For a moment, I forgot there was a chance we could die.
It was April 14, 2013, and I'd let the adrenaline and excitement of the racetrack rob me of my common sense. It was a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the Rockingham Speedway, my hometown track and the place where I first fell in love with motorsports. Now my 8-year-old daughter was there, attending her first race, and just as enamored with it all as I had been. And why not? That morning she'd taken pictures with Brad Keselowski, Bubba Wallace and "all the girls in the race." She'd been on the grid for "drivers, start your engines" and then gripped my arm as the field lurched to life under the green flag.
It had been a great day. Downright magical.
As the race's first pit stops began, I was quick to hustle her down to pit road. We went into an empty pit stall and joined several other fans who'd taken up spots along the knee-high wall to watch as a truck slid in sideways, just a few feet away. The crew dove into action, slinging hoses and tires and then ... a chill suddenly slinked down my spine ... hey, wait ... Ryan ... what the hell are you doing?
I looked at my beaming little girl, her ponytail bracketed by her big, pink ear coverings. She was leaning over the wall, just as I had done hundreds of times. But this was different. Suddenly a light came on. It was as if two decades of veneer had been stripped from my eyes. I no longer saw a race truck. I saw a 3,400-pound, growling, smoking machine. I didn't see tire changers. I saw lug nuts zinging through the air like bullets. I saw fire extinguishers ... I saw ambulances ... I saw shredded tires ... a guy with his arm in a sling. I saw flashbacks to the night at Hickory Motor Speedway when I was nearly run over by a car that lost control and drove into the pit box. I suddenly remembered the heat I'd felt on my face from a flash fire that exploded in an IndyCar pit beside me. My mind saw the welts left on my back when I'd been pelted with flying lug nuts, identical to the ones whistling by now.
I no longer saw racing. I saw violence.
So I grabbed my little girl by the back of her T-shirt, yanked her out of there and took her to the media center roof, safely two stories above it all.
How could I have been so stupid? So insensitive? So oblivious? Because I have been around it all so much over the past 20 years that I take it for granted. Because I truly do love it. I have faith in the people who build and race these machines. Many are my friends and I have long stood in awe of what they do.
However, during the weekly grind of the longest season in professional sports, it becomes easy to dismiss the danger, for both those who watch and those who participate. Much of that, as it was for me at Rockingham, is a compliment. A belief that everyone around you is so good at what they do that they can keep it all in line.
But at some point faith becomes comfort. Then comfort becomes complacency. You lose sight of the fact you are constantly surrounded by industrial-strength violence. The kind of forces that lull you into believing that you have them under control, but in reality can hurt you whenever they damn well please. A sort of mechanical "Jurassic Park."