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Dinner for Danica 

At RIR and on the road, race-car drivers get the gourmet treatment.

Stainless-steel-fitted rigs with six-burner Garland ranges, double-wide refrigerators and precious little counter space travel right along with the Indy circuit's 19 drivers and crews, and when they pulled into Richmond last week, there was local shopping to do (Ukrop's, Kroger, Sam's Club) and a new menu to prepare — all in an effort to keep the teams nourished, amused and feeling like an international family in a cross-country caravan.

Chefs and staging teams were among the first to arrive at RIR, and within hours they'd set up tented restaurants with windows and prefab flooring, ceiling fans, fresh flowers on round, draped tables and televisions that would always be within the sightlines of the track's bigwigs, VIPs and hangers-on.

Luncheon service each day was fresh and to the point — tuna pitas, barbecue, fruit salad and tons of water. But with the star power of Dario Franchitti (Ashley Judd's husband) and Danica Patrick, the much-celebrated female on tour, there was a casually glam air in the tents, set off by a swirl of motorized bikes and golf carts and energetic young teammates surging toward the buffet for a momentary respite from fan frenzy.

Patrick, a newlywed, hung out with family members at her burgundy-and-copper-painted Prevost Motorcoach parked within wafting distance of the Honda grill, where chef Tim Olszewski smoked dozens of chickens to serve under Big Bob's white barbecue sauce (clue: horseradish.)

Dinner menus at RIR ran toward bistro fare, with chilled strawberry soup, bacon-wrapped scallops, swordfish with citrus salsa, strip steaks and French potato and beet salad among the offerings. Desserts were old-school decadent, like pastry chef Mariana Wittisch's chocolate-peanut butter pie or the oft-requested banana pudding at chef Eddie Wilson's.

Drivers asked for pastas and poultry before the races and richer comfort foods after. And while they were fiercely competitive on the track, their easy camaraderie prevailed after-hours in the restaurant tents. Food that was left over went out on trucks to local charities, compliments of IRL Ministries. Somewhere in Richmond, diners got an unexpectedly elegant taste of the race. S



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