I have been treating NASCAR and professional wrestling as mirror images of fanhood for decades. I watched them the same way; it was fun when the two sports were shiny and evolving, dominated by stars I recognized telling stories I cared about, but when those two sports started to settle into their identities, I drifted away. Suddenly I realized I didn’t know the young talent so well, and it felt like I had seen every kind of match, and every outcome possible. Like the memory of an old flame, the need to dial into the race slowly faded into nothing, until it was nothing more than a thing you vaguely remembered when a friend mentioned a keyword in conversation.
“Oh yeah, I remember when I used to watch NASCAR that Martinsville was called The Paperclip because it was such a small oval.” That’s what my NASCAR fanhood was, until last week.
Out of the blue, I was offered a chance to head down to Kentucky Speedway to watch the Quaker State 400 (presented by Advanced Auto Parts, because I’m sure they paid enough money to end up on SportsHax). The race was hard for me to follow because I haven’t kept up on drivers, teams, numbers, or anything. Hell, I barely remember who won. Doesn’t matter, I’m a NASCAR fan again, and I didn’t even need a green flag lap to get me there.
I was a son in a set of two fathers and sons who scored Hot Passes for the race, but the hooks were setting into me as soon as we got out of the car; race tracks just look cool.
There was a moment of disappointment when we realized how far away we were from where we had to pick up our Hot Passes, and then how far we’d be from there to the track, but that’s when we learned about the most valuable service at a race track: golf carts. Tons of them. Everywhere. They weren’t even an expensive ticket perk, anybody jump on and get a ride for the cost of a tip when you get off.
Fast forward through an eventful ride through traffic, pedestrian and auto, we rode through the tunnel and walked right into the first garage we saw. That, my friends, is what sealed the deal.
The access that NASCAR affords its fans is unbelievable. We watched the Xfinity Alsco 300 (rained out from the night before) from IN THE PITS. Pit stops, green flag laps, restarts, wrecks, cars going to the garage, tires and fuel being run, crew members running around, meetings… NASCAR puts their fans right in the middle of it. Imagine being in your seats at an NFL football game, getting bored, and being able to wander down to the sidelines. If that’s not enough for you, head on back to the locker room and take all the pictures you’d like.
The pre-race in the garage and pit area is even more fun. I spent at least an hour following cars during the inspection process. I learned what they’re looking for, how, and what sorts of things are red flags. There aren’t any information books hanging around, I actually talked to officials and crew members about what was going on. Not as a media member, but as a fan. All I had to be was respectful and stay out of the way when things were moving. That’s a small price to pay to be behind the scenes.
We rolled into Kentucky Speedway at 10:30 in the morning and didn’t get out of the parking lot until midnight. We ate, drank, ran into people we knew, sat ON THE TRACK and watched the Governor of Kentucky get dropped off trackside from a Blackhawk helicopter, all before the green flag. The only thing better would have been getting an autograph… oh, I got that, too. From Bubba Wallace, a young star who I can watch grow up into a big deal, just like I did before.