Authors: Shey Stahl
“All right Jameson—two laps to green bud,” Kyle said over the radio. “Your pit road speed is gonna be at 5400.”
“Copy that, 5400.” Jameson acknowledged. “So when I come out of four, that yellow line, is that the line for pit road?”
“Yeah,” Aiden replied. “Start breaking after the wall when pitting. You’re pitting right after the No. 16 pit.”
I felt like my heart was in my throat by now, it was all so hard to grasp. Daytona was my first NASCAR race but this was the Coca-Cola 600, a night race.
Not only did it bring back the summer we shared but it also reminded me of what it took him to get here. That alone was enough for me to get all riled up.
Ask anyone in the racing community and they’ll tell there’s just something about a night race that leaves everyone with a high and Jameson was on the pole, which made it even more exciting.
I also think it had something to do with the fact that I’ve always loved a Saturday night at the races, reminded me of the good ole days at Elma with Jameson racing.
Humming with anticipation, my legs were starting to shake.
Thankfully, I took the heels off and opted for the flip-flops for now or I’d be on the ground with these jelly legs.
“Breathe, Sway,” Emma whispered in my ear.
Annoyed with me, the butterflies in my stomach were trying to fly their way out. I couldn’t even look at Emma. My eyes fixed in submission on Jameson as he swerved back and forth at the front of the line.
The second pace car separating the cars pulled off allowing the field of forty-three cars to bunch together tightly and double up for the start.
It was different seeing them double file on starts when growing up I was used to the 4-wide solute the sprint cars put on. It’s definitely something to see and a sight you’ll remember.
The lead pace car in front of Jameson and Tate Harris kept position leading the cars down the backstretch, its lights out indicating the last pace lap.
“Here we go Jameson, coming to the green flag here.” Kyle told him. “Watch your shift. Don’t spin the tires.”
“Jameson, it’s Aiden.” Emma smiled so wide I thought her face would stay that way. “Kyle’s right, coming to the green this time,”
We all held our breath as they came out of turn four to the green, the pace car darted onto pit road.
The entire crowd was on their feet screaming, as were we in competition to the reverberation on the track. The cars remained side-by-side as they crossed the start finish line with a roar.
“Green flag, green flag,” Aiden chanted with hurried edge. “Outside one
Harris is high
Cars darted for position; some shifted high, some low, all with the same controlled but aggressive movements. Tate and Jameson remained in line until turn two.
By turn four, Jameson had a two-car lengths gap between him and the rest of the field.
“Nice Jameson, good start.” Kyle praised. His main purpose throughout the race besides making the calls on the pit box was to keep his driver calm and collected throughout the race. “Stay focused, hit your marks.”
Letting out the breath I’d been holding, I relaxed slightly as the race fell into a rhythm of green flag laps.
Jameson was quiet on the radio, said little unless he was asking where someone was at on the track and the occasional remark of, “What the hell is that guys problem.”
Growing up racing sprint cars and midgets where in-car radios were never allowed, he usually didn’t say much over the radio. That was until he was upset about something. With a race that spanned six hundred miles, it was bound to happen at some point.
It was long race. They didn’t call it NASCAR’s longest night for nothing. It broke up the time to be able to hear what was happening over the radio and the pit stops were always entertaining. Jameson was such a hothead with them.
On lap two-ten, the caution came out for a wreck right in front of us that collected the four and the ten of Tate Harris.
car spinning in turn one
“Who’s spinning?” Jameson asked.
“Four car, hit the wall hard.” Aiden told him. “Collected Harris with ‘em,”
“So what do think bud,” Kyle came over the radio. “any changes?”
“Don’t touch a goddamn thing.” Jameson snapped. “The car’s fucking perfect. This bitch is corning like it’s on rails.”
And that is
Lane can’t listen.
“All right so
four tires boys
no adjustments and fuel.” Kyle ordered, the crew who stood ready on the wall waiting for Jameson to get to the stall.
“I need a bottle of water.” Jameson told the crew.
He had the first pit at the end of pit road so it seemed to take forever for him to get there. Once they made it to the stall, we couldn’t see much from the suite but relied on radio chatter.
wheels straight, foot on the brake,” The crew went to work but got stuck on the left rear when a lug nut wasn’t tight, causing Jameson to fall behind five spots on the exit.
hard, hard, there you go.” Aiden guided him through pit road traffic. “Cross over on entry
there you go.”
