by too fast and they were too close.

I didn’t bother going down to the stage for driver intros because it was a madhouse with fans lining the red carpet from pit road all the way down to the stage. I waited as long as I could (I’m highly impatient) to go out onto pit road for the invocation & National Anthem by sitting inside the garage on a curb snapping bad cell phone pictures of drivers and posting them to Twitter.

Once on pit road I decided to stand in the shadow of the pylon because that was the only shade available. It just happened to be next to Denny Hamlin and his No. 11 FedEx Toyota. It wasn’t that it was supremely hot that day, it was very warm but if you were in the sun it just killed you. It felt like my skin was going to burn off. The shade was definitely a blessing.

I spied Ingrid Vandebosch walking to her husband’s car wearing leopard print Christian Louboutin’s (for the guys that have no idea, those are ridiculously expensive high heels that cost on the low end at LEAST $500 a pair and at the high end in the tens of thousands) like they were sneakers. The No. 33 The Hartford pit crew, Clint Bowyer’s team, lined up near by and I overheard one of them ask “Was that necessary?” when the pyrotechnics went off during Kenny Loggin’s singing of the National Anthem. I answered him in my head that no, it wasn’t necessary. It was just loud and unexpected and annoying.

It was a great race and I’m so glad they made it 400 miles instead of 500 as it had been in the past. It was so much fun to watch. Towards the end I watched the finish from pit road and tried to get into Victory Lane as soon as it opened up. This was the first time I dared to actually use the VL sticker that was stuck to my credential and had been at races before this one. I’d gone to VL before, but never inside the rope that separates fans from the team, photographers, sponsors and media.
Tony Stewart's dad celebrates with his son in victory lane at the Pepsi Max 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif on Sunday, October 10, 2010 (credit: the fast and the fabulous)
But I went inside the rope too late, because I couldn’t see Tony Stewart at all when he got out of his car to celebrate. I did see his dad again, celebrating happily and I got a photo of him (at right).

I didn’t stay in Victory Lane long and headed to the driver’s meeting room for the post-race press conferences. Clint Bowyer arrived first followed by a half-dressed Jimmie Johnson. Jimmie zipped up his firesuit as he walked up to the table to take his seat next to Clint and I, of course, took a photo of him and it’s one of my favorite photos from the entire weekend. You can see it below and I’m SURE you’ll agree.

Clint Bowyer really wanted to get home as soon as possible. He’d had a long week before getting to Fontana, he’d been on a hunting and Las Vegas trip with Elliott Sadler, so he was super antsy during the press conference. It’s always funny to me watching guys in the post-race pressers, they’re always in a hurry to leave, it reminds me of high school with everyone staring at the clock, getting ready to go, like, 15 minutes before the bell is supposed to ring.

Tony Stewart took his time getting to his post-race session with the media. I never mind it taking a long time ’cause it’s more time to kill, hopefully lessening the traffic to deal with (although traffic is never that bad getting out of ACS), before I have to get in my car and go back to the hotel. Nothing monumental happened during Tony’s presser but I did get to see him chatting live with ESPN afterward (photo below).

Couples take the stage to renew vows and get married at Auto Club Speedway

Couples take the stage to renew vows and get married at Auto Club Speedway before the Pepsi Max 400.

Couples take photos with Michael Waltrip and Miss Sprint Cup

Each couple took a photo with their best man Michael Waltrip and maid of honor Miss Sprint Cup

Michael Waltrip, Gillian Zucker and Miss Sprint Cup Monica Palumbo

Gillian Zucker addresses the couples and begins the wedding ceremony.

10/10/10 wedding kiss at Auto Club Speedway

You may now kiss your bride! Such a great moment. 🙂

No 33 The Hartford pit crew

The No. 33 The Hartford pit crew during the National Anthem

Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin in the shade of the pylon. Shade on a hot day = heaven!

Tony Stewart burnout

Tony Stewart celebrates winning the Pepsi Max 400

Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson attempts to zip up his firesuit. Love this photo. 🙂

Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson

Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson field questions from the media post-Pepsi Max 400

Tony Stewart chats with SportsCenter

Tony Stewart chats with SportsCenter

(all photos credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)