NASCAR – It’s Contagious
Back in April, I was at a friend’s apartment watching The Office. During a commercial break, a 30-second ad for July’s Coke Zero 400 grabbed my attention.
At almost the same time, my friend and I commented on how neither one of us had ever attended a NASCAR event.
I said, “Then, let’s go this year.” With a handshake, the trip was settled. Daytona International Speedway was the destination.
Our adventure was simple to plan considering my uncle goes to the Coke Zero 400 every year. Being an Eagle Scout he goes “prepared.” Plus, he drives his recreational vehicle and parks it less than 1,000 feet from the entrance of the Speedway in the west parking lot.
For years, I had heard their wild stories and am now old enough to participate. Okay, maybe just watch.
I should have admitted earlier, if you can’t already tell, I’m not a NASCAR fan. I follow the races and results, but nothing more.
I know my lack of interest in NASCAR is primarily attributed to my lack of knowledge about cars.
I don’t know anything about engines or tires nor do I care to learn. But, I can change the oil in my car. I also have no problem pumping gas, and putting air into my tires is a synch.
But, don’t quiz me on the difference between a V4 and a V8 or the benefits of Bridgestone tires. I might not even know the year my car was manufactured. In essence, I will fail.
So, I ventured to Daytona as a NASCAR spectator, not as part of the media. I wanted to experience the Coke Zero 400 the way it should be: as a carefree observer enjoying the three-day Fourth of July weekend.
How else could I enjoy ribs one night and a shrimp boil the next if I was wearing a collared shirt and khakis with a media pass dangling from my neck.
As a newcomer, I wanted to roam RV City shirtless and shoeless. I desired to soak in a pool under the sweltering afternoon sun with a Bloody Mary in hand. All were attainable goals for my weekend getaway, especially with my uncle leading the way.
But, of course, the deal was that I had to be a NASCAR fan for one weekend, at the very least.
Over the past twenty years, I have been to Daytona too many times to count, but I never noticed the sheer size of the track until I arrived for the race.
The 2.5-mile tri-oval is deceiving from faraway. Up close, it’s like an airport, including the sounds emanating from the superspeedway.
Last Friday, Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series qualifying were taking place. The sound was the equivalent of one million buzzing bees. Amazingly, the loud humming was soothing.
As I observed the NASCAR fans, I took note of two common misconceptions. I only saw two mullets and three pairs of jean shorts. The fans weren’t hillbillies or rednecks. Truly, all walks of life were represented at the Speedway. But, this did not detract from the entertainment of people watching.
The one characteristic NASCAR fans share is that when they enter the speedway, they leave their worries at home. It’s their world of entertainment and relaxation for that one weekend.
Scratch that. Their only concerns are whether their drinks are cold and which driver will crash next. I shared those same concerns. The experience was better than I ever could have imagined.
The daytime temperatures were scorching, but I fulfilled my dream of sitting in a blow-up pool to combat the heat.
However, the 80-degree nighttime weather for the Mid-Summer Classic, the Coke Zero 400, was pleasant compared to the 90-plus temperatures during the day.
Once former NASCAR driver Kyle Petty yelled, “Gentlemen, start your engines,” I got goose bumps. And, the adrenaline rush I got as the 43 cars drove by on the first lap was like nothing I have ever experienced. The estimated 115,000 in attendance shared my jubilation.
The 162-lap, four-hour race seemed to fly by. In addition, the final result was too good to be true. When Tony Stewart spun out NASCAR bad boy Kyle Busch on the final lap, the rush and excitement from the crowd was monumental. It is that excitement from the crowd that revs up your senses.
Prior to the race’s finish, I had never felt the vibe of true NASCAR rivalries. Jimmie Johnson fans seemed to get along with Stewart fans. And, Jeff Gordon fans were sharing company with Ryan Newman fans.
However, when Kyle Busch hit the wall, it was obvious that almost all NASCAR fans dislike Busch. Whatever their reasons may be, I joined them in booing Busch. I had been one with the crowd and trusted its emotion.
Now, the Coke Zero 400 wasn’t nearly a Duke/North Carolina basketball game or a New York Yankees/Boston Red Sox series at Fenway Park. While the rivalries were not of epic proportions, the emotion was never lacking.
But, the NASCAR race combined the adrenaline rush of watching football and hockey. I have unpleasantly inhaled car fumes while walking the streets of Manhattan, but this NASCAR inhalation was actually welcomed. And, screaming with the crowd for a driver to pass another made me feel alive.
It’s really all about the diehard race fans. Their loyalty and love of the sport is contagious! I’m infected!
It comes as no shock to me that NASCAR has so many diehard fans. I’ll never forget my first NASCAR experience.
Of course, as previously mentioned, my first experience was unforgettable due to my Uncle Ed’s planning and expertise. Who would think to bring a blow-up swimming pool to a racing event? With ribs, a shrimp boil and a farmer’s breakfast, the experience could not have been better.
I could have been at a go-kart race, and it would have still been fun and exhilarating. Thanks, Uncle Ed.
If you haven’t attended a NASCAR race, I suggest you do so. You too might become infected.