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A once-in-a-lifetime experience with Gordon

October 29, 2012, My Road to Martinsville, Stephen Radford,

Contest winner meets his favorite driver while attending his first NASCAR race

I've been a fan of racing for as long as I can remember but have never been able to make it to a NASCAR race until this past weekend in Martinsville. Thanks to Pepsi MAX, I had a once-in-a-lifetime race experience, which included hanging out with the No. 24 pit crew and speaking with my favorite driver, Jeff Gordon. After this past weekend, watching races on TV just won't cut it.

I brought along my wife, Jessie, for the trip to Virginia -- our farthest trek up north -- for the race weekend. Jessie watches a lot of the races with me and is also a huge fan of Jeff, so she was very excited to come along. When we landed, we were extremely excited to get going and head to the track to kick off our race weekend.

When we first stepped onto the track on Friday for the qualifying laps, you could feel the excitement in the air. It was a great first taste of what we had in store for the rest of the weekend. Saturday's practice session didn't disappoint either, but nothing could prepare us for Sunday's festivities.

We kicked off the day at the Fan Zone, where we got to meet and speak with Jeff Gordon. Let me start off by saying that Jeff is exactly the way I pictured he would be: what you see, is what you get. Jeff was extremely friendly and warm to me and my wife. It was as if we'd known him our whole lives. I was able to ask him a few questions and see how he was feeling before the race. Jeff told us about how he enjoys the style of racing at Martinsville and how it was one of his favorite tracks. Jeff also explained to us the changes the sport has had since he started. We wished him luck and headed off to the garage tour.

The garage tour was incredible. I truly had no idea about all the mechanics that go into the cars. The amount of tires and their different uses alone is mind boggling. Our next stop was to the pit box, where we witnessed all of the behind-the-scenes that goes into a pit stop for Jeff. Once the green flag dropped, Jeff's car was running up front all day. It was awesome to see the Pepsi MAX car in the lead and Jeff running well. The race came down to the final laps, and Jeff got shuffled up and couldn't make it back to the front, finishing seventh after it was all over.

All in all, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Being a part of the race and the No. 24 team is a special moment I'll take with me forever.