My First NASCAR Experience:
An Unexpected Right Turn
By J. Patrick
Thursday, May 25th, 2017, 8:43 A.M.
Today, I decided that over the course of the next few days, leading up to this Sunday, I would write a semi detailed account of my first ever Nascar experience. I have never been to a race, despite the fact that I grew up less than an hour away from Charlotte Motor Speedway. Whenever I say “Charlotte Motor Speedway,” I always cringe because it is in fact, in the city of Concord, and not the city for which it is named. This is a typical theme here in the ole’ tar heel state: do or name something so stupidly that it takes away from what should otherwise be a pillar of the state. Maybe this doesn’t actually detract much at all, but it still irks me. It irks me almost as much as my first Carolina Panthers game, which just so happened to be that 2008 playoff molly wopping from the Arizona Cardinals which saw Jake Delhomme throw five interceptions. That one hurt. My first basketball experience? I don’t remember the opponent, but I hardly doubt it mattered. The Bobcats were a sorry excuse for a professional sports organization through and through. My first MLB game was observed when I was 11 and I went on a trip to New York City with my mom and a couple other women, where we saw a Yankee’s game. We were so high in the nosebleeds that I’m not sure I ever actually saw the ball moving around the field. While I’ve had many great sporting experiences and I’ve witnessed history more than once, my first experiences usually turn out to be less than stellar. I’m hoping that trend doesn’t continue this weekend.
Nevertheless, I am looking forward to my first NASCAR experience for a couple of reasons: Chiefly, I can now legally drink copious amounts of alcohol, which will hopefully make the endless series of left turns more interesting. Secondly, I’ve never cared for NASCAR, so I have no favorites, nor is there any drivers I don’t like. This weekend’s festivities probably won’t do much to spark my interest in the sport, but hey, I’ll keep an open mind. As of now, I don’t have any money riding on this event (although that could soon change, heh heh).
This seems like enough of an introduction for now. Tomorrow I’ll report back with some interesting NASCAR facts, Coca-Cola 600 details, and other related things that I find. Until then, stay classy spectators!
Friday, May 26th, 2017, 9:54 P.M.
As promised, I’ll spend my time today going over some general NASCAR hoopla, interesting facts, and some things you need to know about the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR’s longest (and possibly most grueling) race of the season. So here’s the facts, Jack.
The Coca-Cola 600 is a 600 mile race. 600 miles. That seems daunting enough, just saying that, but think about this: To drive from Charlotte, NC, to Tampa, Florida, would be 579 miles. 21 miles short of this race. The track is 1.5 miles in length, so drivers end up driving 400 laps in total. This is by far the longest race on the circuit, which makes it one of the more difficult ones. In addition to the race length, racing conditions seem to be cited often as another challenge. North Carolina is notorious for hot and extremely humid weather. Believe me, this isn’t a joke either. The humidity in Concord is currently 89%, and high enough to make you sweat harder than a conservative in a gay bar. I would honestly tell you more, but I don’t know too much about the mechanics of racing. I may save that for tomorrow’s post.
On the flipside, I have wasted the last couple hours finding things I found interesting, as it relates to the race and NASCAR in general. The first thing I pondered was the popularity of NASCAR in the state of NC. Aside from the Panthers, NASCAR is probably the next (if not first) most popular sport in the state. There’s a couple things that back up that claim: first, there used to be four total race tracks in the state (Charlotte Motor Speedway, Rockingham Speedway, North Wilkesboro Speedway, and Occoneechee Speedway in Hillsborough), all used at different points in history. This suggests that the whole state is/was invested in the sport. North Wilkesboro and Occoneechee Speedways were both a part of the original eight racetracks used in the inaugural 1949 NASCAR cup chase, with the final race of the series being in North Wilkesboro. Charlotte Motor Speedway is the only track in the state still being used by the highest NASCAR circuit. Secondly, NASCAR is, in a lot of ways, a very prideful thing in the Carolinas for a number of reasons. The main ones being the long history with the sport, and the other being the drivers produced by the state. Some of the sports most dynastic drivers and families are from, and reside in the state of North Carolina. You have the Earnhardt’s, which include Ralph, Dale, and Dale Jr.; the Petty’s with Richard, Lee and Kyle; the Jarrett’s with Ned and Dale; and then other drivers like Junior Johnson, Benny Parsons, and bobby Isaac. Lastly, the first two reasons sort of give way to the third: North Carolina can be considered a hub for NASCAR racing because a lot of former and current drivers reside within the state, which is why many race teams are based out of North Carolina. The NASCAR Hall of Fame is even located in the heart of Downtown Charlotte.
