For the first time since 1975, my Daytona 500 Sunday wasn't spent either at the race track (75-80, 85-86) or at home having a massive Daytona 500 pig-out party.
Also for the first time ever on Daytona 500 Sunday, the team that I was rooting for actually won, albeit wearing a competition leotard and covered with chalk rather than a fireproof jumpsuit and helmet.
And my "driver" didn't have to knock her opponents into a wall to win.
Lynn and I have known for months we were attending our niece Keirsten Brooks' big regional gymnastics meet in Pigeon Forge again this year. What nobody told me, and what I didn't realize until last week, was that the Pigeon Forge meet was on the same day as the Daytona 500.
My first response was, "What kind of a lunatic schedules a gymnastics meet on a Sunday ... and on Daytona 500 Sunday nonetheless. That's my sacred day."
But, a promise is a promise, and I said I'd be there. Sometimes you've got to take one for the team — Team Keirsten.
Whenever one of the nieces and nephews gets involved in a sport, Lynn and I like to sit in the stands and root them on and help out any way we can.
I think it makes the youngins feel good to know that the adults in their lives are interested in what they're doing and support their positive activities like playing sports.
Many times Lynn and I have attended youth football games Saturday morning, and on a team with 25 kids there might be 10 adults in the stands.
We’re like, “Where are all the parents?”
Maybe some had to work. Maybe some had better things to do. But someday when their kids are grown up and gone, some of them might be regretting those games they missed.
That's not the case in the Brooks family, however, and this past Sunday morning, Team Keirsten was out in force for the 2018 “Make It Count Gymnastics Spectacular” Smoky Mountain Invitational in Pigeon Forge.
Keirsten, who recently celebrated her 10th birthday, is better known around our house as "Monkey Girl" due to her tree climbing prowess.
She's also a member of the "Super Cool Morning Crew," which includes myself, Maggie the dog, and sometimes her brother Peyton. “The Crew” was formed when Lynn or I used to drive them to school in the morning before they moved from Bloomingdale into Kingsport.
On our morning trips to Ketron Elementary, I'd make Keirsten listen to classic rock and take her out for "cheese balls" (cheddar rounds at Pal's).
On special occasions, before school Keirsten and I went to the Green Belt behind Pet Smart to feed expired cereal to the ducks or stop at McDonald's to get her a "brain foods" breakfast comprised of hotcakes, sausage and hot chocolate.
Keirsten is also a bit of a gymnastics superstar, and a member of a local competition juggernaut known as the Meadowview Gymnastics Academy. They compete in big events all over the Southeast like Daytona, Myrtle Beach, Atlanta and once a year in Pigeon Forge, which is when Lynn and I get to go.
Last year, I took it upon myself to video and photo the event for Keirsten, and she liked my work so much she asked me to do it again in 2018.
Not that I'm a Steven Spielberg or anything. But compared to her mom, Ashley, whose video and photos look like she took them while standing on a paint mixer, I'm Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and John Ford all rolled into one.
Upon learning that I would miss the Daytona 500 to watch girls gymnastics, my first reaction was a grimace, followed by a scowl. I'm happy to do gymnastics 364 days a year. Just let me have my Daytona 500 on day 365.
But to be honest, I don't think I could have had a better time anywhere else Sunday. Keirsten is a gymnastics machine, and the competition was intense.
I thought the judges were a little tough on her floor routine, which looked flawless to me. Maybe they’re from East Germany because the judges only gave her a 9.15. But she still won the event.
Then she failed to "stick" the landing on her vault like Mary Lou Retton in 1984, but she received a generous 9.3 and won that event as well.
She absolutely murdered the uneven bars, but again the judges were stingy and gave her only a 9.475.
And then she bobbled twice on the balance beam, but didn't fall, earning a 9.1, which was good enough for second place in the event and sealed her overall championship with a 37.025 — exactly half a point ahead of second place.
And to add icing to the cake, Meadowview was the overall winning team as well, edging out Central Carolina and Queen City (Ohio).
Not a bad day for collecting hardware. Keirsten brought home a total of five golds and one silver.
And on a personal note, I was able to pick up the Daytona 500 on the radio on the way home.
I couldn't find it on any Knoxville stations, but about the time we hit I-40 I found it on a Newport station right as Stage 1 was ending, and made it home in time to watch the last 40 laps on TV.
As they took they white flag, I said, “Dillon is going to dump Almirola” — and much to my chagrin, I was right.