Name: Doug Shields
Country: England (Bristol, 120 miles west of London)
Who traveled with you: My wife Jules, and our boys Will 15, Ally 10, Eric 7, and Bear 4.
Written by: Doug Shields
As we sat at home watching “Logan Lucky,” my eldest son Will said to me: ‘’Dad, it is my absolute dream to go and watch NASCAR one day!’’ Little did he know, that just three months later we would be doing exactly that, at Pocono Raceway. Unbeknown to Will and our three other boys, a trip to ‘The Tricky Triangle’ was on the agenda for our ‘once in a lifetime’ USA road trip.
My wife Jules and I had decided – in the year I turned 50, and she turned 40 – that we would spend three weeks in the States including a week in Chicago, a week driving through West Virginia and a week in New York State. We began planning our ‘secret’ trip in February 2017. We booked an AirBnb in Chicago, a huge RV for the week cruising through West Virginia and a hotel in NYC for the final week.
As I plotted our route I Googled ‘NASCAR’, sincerely doubting whether we would be fortunate enough to catch a race. When I found out the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup was not only on our route but taking place on a weekend when we would be passing through, I could hardly hide my delight. I booked tickets quickly, and even went as far as to book infield passes so we could park our RV at the track and watch from the roof ‘as all proper NASCAR fans do’. Around a month before we left England I told the boys of our plans. The older two jumped so high in the kitchen that Will nearly took down our spotlights.
We enjoyed Chicago very much, took in the river cruise, watched the Cubs beat the Cardinals at Wrigley Field. We even managed to catch a soccer game featuring my boys’ favourite team, Manchester City at Soldier Field where they took on German side Borussia Dortmund. Moving onto West Virginia, we visited Charleston and Beckley and spent three days beside the stunning New River, before heading northeast toward Pennsylvania. We left an RV park around 75 miles away from Pocono on the Saturday morning and arrived at the track during the Truck Series race.
As we checked in and picked up our passes we could hear the roar of engines. It sent shivers down my spine. Heading towards the ‘Welcome to Pocono’ Waterfall and edging our RV carefully through the tunnel was awesome. A steward directed us to our spot, one row from the fence, and we parked up. As I applied the parking brake our doors swung open and four excited boys leaped from our truck and ran towards the fence, beaming like I have never seen them before (apart from perhaps Christmas morning!) In between watching the racing the younger two played in the super-clean and safe play area with other excited kids, although I think our boys struggled to understand the local dialect! After the truck racing ended we watched the qualifying heats for the main race perched on the roof of our RV.
That night, we headed to the Infield Block Party area. Jules and I grabbed a couple of beers to watch the bands, and quench our thirst amid the scorching summer sunshine. It was at that point that the eldest two spotted the rodeo/bucking bronco. Challenging each other to see who would last longer they begged us for the cash to take part. We duly parted with a few dollars and watching our boys clinging on for dear life, as we struggled to hold our beers we were laughing that much. Both were quickly dispatched onto the mat with the bull adopting a ‘charge’ posture and nodding disapprovingly as they exited the makeshift arena. The rest of Saturday night was spent partying to the sounds of the excellent Porter and Sayles and other great acts.
A lazy Sunday morning followed as we prepare ourselves for the main event. We waited eagerly for the pit lane to open and were soon strolling slowly along taking in the sheer beauty of the machines parked in front of us. The boys picked their favourites and posed for photographs with the multi-coloured beasts. Taking our seats in the grandstand I could feel my heart pounding as if it were desperate to escape through my ribcage.
Hearing the announcer declare ‘Gentlemen, start your engines’ was almost too much. I felt a massive grin spread across my face and my eyes watered slightly through the sheer emotion what I was seeing and hearing. I looked across at my boys. They were transfixed, eyes wide open, mouths similarly gaping wide. The grunt of the 5.8L V8’s filled the air, flipping equally between that of a loose, rusty exhaust pipe and a NASA rocket heading for the stars. As the cars came round Turn Three on the final parade lap the announcer reached fever pitch, and as they crossed the starting line I swear my heart missed a beat. I have never heard a sound like it. And I know I never will. I still have that video on my iPhone and I play it to any motorsport enthusiast who wants to watch it.
As the race played out in front of us, Jules, who is a self-confessed non-believer when it comes to the need for speed, nudged me and blurted out: ‘’Sooooooo COOOOOL!!!!’’ I am not sure the sound of me saying: ‘’I know!!!!’’ came out of my mouth, but I definitely thought it whether I said it or not. Watching the drivers skilfully set the cars up for the uber-tight turn one, as they hurtled along the straight, a hairsbreadth apart, doing 175mph, was an incredible experience.
We watched in horror as Bubba Wallace’s brakes failed and he got airborne across the grass before slamming sideways into the wall, his car falling to pieces as if it were made of Lego as the impact shattered the bodywork. The gasps of relief among the crowd as he emerged, groggy but in one piece, was palpable.
We stayed in our seats for the entire race, taking it all in, unaware when we would, if ever, get to enjoy the awesome experience again. No matter where in the world you are from, if you haven’t been to a NASCAR race, get it on your calendar NOW!! I honestly don’t think I have ever enjoyed a weekend as much as did at Pocono Raceway. The atmosphere was brilliant, like a close-knit community of race fans plonked in the middle of the Pennsylvania countryside for a long weekend.
After leaving the track early on Sunday evening, adrenalin still flooding through our veins, we drove to upstate New York to tour the Catskills, before heading to the lovable chaos of Manhattan to tick off the usual tourist hotspots.
But for the boys, myself – and perhaps even Jules – Pocono was the highlight.