I think that’s enough for now. Tomorrow I’ll look at some of the rules, drivers, standings, and how all that works. Don’t worry, I have no clue about how it works today, but by tomorrow morning at some point, I’ll look like an expert. I mean, how hard can this NASCAR stuff be? (I’m kidding!)
Saturday, May 27th, 2017, 8:30 A.M.
Alright, it seems more complicated than I may have thought. From what I’ve gathered, NASCAR is moving towards a more complex points system. It seems that the more refined the system becomes, the more it begins to relate to other major professional sports in that the gray area seems to increase, between the black and white areas. In other sports the rules have a lot of gray area, but NASCAR, it seems to be the points system. Don’t know what that means? I’m still working through it myself. Here’s how it works (in a nutshell):
There are three stages to a race and two different points categories, championship and playoff points. Neither of them matter to me, but in the profession of left turns it probably matters a lot. The Coca Cola 600 on the other hand, will have 4 segments, probably because of the race length. Whoever finishes first after the first stage gets 1 playoff point.The same is true for the second stage (and third stage for the Coca-Cola 600). Whoever finishes the final stage in first wins the race, receiving 40 championship points. Second place gets 35, and third place gets 34. Each racer receives points inversely based off of finishing position from 4-35, until the 35th finisher gets 2 points. Anything after that receives 1 point.
I would go into what those points mean in the 16 race playoff series, but it was a little tricky, and I’m not going to spread any misinformation (at least I’ll try not to). So, let’s look at some of the racers in tomorrow’s event.
The first person that comes to mind is Dale Earnhardt Jr., driving for Nationwide Insurance under the Hendrix team. This will be the racing redhead’s last time racing in the Coca Cola 600, which he has yet to win. It would be a nice feel good story for NASCAR and it’s fans if he can squeeze a W out tomorrow. Though it would be nice, it doesn’t seem like that’ll be the case when looking at how far back in the standings he is, and how good some of the competition he’ll be competing against is. Last years winner, Martin Truex Jr., will be chief among them. Currently second in the standings behind Kyle Larson, Martin set two astonishing records in last years race. He set records for average speed, coming in at 160.655 mph, and he led for 392 of the 400 total laps. Two other racers to watch for are Jimmie Johnson, a four time winner currently in 8th place in the cup standings, and Kevin Harvick, a two time winner who’s currently in 6th in the standings.
That’s about all I got for now. Tomorrow’s the big day! We’ll see what these guys are made of, and hopefully I’ll find out what all this NASCAR hysteria is about. I’m expecting a big day for alcohol sales, nationalism, redneck-ism, and other staples of the true American.
Sunday, May 28th, 2017, 9:18 A.M.
Well folks, it’s time to race! Not quite right now, the green flag goes up at 6:18 this evening. I just found out that Channing Tatum will be the Grand Wizard. Oops! I mean the Grand Marshal, excuse me. Let’s forget I ever said that. Anyway, he’ll be in the pace car leading the drivers around to start the race.
My prospects today aren’t looking too good. I drank more than my fair share before heading to bed last night, where I had a horrible time trying to sleep last night on a fluffless futon. I awoke this morning with a headache just noticeable enough to be frustrating, and dead tired. I’m not sure how in the hell I’ll make it through today’s festivities without being absolutely wrecked. Just a quick prediction: Something is pulling me towards Kyle Busch emerging victoriously in the final stage. I have absolutely no evidence to back that claim up besides his starting position. It’s just a feeling. Most of my gambling ventures have turned out the best when I go with a knee-jerk reaction instead of putting any logic or heart into the matter. That’s all I have for now, I need to hit up waffle house to rid myself of this garbage-like state I’m in.