“You guys act as though you’ve never performed a pit stop before. My god!” Jameson yelled. “How’d I lose five spots?”
“Sorry bud.” Kyle said. “There were loose lug nuts on the left rear.”
The remainder of the race was spent with Jameson and Kyle arguing strategy, and Jameson telling him to shut the hell up a few times.
Eventually Jameson came over the radio at lap three-forty. “How many more laps?” You could tell by his tone, he was exhausted.
“About sixty,” Kyle answered.
“If I ask again—ignore me.”
Jameson had fallen back to seventh and wasn’t all that pleased by this. Every time he pitted, he lost at least four spots.
Jimi was pissed and yelling at Mason, the car chief, over the radio to tell the crew to get their shit together.
Jameson, well he was quiet, which was a good indication that he was livid.
The stream of profanities that flowed when he fell back to third, after making his way to first again before this last caution, actually hurt our ears.
“Oh Jesus you guys
what the fuck?” Jameson shouted. “How can we win if every time we have a pit stop you fuck it up and we’re down three more spots? I don’t know how many times I’ve passed this fucker in front of me!”
“They’re working on it,” Mason clipped.
“They’re working on it?” Jameson mocked sarcastically. “We all have a job to do out here. Get it together!”
I could tell Mason was just as disappointed with the pit stops as Jameson and Kyle were. From our position in the tower, you could see the crew hanging their heads in shame. They didn’t need to be told they weren’t holding their own, they knew.
Both Emma and I had to pull the head phones away for a moment as Jameson continued his ranting.
When he drove past the front stretch, you could see him throw his water bottle and pound the steering wheel with his fists. After a few laps, he was quiet again.
At five laps to go he was running second when the caution came out. “Cautions out, turn three low,”
“Stay out or no?” Jameson asked.
” Kyle paused for a moment.
we can’t be hesitating like this.”
“I know that, Jameson.” Kyle snapped back. “How’s the car? Do you need any adjustments?”
“With a few laps to go, nothings gonna change. I’m tight but we’re better on the short runs anyhow.”
“Stay out then.” Kyle told him. “Just keep calm.”
When the green flag dropped, Jameson was in third. When the white flag waved, he was one second behind the fourteen of Darrin Torres and gaining quickly. His last lap times enough to break the track record.
“Your last lap time was—”
“Don’t tell me lap times.” Jameson snapped getting a nose under Darrin. “If I want ‘em—I’ll ask for ‘em.”
Jameson went high; Nancy and I gripped each other tightly as he came out of turn three. We all held our breath when he entered turn four neck and neck with the Darrin.
I literally stopped breathing when they came across the finish line together. You couldn’t tell who won.
Everyone turned towards the screen waiting for them to announce the winner. The instant replay playing repeatedly as they tried to decipher the winner. Within a minute, it was decided.
“Who won?” Jameson asked impatiently. “C’mon! who won?”
Jameson had won by three tenths of an inch.
“You did bud.” Kyle answered. “Nice racing!”
“Yes,” Kyle laughed. “seriously,”
We all heard was Jameson screaming over the radio causing everyone to break out in laughter in the suit.
“Whew! Not bad for a dirt track racer from Washington!” Jameson yelled, his voice shaking with excitement. “
The crowd erupted into another thunderous screaming fit and I couldn’t help but scream too.
I smiled when Alley and Emma started jumping up and down with me.
We all turned towards Nancy who started jumping along with us and soon Jameson’s Nana, at seventy-two, started jumping.
Jameson swung his car along the front stretch and revved his engine, the rear tires creating a curling cloud of smoke.
I wanted to run down there and throw myself across his hood when he revved his engine, it was as if he was lion and I was a female lioness in heat.
He yanked the window net down, pumping his fist in the air as he did a burn out in the infield holding the checkered flag, grass and dirt soaring in the wake.
Since the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals, I hadn’t seen Jameson win a race in person. And as I sat there watching him, I couldn’t help but cry knowing what it took him to get here.
Witnessing it firsthand, I lived it with him over the years and it was just as much of a reward to see him like this now as it was for him.
He did it—he won the Coca-Cola 600. The preeminent rookie driver, my best friend, captured NASCAR’s longest night.
I think what stood out most to me in that moment, was here Jameson was, doing that he loved, doing what he was born to do and I loved that I was here sharing it with him. I felt as though I was a part of that.