The wedding party arrived in a massive red-yellow-and-green trolley-type vehicle that was tastefully decorated with black and white Gatorade Victory Lane-style streamers. The groom, 22-year old Mike Gray, a specialist in the Army with a background in jumping out of planes from great heights, was in full uniform. (Jumping out of planes, he later said, was scarier than getting married.) The bride, 22-year-old Karen Pawlak (who originally hails from Elmira in New York's lovely Southern Tier) was in a lovely white wedding gown, which she later complained was excessively hot. I videotaped their exit from the trolley. It was all lovely.
There were maybe 15 people in the wedding party, approximately nine media members and/or photographers jostling for position, and an officiant from the Central Virginia Raceway Ministries. We all assembled in Gatorade Victory Lane, in front of a backdrop promoting the Emerson Radio 250 Busch Series race. The ceremony lasted about five minutes, which was good, because the temperature in the infield was hotter than Kasey Kahne. At the end, we bowed our heads in prayer. The officiant referred to heaven as the "Ultimate Victory Circle." (I would have gone with "the Great River of Gatorade in the Sky," but either way it kind of works.) The bride started crying. Then it was over.
After the wedding I conducted extensive interviews with my portable tape recorder, which turned out to be dead. Hah! If I were covering the race and interviewing Tony Stewart with dead batteries, I would right now be calling my editor and threatening to leave the industry. But since I'm a blogger, I can just make it all up!
No, seriously, I'll try to recreate as best I can. The happy couple met about a year ago, on Sept. 6, they think. They got engaged about six months ago and planned the wedding for this weekend, in honor of their one-year anniversary. They had an alternate site picked out, but about a week ago they realized Richmond International Raceway on Saturday afternoon would be perfect, since they're such fans of the Busch Series. (Such fans of the Busch Series?) They've been to about five or six Busch races together, and while Karen was sort of driving this "let's get married on hot asphalt next to a Sunoco gas station" train, if you know what I mean, Mike was totally on board by the end.
"Amazing," he said. "I'm speechless, breathless, happy all in one. I'm about to explode."
"It really is, it's just overwhelming," Karen agreed. "Like, as soon as I looked at him and the guy started talking, I just started crying. I couldn't help it. It's just so big."
(Those quotes were taken from my video camera; I didn't make them up. This couple was eminently likeable.)
Many of their guests told me they thought it was just great, too.
"I think it's awesome; it makes them happy," said Karen's step-mom, Judy Pawlak. "As long as they stay married forever."
"I was kind of surprised, but that sounds just like Karen and Mike," said Karen's mother, JoAnn vonHagn. "They just like to be a little bit different."
The happy couple planned on changing clothes and watching the race from the stands. Most of their family members were going to disperse. I was the last remaining media member; as they piled back into the trolley and drove off I offered to throw rice or flowers or something, but none were available.
In all honesty, let me say that I've been to worse weddings. The guests were all smiley, and the couple was effusive throughout their post-wedding media session in the mixed zone, and they didn't even ask for a cooling off period before facing the cameras like so many athletes do, and really, what's more stressful, a regular season NBA game or a wedding? Plus the bride even told me why Kevin Harvick was her favorite driver (in 20 words or less), but those words were lost forever due to my dead batteries.