I’m definitely feeling better now, thanks for asking. In fact, I’m feeling well enough that I may crack open a brew here in a few minutes. It’s going to be one of those days. I’ll report back to you during various points throughout the day. I do have a few questions I want answered about this whole thing, when it’s time to leave the track today.
- What’s it like to really be a true NASCAR fan?
- What’s the most important thing about attending a NASCAR race?
- Does the race even matter?
- What’s an acceptable level of drunkenness and foolishness? Just kidding about this one, there is no acceptable level at events such as this. All social constraints on public behavior shall be lifted. Hooray!
3 beers and 2 shots later we’re hitting the road. Don’t worry, I’m not driving. My dad offered to be the DD this time. Me, my girlfriend Shelby, and my mom all have the green light to drink our hearts out, which I fully intend to do. It’s time to get rowdy, folks.
My mom just made me realize I’ve been doing this all wrong. I was playing “The Love I Lost” by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, which to me, is a jam. She told me, “she was not feeling in the mood to see a NASCAR race,” and that we needed to listen to NASCAR music, which was completely correct. Bingo. How did I not notice that? So I immediately busted out the KISS, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and that one Molly Hatchet song, “Flirting with Disaster.” Ahhh yes, this feels right.
We have arrived and parked. The first things that stand out to me are things that I wholly expected, and are standard here in North Carolina: RV’s, confederate flags, and big ole round beer bellies. Everywhere you look people are drinking heavily, and I fully intend to join them soon. I’ve seen people walking in the streets, past state troopers and other officers of the law with open containers. I guess it would be acceptable at such an event.
One thing I forgot to mention earlier: You can bring your own coolers and alcoholic beverages into the stadium. Yes, you read that correctly. We have an entire cooler packed to the brim with beer and airplane bottles.This is a monumental plus for NASCAR. I now fully endorse stock car racing. You better believe it buddy, I’m getting lit like a christmas tree today; we don’t have any of that commoner-lite beer stuff either. Everything here is 6% and up, baby. We’re making our way to the concourse outside the track now, which is loaded down with the sponsors of the drivers and other companies who want to advertise.
We’ve made it onto the concourse and I’ve cracked open my first official NASCAR beer while “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey blares in the background. Hooray! It’s time for some real hooliganism now. Interestingly, I’ve noticed some pretty unique attire already. The first being a man wearing a shirt saying something along the lines of, “Vegetarian’s are pussies, and don’t know to hunt or fish for meat.” I paraphrased that statement because I can’t remember the exact words, but most of those words were on the shirt. I’ll let you guess at which ones weren’t on there. The assumption the shirt made may be true in some form or fashion, to a certain extent, but it was still amusing, and extremely ignorant. Score: NASCAR fans 1, vegetarians 0. The second thing I noticed, and probably my favorite one of the entire day, was a man wearing a combat-like vest that had beers strapped on both sides of the body, all the way down, 6 on each side. The man was a walking 12-pack!
I will say, the NASCAR fanbase is extremely friendly. Almost everyone I’ve talked to or interacted with was very nice and polite. It would be fair to say that if you’re not a NASCAR fan, but you attend the race, you can become a fan purely based off of how inviting the fans are.
On another note, I’m loving this whole concourse experience. Almost all the sponsors booth’s have little games and wheel-of-fortune-type spinners where you can play for prizes. Between the four of us in our group, we’ve amassed something like 5 drawstring bags, 4-5 pairs of sunglasses, probably 20 koozies, and a pack of M&M’s (with the peanuts, the best kind. Kyle Busch is sponsored by M&M’s, so this is an encouraging sign). My dad also won a free rental for this handheld device that you can use in the race to get live video feeds of certain drivers, stats, and you also can listen in on the interactions between pit bosses and the drivers. Pretty neat. This should definitely spice the event up, or at the very least, provide some other perspectives on the race.
Now, it’s time to head into the race, so I’ll get back at you guys in a little while.
