I really had to pee. With only 25 laps left to go and a herd of drunk fans between me and the bathroom, I wasn't sure whether to risk it. After all, it was the Daytona 500.
My dad's favorite driver, Jimmie Johnson, was making headway and looked like he had a shot of winning. It was my first NASCAR race and a bucket list item for both of us. And even though I'm Canadian, I didn't want to miss the end of the "Great American Race."
You see, our Canadian citizenship extends only as far as our passports. Simply put, we love the United States. Whenever possible, we do our best to immerse ourselves in all things American. A scarring trip to a gun range, an underground drag race and rodeos have all been done.
For the past five years, my snowbird dad who migrates to Florida every winter has become a NASCAR devotee. He idolizes No. 48, Jimmie Johnson, and told me that touching him at a past race was the most emotional experience of his life.
Still, when a caution came out, which would effectively put the race on hold, I got up the confidence to book it to the bathroom before the checkered flag flew. I scurried down the grandstand stairs, passing the fans I had familiarized myself with since the race started four hours prior.
There was a father who had been hand-feeding his young son, sitting a row below him, a monster hot dog. An older couple had come prepared with a cooler full of tiny frozen water bottles, sliced deli meats and sat on intense seat cushions with built-in cup holders and pockets. It seemed like everyone had brought some form of Wet Ones.
And if the country music, excessive tattoos and copious amounts of Bud Lights weren't enough to scream America, the fans represented a rainbow of the nation's consumer culture. Corporate sponsorships, an integral part of the sport, covered everyone's attire. Screen printed T-shirts with logos for Lowe's, M&Ms, Cheerios and even Bass Pro Shops -- representing drivers past and present -- were the dress code and badges of honor for veteran fans.
This brand loyalty extended outside Daytona International Speedway. The racetrack's neighbors included every major big box store and food franchise imaginable. These became the stadium's unofficial parking venues. Tailgaters drinking beer before breakfast and flatbed trucks blaring Van Halen's "Jump" were some of the scenes in our Best Buy parking lot where we paid $50 for a spot.
There were times NASCAR culture and its eclectic crowd got the better of us. Over breakfast at the local Bob Evans we shared a table with a group from Pennsylvania who casually referred to President Obama as "the black man." Several sales clerks mistook me for my dad's barely legal girlfriend. At the Hooter's after party, a line dance turned ugly when a fight almost broke out, involving a man who painted himself green as a living tribute to Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
We welcomed these outrageous moments as just another part of the NASCAR experience. Canadian or American, we were all here for the excitement of the race and the celebrations around it.
So during my bathroom break I took a cue from the pit crews and did my business with speed. And when the final lap was called and we watched Jimmie's blue Chevy come around the fourth and final turn, we knew.
He took the checkered flag, but we were the real winners.