Last April in the pits of The Richmond International Raceway my love affair with Nascar began. TSJ sent me out for a Crown Royal bloggers event – and honestly I was completely confused why they would send ME to cover a NASCAR event. For years I had wondered what was so interesting about watching cars go around in a circle, and by the end of the day I was jumping up and down near the race track filled with joy for this amazing team sport.
A few weekends ago, I was lucky enough to participate in my second trip with Crown. I packed my bags and headed to Vegas to party like an animal (I was asleep by midnight) and drink uncontrollably (I ate like an animal).
Our first activity in Vegas was The National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas and Mack Center, where the Crown Royal Riders were competing. The National Finals Rodeo is the Super Bowl of rodeo, each of riders can win more than $173,000 for winning their category. With 10 rounds, and each ride averaging eight seconds, that’s 1 minute, 20 seconds of action for that title purse. Average per second: $2,162 (In comparison, A-Rod makes just $16 per second.)
Crown Royal committed to donating $2K each time one of its riders scored 90 points or more per ride to the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund. I had the opportunity to interview Tilden Hooper the day before, a rider who has been personally touched by this fund. In July, Hooper – who’s world. No. 1, rides in 70 events per year, making $100,000 so far – found out he had two herniated discs in his neck, injuries accumulated since he started riding at age 15. While Tilden was out with his neck injury he received monthly payments from the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund, those monthly payments helped with all the medical and rehab bills that were accumulating. This rodeo was extra special to Tilden, because he had to opportunity to help raise money for the charity that recently helped him.
The first thing that struck me, much like NASCAR, were the fans. Everyone was decked out in cowboy garb and the crowd was filled with excitement. I would have to describe the rodeo itself as nerve racking. Although I can appreciate the extreme skill that goes in to each and every event, and I was thrilled about all the cash the riders were making for charity- I found myself screaming, “Oh my God his neck!!” roughly once a minute for two hours.
The next day was the highlight of the entire trip. I got to drive a stock car. Crown Royal had set up the experience as part of a “Race Matt” promotion, where our lap times would be compared to NASCAR Sprint Cup driver, Matt Kenseth. You don’t need to read the rest of this article to figure out that I beat Matt. Not only that, but next year I will have a car sponsored by Louis Vuitton.
That’s a lie. In fact, I was terrified to drive. The funny thing about learning to drive a car at over 100 mph? All you have to do is watch a quick instructional video and somehow you’re ready. For someone who has crashed into trash cans pulling out of my driveway, flipped my car on the L.A. freeway and lost my side mirror numerous times…this was unsettling. After suiting up, watching the video and realizing at one point we would be responsible for pressing down the clutch and shifting to neutral, NASCAR reporter Kaitlyn Vincie and I clung to each other in fear and debated not doing it at all. I must have paced around that track for 30 minutes, making every man there remind me, “Ok- Off gas, on to clutch, wiggle that stick thing right?”.
Finally it was my turn. Glasses shoved into my helmet and four extra seat cushions later I was ready to go. I have to say, driving that car was one of the coolest experiences of my life. Once you get going and get focused, it is exhilarating! I got up to 121mph! BAM! (That was not a crash sound affect, just excitement)
Matt Kenseth arrived at the track for a Q&A before destroying all of our times, and I have to say- I have a new appreciation for what he does. The focus it took for me to get through ten laps with no other cars on the track really put things in perspective.
I want to extend a huge thank you to Crown Royal for including TSJ in another amazing experience. From the rodeo and racing, to some of the most delicious meals in Vegas- they really out did themselves!