How I Got Hooked on the Racing Experience
While I have been a fan of NASCAR since childhood, it wasn't until a little over three years ago that I attended my first NASCAR race in person. Now, I had attended other races before. I had been to several CART races and even a couple of GRAND-AM races at Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca.
Several years ago my best friend moved to Las Vegas. She hadn't quite become a fan yet when I asked, nay, propositioned her - would she be willing to go to a NASCAR race with me (at Las Vegas Motor Speedway) if I paid? She reluctantly agreed. Little did either of us know we would be in for the experience of a lifetime.
Having been to races before, I thought I knew what to expect from my first NASCAR track experience. I thought a race was a race was a race. That was pretty much my experience from the races I attended at Laguna Seca. That changed the moment we pulled into sight of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. I was immediately in awe. Maybe it's because I had never been to an oval track before, but it was a spectacular sight and it kept growing in size the closer we got to it. I couldn't help but think to myself "Damn! And this isn't even one of the superspeedways!"
The Parking Lot
We parked in the free general parking, and as soon as I emerged from the car I could quite literally feel the excitement buzzing all around me. The parking lot itself was a sight I hadn't expected. Flags, tents, people just hanging out. It was something I might have expected from the infield but not in the parking lot! I had never been around so many NASCAR fans.
An Assault On The Senses
I soon discovered that going to a NASCAR race is a complete assault on all of your senses, even before the cars take to the track for the first practice. We got to the midway area and there was a virtual sea of people. Forget about personal space - you have none. There is this sea of fans, most sporting the colors of their favorite drivers, crowding around the driver merchandise haulers. You can easily tell which drivers are the most popular at any given track by the number of people crowded around their merchandise trailer. Sometimes the haulers will be even more crowded than usual if a driver happens to be doing an appearance at one.
Then you are hit by the smells. The smell of different food vendors waft this way and that while the vendors attempt to cajole you over to their booth to sample their fare. The sponsor affiliates shovel out free samples of everything from beverages to antacids to batteries or car care products in hopes that you will stop and take a few minutes to consider their product. There are stages with music playing, stages with drivers doing Q&A sessions, and if you stop for a couple of minutes and take a survey, you might get yourself a free shirt or credential holder.
If you are one of those people who need to have a personal space bubble around you at all times to feel comfortable, then a NASCAR race may not be the event for you. Fans are everywhere and for the most part are the nicest people. Keep in mind that there are people at the track rooting for 43 drivers. Think about this when you go to a baseball or football game: There are usually only the fans from the two teams, not 42 other teams. There is (usually) friendly smack talking going on all around you. And there is always going to be that guy, the one who will go out of his way to tell you some negative experience he has had with your driver in person. Other than that it has been my experience that NASCAR fans in general are a colorful, welcoming, friendly bunch of people.
Then the cars take the track. I wasn't concerned about the noise from the cars - I had been to see the CART series and Grand Am series several times and knew that the cars would be loud. Well let me tell you - Cup cars? They sound deeper, harder, and far louder then any of the cars I had seen race before. The roar of one car just putting through the garage area is slightly deafening. The roar of 43 at full speed is something you don't just hear, you feel it as they thunder by.
It was alarming, crazy and absolutely exhilarating. I don't think I stopped smiling the entire weekend. The first time you stand by the fence trying to find your seat as those cars ROAR by? It makes you almost dizzy. You can hear, feel, smell and sometimes even taste the cars on the track. Experiencing my first live NASCAR wreck was completely terrifying. It just happened to be my driver, Tony Stewart, who cut a tire and slammed into the wall- right in front of me in turn three and slid against the wall stopping towards the end of turn four. It wasn't just the hard impact but the sound and the feel of the impact that scared the bejeebuz out of me and my friend grabbed my arm tight and kept asking me if I could tell if his window net was down.
Even though my driver wrecked that day, and my friend’s favorite driver, Jeff Gordon, also crashed - we were both hooked on the live track experience. Now, we crave it.
Photo Credit: Amy Marbach
Read more from Amy Marbach at Amy's Bad Groove