Michael Waltrip went to the Middle East to compete in the 24 Hours of Dubai sports car race. Unfortunately, the at-track experience turned out to only be the Eight Hours of Dubai.
Waltrip said he was caught up in a wreck when a car "dropped out of the sky" and spoiled an impressive run for he and his team (which also consisted of Marcos Ambrose and Michael Waltrip Racing co-owner Rob Kauffman, among others).
But the experience of traveling to that part of the world was still one Waltrip enjoyed immensely, as evidenced by the wonderment in his voice as he described Dubai.
"It'd be just like if they totally built New York City back brand new," he said. "I mean, every building is just this beautiful piece of art. You go to the mall, and every designer you can think of is just lined up right next to each other.
"You see the huge skyline right there. And then you turn around and there's another huge skyline right there!"
Waltrip said Dubai "made Las Vegas look like Gastonia," referring to a small Charlotte suburb.
He went to the top of the world's tallest building - the 137th floor of the Burj Dubai - and saw a manmade ski slope tucked inside a mall.
The debt-ridden city was entirely overbuilt ("Obviously, someone misfigured a little bit," he said) and also Westernized, which allowed Waltrip to act like any other tourist.
He got a few glances, he said, but added, "I always have a problem figuring out if they're looking at me because they know I'm Michael Waltrip or my pants are unzipped or something."
At the track, however, the story was different. Waltrip said the international flair of the Dubai track was especially enjoyable, and he was impressed with the response by other drivers.
"Whether they were from Germany or Italy or Hungary or the Middle East, there was a lot of people who wanted to come say hi to me, because they knew I'd won the Daytona 500 and they knew that I was a race car driver in NASCAR," he said. "And that felt really, really good to be able to make people smile that aren't even from this part of the world."
See the Flickr photostream below for some photos of Waltrip's travels to the Middle East, courtesy of MWR's Jarian Kerekes: