A Day At NASCAR – More Than Just Racing

I spend a lot of time—probably too much—talking sports with my friends and family. We love to go back and forth about the many sports in the Northwest: professional and college football, baseball, basketball and soccer. But one sport that we rarely discuss is car racing.

My experience has been that you have your niche racing fans and your southern transplants, but very few people in this area follow stock car racing, better known as the NASCAR circuit (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing).

I always thought it would be a lot of gear heads and two-cycle guys who ride motorcycles and tinker with cars that really make up your race fans. Boy, was I wrong.

Always up for something different, I ventured down to Las Vegas this past weekend to attend the NASCAR race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. What an experience!

Like I said, I am far from a race fan and know very little about the whole circuit. I’ll watch a little of the Daytona 500 or bits of the Indianapolis 500 if it’s put in front of me. I recognize a few of the drivers just because I watch a lot of  SportsCenter, but that is the breadth of my knowledge. So, when friends offered tickets to the race in the desert, and since I’m always looking to expand my sports resume, I was all for it. I love a trip to Las Vegas, and throw in a new sport? Sign me up.

We rode a 30-person party bus out to the race track, which is located about 15 miles from The Strip. When we arrived, we were ready for some action. The Speedway holds 80,000 people, and that does not include all the people who don’t watch from the stands. The inside of the track is full of people and the outside of the track allows for motorhomes to sit perched up high on the back stretch for a great view.

The fan experience and the people watching is as good as it gets. Almost every walk of life is accounted for at these events, though Fit America is not one of them. Not a lot of sit-ups happening. The deep South was well represented, and I felt out of place that I did not have on some sort of gear representing a driver. There were full leather suits, coats and hats, all with photos and names of all the drivers. Don’t have gear? There is a tractor-trailer full of memorabilia for everything you could dream up. Just walking around, taking in the atmosphere was worth the admission. Need a drink? How about a $14 spiked lemonade?

We eventually found our seats above turn four, which looked right down to the finish line. It was a great vantage point to take in all the action. One of the highlights of the day was when all the drivers turned on their cars at the same time. The sound was like a rocket taking off, and it gave me chills. The crowd roared, and the race was underway.

Three takeaways from the race action:

1. Watching in person, I realized how fast they are driving (155 mph on average). It’s a disservice to the drivers thinking that watching on TV is the same thing as being there live.

2. The cars are inches from each other. It is incredible the athleticism of these drivers to be able to do what they do in such tight confines and at those speeds.

3. There is action all over the track and not just for the lead. No matter where they were in the race, all the drivers were navigating traffic, bumping opponents and doing everything they could to improve their positioning. Not everyone can run in the lead pack, and that became evident watching action all over the course.

Some of the new NASCAR rules implemented this year are an attempt to provide more race action during the day, so they have split the races into segments. Three segments per race and after each (a predetermined number of laps), the pack is all brought back into their race order to allow those in the back of the pack to benefit from shrinking the field. Some of the most thrilling racing was right after the re-starts when all the racers were tightly bunched before it all got stretched out again as some cars were faster on the day than others. The stoppages allow for all the drivers and crews to adjust their cars in the pits and bring them closer to the leaders. The slightest adjustment could mean the difference between a top-ten finish or lagging back all day in the chase group.

On this day, drivers Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick had the fastest cars. I felt if Busch had not gotten a penalty for speeding in pit row earlier in the day, his was the fastest car. But eventually he had just too much ground to make up. Logano held off Keselowski coming out of the last turn (right in front of us) and came in first. It was an intoxicating race.

The whole day was super fun, and I would highly recommend it. The racing was great, but at NASCAR it is only a small part of the day. Even if you are just a casual fan, but up for some people watching and cold beer, this is the experience for you.

About John D. Hunter 55 Articles
John D. Hunter is Montana native but grew up in the Tacoma/Seattle area and proudly attended Washington State University. He is a former morning show producer on KJR SportsRadio in Seattle. For 7 years he produced ‘Knight in the Morning’ with Michael Knight and New York Vinnie. From there he moved to ESPN.com where he spent another 7 years as an Interactive Editor and Soccer reporter/writer. He has covered 3 Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, 1998 World Cup in France and many more sporting events.