Buzz's Excellent Adventure
Meeting a Legend
BY: Buzz Nielsen
Wednesday, November 22, 2000.
It started off like most Wednesdays
with coffee, breakfast and as of late the drone of some
newscaster telling me that we do not yet have a President, but
we do have some type of new law suit, court ruling or way to
recount the ballots. Since this is the day before Thanksgiving,
there is an anticipation in the air of things to come. Our
daughter, Sarah has come down for college break from a cold and
soon to be snowy section of New York. Our good friends, Gael &
Chaz Cone have arrived from Atlanta for the festivities.
It is also the day that I have planned
to drive over to Sebring Race track and see the C5R run. The
rumor mill has been saying that the new car is fast and that
there is a chance that the new drivers, Dale Earnhardt and Dale
Jr, for the 24 Hours at Daytona will be there for the testing.
The C5 net has informed me that the test is closed to the
public, but through my friend Rick Baldick, Brand Manager for
Corvette, I am hoping that I will be able to get in. Chaz & I
get in my yellow Z06 and head toward the track, neither one
saying how exciting this is or how much of a waste of time this
may turn out to be. Oh well, at least it is a beautiful day for
a ride, and these roads are fun to drive.
about an hour and a half, we arrive in Sebring and proceed to
the track. Not without seeing our share of policemen, Florida
drivers and some kid in a rather good sounding truck about three
feet off the ground and who wants desperately to drag race us
down the main highway. We resisted the temptation and I tried to
remember the way to the track. Lo and behold we didn’t do too
badly and were at the gate and ready to talk to the guard. There
was no one else around and the one open gate looked lonely. We
drove up, told him my name and were told to sign the liability
waver and proceed to the right and over the bridge to the
infield. We had made it this far.
crossing the bridge, we heard the unmistakable roar of the C5R
and proceeded into the infield where we saw a Goodyear
trailer full of tires, 2 Corvette Racing trailers, and a very
few cars parked around. I could not believe there was hardly
anyone in the area. Both of the big Corvette transporters were
here so we expected to see four cars; we weren't disappointed.
The Le Mans #63 and #64 cars were here as well as the American
Le Mans Series #3 and #4 cars. We parked the car and headed
toward the pit area where we had heard the cars.
arrival we saw a few pit crew and some transmission people and
heard a thunderous roar coming down the front straight. There
was the number 4 car going like the hammers of hell!
Chaz and I looked around to see who we could recognize,
and saw driver Kelly Collins and another driver in a blue racing
suit (turned out to be a young driver named Paul Edwards).
However, there did not seem to be anyone else around. I
remembered that it had been a long ride down and the rest rooms
were on the other side of the Corvette trailer, so off we went.
We cut across the grass and walked around the trailer, only to
find a couple of tables set up for lunch and there was another
driver, Andy Pilgrim sitting down with another person.
know Andy so I went over and shook his hand and said "Hello." It
was then that I realized that the other person was...
...Dale Earnhardt himself! I mustered up some
courage and said "Hello Sir. I'm Buzz Nielsen and it is a
pleasure to meet you." He returned my greeting and went back to
his sandwich. I also realized that the young man at the other
table was his son..
... and we had hit the jackpot!
Both Chaz and I realized that the
others were involved
with racing conversation and would probably not want to
hear from us,
so we moved away and tried to take a few pictures from
afar. I was determined
to get their autographs on my hat brim, so I just walked
back and asked
Dale if he would sign my hat which he did willingly. I
thought to myself
what the hell, maybe he will sign my hood, so I asked
again and he said
that he wanted to go get another sandwich. Oh well at
least I tried. Dale,
Jr. stood up and headed toward us, so I asked him to
sign the hat and
after that mentioned the hood of my car. He said maybe
and went off to
his business. Chaz said to me that it would probably be
smarter to bring
the car closer, so that I would have a chance to get my
Sure enough, Dale Jr returned, took my
pen and signed
the hood alongside the other drivers and Corvette people
I asked him if he could ask his dad to
sign and he told
me that it would be my job to ask and not him. I then
saw Dale moving
toward the car and walked up and asked again. I was
rewarded for my actions
and he also signed.
Well, that could have been the end of
my day and this
story would have a very happy ending. However, I looked
around and there
were quite a few people looking at my car inside and
out. One of them
was Ken Brown, who was dressed in Corvette Racing attire
and asked me
how I liked the Z06. I told him I loved it and he asked
if he could take
it for a ride. I wasn’t sure what to say, but figured
what the heck and
said "OK." He got in, told me to get in with him and we
and headed back toward the bridge, and I had no idea
where we were going.
Then he proceed to drive by the pits and onto the track.
This was too
good to be real. I was going to sit in the passenger
seat for a ride around
the track at Sebring!
Well, he did know how to drive and was
telling me the
various ways to go into each of the corners and how much
throttle to use
on the straight-aways. After going almost all the way
around, we were
coming along the back straight and I see this rental car
on the track,
and looked inside and here are both Earnhardts and two
other people apparently
headed for the airport to leave town. We waved as we
went blasting by,
and Ken asked if I would mind going around again a
little faster. The
next lap was much better than before, and my adrenaline
was racing. As
we pulled onto pit road, Ken asked if I would like to
drive a lap. This
was a real tough decision ..... yeah, RIGHT! We traded
places and off
I went, hoping that I could remember a few of the tricks
he told me.
I was really pumped by now and figured
that I could tackle
this track just like the big guys. Thankfully Ken was
along, since there
were a few times when he had to remind me that there was
a turn coming
up and that at the speed we were going, they would be
needing the rescue
crew to greet us. I did however do fairly well on most
of the course and
managed to get up to about 145MPH on the back-straight.
I also abided
by the 37MPH speed limit on pit road. As we pulled
behind the wall and
toward the trailer, I was on cloud nine plus.
After this ride, I parked the car,
smelled the tires and brakes and said to myself what a day! We
then walked over to the other drivers, who were talking to each
other and figured that the testing was over and we would head
home. As we were talking, we looked up in the sky and here comes
this twin engine plane making a beeline toward us. It seemed
to be flying about an inch or two above the power lines and
bearing down on our little band. All of a sudden someone
says "We're being buzzed by Dale. He said we would be talking
about him after he left and this is what he meant." Well, they
may not be talking, but I sure am to anyone that will listen!
They were going to do some more testing, so
we stayed for an hour or so before jumping in the car and
This is a Wednesday I will not soon
Buzz Nielsen, C5R#W0492
Return to Corvette 101