Quick break in the action, only 20 laps in and there’s already been a wreck. I think a piece of Jeffrey Earnhardt’s car (not sure if he’s also in the Earnhardt racing family) came off, hitting Chase Elliott’s car, who then got hit by Brad Keselowski. I’ve never understood why this is a part of the excitement of NASCAR– watching and hoping for a wreck. Why? NASCAR isn’t supposed to be a blood sport, is it? To me this feels reminiscent of the old Roman Coliseum days where you could watch two guys fight to the death against each other, or watch a captive slave fight a lion with a stick. I don’t endorse the idea of watching something in hopes of seeing someone potentially die. Was Dale Earnhardt’s crash a great spectacle to see?
Ugh, it started raining, which is starting to kill my vibe. Watching the race so far was very entertaining, and I just starting to get into the flow of it. It was only two stages in, half way through when it started to rain. It’s looking like it may rain for a good little while too, so this may be a long one. On the other hand, it may be a good thing the rain stopped. I was just starting to develop a headache between the very (and I mean VERY) loud cars and listening in on the racers and pit bosses cuss at each other like sailors. Even with the noise canceling headset on, the cars are very loud. They were loud enough that in order for me to hear the exchanges between the crews and drivers I had to turn the volume all the way up on the device. While I was developing a headache I did find the exchanges highly amusing, and surprising.
I think I heard Danica Patrick say something like, “What the fuck is he doing out there? That was the shittiest throttle.. He needs to stop acting like a fucking idiot and get his shit together.” Woah! Danica has a dirty mouth; kinda sexy, actually. Another Pit boss had something to say to his driver like, “take it easy out there, calm down. Don’t ruin what we’ve worked on. We’ve been through a lot of therapy, kid.” Very interesting.
While it’s raining, I thought I’d give these fans a show and attempt to ride the mechanical bull that’s set up a floor below us. I’ll get back to you with the results in a few.
Hot damn, I’m pathetic. I can tell the alcohol is catching up to me now. I could barely get on the bull before I was almost falling off. The guy operating it wanted me to get off quickly anyways. If I had been 100 times more sexier and a female, I guarantee I would’ve been allowed to “ride the bull” for at least a minute before I was seriously thrown off. But as it stands, I was given 15 seconds of spinning before the bull stopped, and I just fell off in a drunken heap. At least I know I’m not cut out for a career in the rodeo.
I forgot to mention earlier, Catawba Brewing Co. has a special beer for today’s race, called the “600 Ale.” It’s very basic and almost lite, but it is tasty. Hopefully this rain clears out soon and we can get back to the race. I am getting into this NASCAR thing, but I’m not sure if I have the spirit to prevail through until 1 in the morning.
The rain went away, but I think it’s time to hang it up and call it a day. I have to leave early in the morning to make this trek back to Greenville, NC. In a way, I’m kind of sad that I won’t keep this evening going, but I’m also glad because my enthusiasm was starting to wane just a bit. I’ll have to do one final report tomorrow (when I’m a little more sober) on my final takeaways and gatherings from today’s festivities.
Monday, May 29th, 2017, 2:45 P.M.
Lots of coffee and a 3 hour drive later, and I’m feeling much better (although more tired) than I did this morning when I woke up. I’m a little sad I had to travel alone, and that I had to pry myself away from my parents so quickly. We don’t get to spend a whole lot of time together at all these days, so any time together is always nice.
Speaking of family, that leads me to my first takeaway from yesterday’s race. NASCAR fans are truly a big family. This isn’t a metaphor either, but I’ll explain this is a little more in a minute. I spoke to 6-7 different people throughout the day, and asked them the questions that I listed yesterday as things I wanted to know when I walked away from the race. I’ll relist the questions below.
- What’s it like to really be a true NASCAR fan?
- What’s the most important thing about attending a NASCAR race?
- Does the race even matter?
I never asked anyone the first question, as I was hoping to be able to answer it myself, today. I don’t really think I have a straight answer for you yet, either. If I had to say what are some characteristics of a true NASCAR fan, however, I would say they are fun-loving, caring, inclusive, happy, joking, and pretty accepting, surprisingly enough. I would actually say that NASCAR fans are the nicest and the least viscous of any of the major sports fans in America. I’ve seen multiple fist fights break out at NFL and Collegiate football games, and I’ve seen things close to this at some basketball games, but I didn’t see anything that hinted at violence amongst fans at the race yesterday. Not saying that it hasn’t and won’t happen, but I see it far less likely to happen there than at other events.
