The first ever Guest Blogger: My friend Steve is a NASCAR fan, hardcore. He’s written a straightforward post about what NASCAR is all about. He was also the one who came up with the idea to do a guest blog post. After reading this and watching the videos I wanted to go to a race. So read Steve’s post and let me know what you think. Should I let him write another?
OK, youâ€™re thinking this post will only be about a phenomenon found only in the South, for beer-drinking good ole boys, who want to watch guys drive fast and turn left all day. Maybe, as most racetracks allow you to bring in your own food and beverages, and that does include beer, but thereâ€™s WAY more to NASCAR racing than the above stereotype would suggest. Believe me, I know. Iâ€™ve attended over a dozen NASCAR-sanctioned eventsâ€¦oh, and I live in Massachusetts and my last name is not Petty or Earnhardt either (even if you know nothing of NASCAR, you know these names).
First of all, what is NASCAR? Itâ€™s not a car. No racecar is a â€œNASCARâ€ (commonly heard misnomer). NASCAR is an organization that essentially sanctions or is the ruling body over its various stock car racing series, with the premier series being the Nextel Cup Series. The name stands for the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, and it was founded in 1948. While the history of stock car auto racing is born from the southern roots of moonshiners â€œsupingâ€ up their cars to outrun the local police, it soon became a pastime to pit such cars against one another in races to earn bragging rights. A man by the name of Bill France, Sr. took it upon himself to organize rules-based races on the sands of Daytona Beach back in the 40â€™s and from these humble beginnings, NASCAR formed and has become a corporate magnet (think UPS, Budweiser, Dupont, Lowes, Home Depot, and Cingular, to name a fraction) and the fastest growing spectator sport for years. Many fans pull for their favorite driver, like you would for your favorite sports team. This explains the number decals I imagine you have seen on cars and trucks, such as 3, 8, 24, etc. and perhaps you had wondered what these meant.
So with a quick history lesson out of the way, it is my intent to share the experience of attending a NASCAR race. While I canâ€™t give you a taste of it (ever tasted burnt rubber or 110 octane fuel? Me either), I can provide some of the sights and soundsâ€¦
On Sunday 7/17, I attended yet another race at the New Hampshire International Speedway (NHIS) in Loudon, NH. This time I was joined by my wife, Erin, her sister-in-law Jen, and my buddy, Bill. The race was called the New England 300 and was one of 36 races in this yearâ€™s Nextel Cup racing series season. We got an early start, heading north by 6:45am. Once parked in a lot, we proceeded to grill some breakfastâ€¦oh yes, tailgating is a staple. Jimmy Buffett apparently reigns king for concert tailgating. In my opinion, NASCAR is superior for sports tailgating, and I was a Patriots season ticket holder for 3 years. I know of no other sport attended where folks with RVâ€™s spend days camped out and even day-trippers show up with enough food and comforts of home that youâ€™d think the only thing they didnâ€™t bring was the house foundation itself. And even though you see many folks, me included, having some beers before or during a race, I can honestly say my experience has shown crowds at NASCAR races to be more friendly and less rowdy towards one another than other sporting events Iâ€™ve attended. Iâ€™ve never seen rows of police lined up at stairways at a race like I always saw at football games.
Post-breakfast, we proceeded to make our way to the track. While the race wasnâ€™t scheduled to start until just after 2:00, itâ€™s essentially law that you get there early to start soaking up the atmosphere. Most of the drivers have one or even several souvenir trucks, which are always fun to check out. Sometimes drivers will appear before a race and sign autographs, but I didnâ€™t see any scheduled appearances posted.
