NASCAR: Not what you think (Part I)
When it comes to NASCAR, forget everything you’ve ever seen on television. Forget that you believe the drone of engines sounds as though its at least a thousand decibels. Forget that you believe those tracks are big, even if you’re watching on a 32-inch set. Forget that you’re sure how fast those cars are going, just by the trackside cameras with mics giving off that “thoomp, thoomp, thoomp” sound as they speed by at 180 miles per hour.
You think you know what it’s like going to a NASCAR race, just by turning on FOX with D.W. screaming “Boogity boogity boogity” every Sunday afternoon.
Tighten your belts all you like, hoss. You think you know–but you don’t.
I’ve lived about five miles from Lowes Motor Speedway for nearly three years now. I still have to reset my sense of scale every time I drive by it. It’s a behemoth, this track that looms so large over Concord, North Carolina. It was literally one of the first identifiable sights when I moved here, spotting the checkered upper deck from several miles away as I was waiting at a traffic light. Then it becomes something like a redneck Energizer Bunny as you’re driving by. From right around Turn Three on, driving on Highway 29 south, it just keeps going . . . and going. . . and going . . .
Three years, and I still haven’t completely gotten used to its size. Of course, being from the North, we always attempt to convey size by comparing something to a football field: “It’s like putting Giants Stadium side-by-side, and then some!”
It could be worse.We could be halving landfills and using that to put forth a sense of enormity.
The first time I was inside the track wasn’t even for a race, but for a tour. Lowes gives wonderful tours of the track, from the infield to pit road, to the Winner’s Circle–right up to Turn One itself–all done from the comfort of a tour van.
When I took the tour, I got a real feel for how gigantic this race track is. Good Lord, is this thing huge! I was too busy being in awe to try to figure out stadium lengths and whether or not we should throw a piece of a ballpark in for good measure.
The woman who drove the van, our Tour Guide for the day, was very pleasant, very informative, and looked as though she were several years too old to be driving on a race track–even in a van. She was the type you might see on a downhome cooking show. She might even do something involving balls of yarn and a rocking chair.
We moved at such a leisurely, Sunday afternoon kind of pace, not unlike the old woman with the purple hair who always manages to pull out of the church lot just before you can zip by her. The only time our Tour Guide drove slower was when she stopped at the Winner’s Circle (and yes, I did envision myself standing atop my Sprint Cup winning vehicle, arms in the air, confetti blowing around, two models coming up on both sides, a Coke or a Gatorade in my hand). Waiting to get onto the track itself, I figured this was hopeless. Her years initially told me one thing: “I’m gonna get skunked having her hit the gas when she gets on this track.”
Then she blasted out of pit road and raced towards Turn One, almost immediately speeding in excess of 80 miles per hour and heading straight toward the wall.
My leisurely “la la la, knit one, purl two” Tour Guide turned into a Formula One speed demon in seconds flat, causing me to hold onto my seat for dear life, hoping that the insurance premiums were up to date, and that my estate would be distributed properly (meaning all of my Grateful Dead collectibles go to a worthy owner). To add a little salt in the wound, she stopped, pretty much at the middle of the banking around that very turn. Not only was I still getting over this zero to 80-plus mile an hour in a few seconds flat burst of speed, I was now afraid that one slight move and we’d tip this van over.
If I could’ve gotten away with ordering all of the heavier people to the right of the van, I would’ve done so faster than you can say “barrel roll.” Sweet relief–when we started moving again.
I put any thoughts of riding as a passenger in a real Sprint car on hold.
Tours are a nice little diversion, but they’re no substitute for race day. When that gigantic track is filled with 100,000 turkey-leg-eating NASCAR fans, it becomes the fourth largest city in North Carolina.
When those fans take the seats, that’s when the fun really begins.
Tomorrow Brian explores Part Two: The Fans