[Editor's note: Kim McAllister, better known in the comments section as "KimRN," recently got the chance to hang with the reigning Daytona 500 champ as part of a special ticket promotion put on by Infineon Raceway. And this is her story.]
It couldn't have been a nicer day in San Francisco. The early morning fog gave way to a warm, windy, sunny day. The plan was to meet Jamie McMurray at Vista Point, on the Marin side of the Golden Gate Bridge. But first, those of us on the two motorized cable cars gathered on the Willie Mays Plaza at AT&T Park. I went by myself, but you know how NASCAR fans are, I was most definitely not alone!
We drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and pulled into Vista Point, hopped off the trolley and waited. We didn't wait long -- there was Jamie in front of the first cable car, taking pictures and signing autographs for the CHP officers who were to be our escorts through the city! No red lights or waiting for THIS two-trolley motorcade!
We were able to get a professional group shot of about 10 of us in front of the trolley with Jaime and somehow I wound up right next to him! This is good because when we get the photo from Infineon, I can crop out everyone else and it will look like just Jamie and me! (Sneaky, eh?). He was autographing everything, but he had autographed some Daytona 500 portraits for us ahead of time and that was good enough for me. The next stop: Fisherman's Wharf.
This was a chance for Jamie to taste some famous Fisherman's Wharf crab, but he had to work for it! A quick lesson in crab-cracking, a round of crab cocktails for everyone and we where whisked away to Ghirardelli Square.
The folks at Ghirardelli were ready! Jamie was presented with a huge basket of chocolates and hot fudge sundaes were served, and then it was back to Willie Mays Plaza for the rally and press conference.
And let me tell you, this was a whirlwind tour -- all this took less than a half-hour!
Chairs had been reserved for the fans at the press conference and I managed to get third row center with a straight shot at Jamie. An executive from Infineon presented Jamie with three things: (a) a sign that said "right turn ahead" so he wouldn't forget when he got to Sonoma, (b) a "can" of Sonoco fuel so he wouldn't run out of gas on the last lap like he did in 2007 and (c) a magnum-sized bottle of wine with a special Daytona 500 label. This was funny, almost like a little "mini roast". A representative from the San Francisco Giants presented Jamie with a Giants baseball jersey with his name and number (and told Jamie not to be late for spring training the next day!) One of the original directors of Infineon, back when it was Sears Point Raceway, said some words and then Jamie talked briefly.
Jamie said he slept two hours the night of the race, two to three hours in New York and managed a full night's sleep in San Francisco the night before, though he did not look the least bit tired. I think he's running on pure adrenaline. He said that he had his images and memories from Daytona, so he didn't want to watch the race and have those images conflict with his experience (I'm paraphrasing here). He said he rarely watches the races. He added that he and Greg Biffle are good friends.
The best part was the actual press conference. Not a lousy question in the bunch (Tony Stewart would have been proud). The best question was from a gentleman who asked Jamie to take us through the last lap from his vantage point, from inside the car, what he thought, what he saw, what he felt. I wish I could replicate what he said here, but I wouldn't do it justice. I wish I had a tape recorder or a video camera with me. You could have heard a pin drop in the plaza. Hearing that answer will rank as one of my favorite NASCAR moments.
And then it was over, and now Jamie is in L.A.
I am so happy I took advantage of this opportunity. NASCAR only comes around to northern California once a year, so when this landed in my backyard I figured I'd better take advantage of it. It was so much fun and it was over all too quick.
You know, we all had our different drivers. For me it's Kasey, and I met Tony and Jimmie fans and Junior fans and Busch fans. But every one of us left that rally today with Jamie McMurray ranking as one of our favorites. I know I did.
[Thanks to Kim for the story. If you've got a NASCAR driver encounter of your own, hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org.]