Also, while in the grandstands (â€œgrandâ€ is the keywordâ€¦this place holds about 100,000 people and itâ€™s by far not the largest venue on the circuit), you can watch the activity on pit road, which is where the cars come in for service during the race. Before the race, you often see the teams lining up their driverâ€™s car in qualifying order, and they also busily ready tires, gas and other components needed during the race. To this day I marvel at the prowess and awesome potential of a stock car. They may look stylishly similar to that Monte Carlo or Taurus you see on the streets, but thatâ€™s where the resemblance ends. These sleek, 3400lb, 800+ horsepower machines are there for one reasonâ€¦to race. Oh, and the prominent sponsor whose name adorns the hood and sides ponied up $15 – $20 million this season for the joyride with the hopes of landing in Victory Lane. No pressure.
The race was about 45 minutes delayed due to rain, but after it cleared and the track was dried, drivers were ordered to their cars, the national anthem was sung, and then the command to start engines was given. The roaring sound of 43 stock cars being fired up with the flick of some dashboard toggle switches (no keys in these puppies) will give you goosebumps. After the
mandatory slow pace laps, it was literally pedal to the metal as the green flag was waved!
The race proceeded in its fast-paced, organized-chaotic fashion as professional â€œwheelmenâ€ drove their cars around the oval-shaped, 1 mile track inches from the bumpers and sides of their competitorsâ€™ cars. Donâ€™t try this tailgating maneuver on a highway near youâ€¦at close to 160mph. Yeah, these guys are that good.
Steve and Bill enjoying the race with a cold beer and no, Steve is not leaning on Billâ€™s shoulder!
So did anyone crash? Yupâ€¦expect it at a race. The drivers are human after all, and I admit, a crash adds to the excitement. You have 43 drivers hanging on the edge of almost complete driving insanity and youâ€™re bound to have someoneâ€™s car spin on its own or come into contact with someone elseâ€™s and in seconds, bumpers, side panels, and egos get bruised in a flash. While none of the accidents were dramatic enough to make â€œagony of defeatâ€ highlight reels, itâ€™s a wonder that the car can sometimes be driven back to pit road for repairs or that the driver often escapes without an injury. But with an accident comes the caution flag (yellow in color), which means all cars slow to the pace speed, usually about 60mph, and halt racing for position until the track is considered clear and safe for racing. All cars line up in the last racing order they were in and they follow the pace vehicle around the track.
So what does a driver and team do during the caution laps while waiting for the race to be started again? Damaged cars come in for repairs and other cars may come down pit road for a variety of services, such as 4 new tires and 22 gallons of fuel in under 15 seconds. Doesnâ€™t quite sound like your local Jiffy Lube, does it? Even the pit crew members who perform these quick-fast duties have to be well-trained, well-rehearsed players in what looks like a frantic tango. Driving the car fast and turning left in the corners is not the only strategyâ€¦when and what to come to pit road for play into the strategy of winning as well. Again, no pressure.
Ricky Ruddâ€™s car being serviced on pit road
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. driving by during a caution lap
Once the green flag waved, the floodgates opened and high speed organized mayhem resumed on the pavement. Driver Tony Stewart, who drives the #20 Home Depot-sponsored Monte Carlo, dominated the race by leading the most laps, although there were other competitors who gave him a good run. Tony was making some solid moves on the competition which proved his car was setup just right for racing at this track. Since NHIS is relatively flat, versus Daytona and its high-banked corners, drivers have a harder time getting through the corners. The delicate balance that teams try to strike in order to make their car â€œstickâ€ that much better to the track and not have it lose control is what makes the competition so fierce. It was apparent that Tony Stewart and his team had done their homework (as had some other teams), as he seemed to drive around the track as if his car was on rails.
Tony Stewart flying by at full speed or about 160mph
In the end, Tony Stewart won by crossing the start/finish line first under the checkered flag (I bet you knew that). As has become his custom this season, he drove his car right up to the start/finish line (all other cars have since parked on pit road), got out, climbed the safety fencing surrounding the track, and scaled his way to the flagstand to wave to the crowd. He then walked down the flagstand steps, back onto the track and drove his winning car into Victory Lane to begin the celebration.
It was a great day. We all enjoyed the race and the excitement that comes with it. Off we headed to drive our way back homeâ€¦at a much slower pace than we had witnessed.
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