The second question received a lot more answers. Most of the answers were pretty closely related too, which is what led me to calling the NASCAR fanbase a family. The first person I questioned seemed a little weary about me randomly approaching him and asking what his favorite thing about NASCAR was, and what the most important thing about attending the race is. His response of simply, “Everything,” and the blank, suspicious look he gave me told me he didn’t think I had honest intentions, which is totally understandable. I tried to push him a couple times more, and he just responded with “everything,” again. His buddy on the other hand, was not shy about his favorite things at all. He put his arm around me, and pulled my arm toward him, which held my phone that I was using to take audio recordings, and said, “I’ll tell ya, I love the tailgating, the giant crowd, I love drinking with the fans, and the racing.” simple enough.
After we decided to leave the race, though, is where I really got what I was looking for. Walking out of the front gate that we entered, a pot-bellied, middle aged white guy stopped me and asked me about the Alonzo Mourning jersey I had on. We talked about the former Hornets legend for a few minutes before he began talking about his son and other stuff. Before I knew it, five or 6 other stragglers in small groups had stopped to join in on the conversation. One person complimented my girlfriend about the tattoos on her legs, which led to more conversation. When I looked back at the audio recordings I made yesterday, I realized I had recorded 17 minutes and 26 seconds of conversation (and inquiry on my part) with these complete strangers. I asked the pot bellied man what he liked about NASCAR events the most, and he responded with, “It’s freakin’, a bunch of people comin’ together and gettin’ real drunk before the race, comin’ to watch a race, it’s fun. I mean, it’s entertaining, sure, but at the end of the day, it’s still a race, you go from point A to point B, period.” The emphasis he put on calling it entertaining told me that he was more concerned about being there for the event, not necessarily the race itself. I asked the second question and he went on to say, “It’s more about hangin’ out, enjoying life, gettin’ really drunk, and then, if the race is good, it’s good.”
Really, that should tell you everything you need to know.
A couple who had ventured up to us and joined in on the conversation were next in line to be questioned. It should be noted that they were an African American couple, and they were not the only people of color that I saw yesterday. I saw whole, entire, large families of African Americans attending the event, which was somewhat surprising to me. I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t think that NASCAR racing was almost entirely a white man’s sport. Back to the couple though. The guy’s favorite thing about NASCAR was that it reminded him of his childhood. He told me that his Grandfather took his father to the races, and that his father took him. For him, NASCAR was a family thing, almost like an inherited passion. He went on to tell me that he enjoyed the race itself, and that he kept up pretty well with the points. He even told me that out of all the other sports he follows (baseball and football), NASCAR is his favorite.
I was a little too drunk to stay focused and continue to try and find answers, but I did end up having some good conservation with them. I was lost in it to the point that I almost forgot that I was talking to complete strangers. My parents and girlfriend had to pry me away from the group so that we could actually leave and go home. The jolly white guy (I can’t remember his name, I think it was Bryan) gave me a big, sweaty bear hug right before I left. That’s when I really thought I had come full circle with the whole experience. Here was a person I had never seen before, and probably won’t ever see again, fully engage in a conversation with me, and then give me a big hug when I walk away. The other couple that joined in on the conversation approached us like lifelong friends. It sort of reminded me of Seinfeld, where they all just slide into the same booth in the diner they’ve been going to for years, and don’t go through the usual greeting process because they saw one another the night before.
All in all, I didn’t really become a fan of the sport, but I definitely have a newfound respect for it. All the way from the drivers themselves to the fans. NASCAR is an incredibly unique sport in both the atmosphere and the way the event unfolds. I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a sporting event where the people at the event are as friendly and familial as they are at a race track. Whenever I look back on my experience at the Coca Cola 600 I’ll always remember the fun activities before the race, the loud engines and tactical moves around the track, and the magical ambience set by Charlotte Motor Speedway on a hot May afternoon. Most importantly though, I’ll remember being there with the people I love the most, the random embraces and smiles of strangers, and the feeling of being warmly welcomed and accepted into a family. If I had to guess what it truly means to be a NASCAR fan, I think that would be it.