This past weekend’s trip to Las Vegas was anchored around attending the NASCAR race at the local track. Yes, it was a bachelor party and yes, there would be the usual drunken revelry, but the main focus was the race. For all but one of the guys on the trip it was our first trip to a NASCAR race. It was everything I expected and then some.
|The ~130,000 fans getting ready for the Green Flag to drop.|
I grew up in a family that was relatively involved in sports, both as participants and as spectators. And I grew up in the South, where game day meant that you could easily be hanging out with 85,000+ of your closest friends, all dressed in the same colors and all screaming your heads off in support of the local team. I thought that was pretty impressive. It turns out that NASCAR takes the concept to another level. A race isn’t just two teams (though there did seem to be the Jimmie Johnson versus everyone else thing going on in many of the conversations I caught snippets of). There are 43 cars on the track every week that a fan can affiliate with. On top of that there are ownership teams, manufacturer teams and probably a few other alliances that I didn’t catch. It was a lot to keep track of, especially for a first-time attendee.
The entire scene was “more” than I expected of just about every aspect. It was louder than I thought it would be, and that was after I put in my ear plugs. It was way faster than I expected, too. And there was way more unhealthy food available to buy than in any other stadium environment I’ve been in. Just walking the midway area and seeing the bacon-wrapped hotdogs, foot long corndogs and wide variety of fried items available for consumption made my arteries a bit sore.
|Watching the final restart of the race.|
There was also the human element of race day. When I say that we experienced a broad range of society I’m probably selling the experience short. From the three women in front of us who got into a fight with each other when they realized they had to shift two seats over to the impressive displays of facial hair stylings to, well, just about everything else we witnessed, it was impressive. They stereotypes that NASCAR has associated with it were strongly represented, as were a number of other demographics. But even with the typical stereotypes in play it was enjoyable and even sometimes educational to listen to the crowd talking about race strategy, relative strengths of the drivers and the minutiae that determined the difference between winning and crashing into the wall. The people part of the experience was just as much fun as the race. With over 125,000 people there to cheer and take in the event it is easy to see why.
And it was a pretty good race to watch overall. Not a ton of accidents and only a couple dozen laps run under caution meant that, for the most part, the drivers were able to really open it up and go after each other on the track. Watching Kevin Harvick move up from starting in 34th to a 2nd place finish was impressive. The ability of the drivers to negotiate traffic and the confines of the track while moving as fast as they were was downright amazing, especially as close as they were to each other and the walls.
Equally amazing to the drivers’ ability to generally not crash while hurtling around the track at 180+ miles/hour was the ability of the pit crews to do as much as they do as quickly as they do it. I understand that races are won and lost in the pits as much as they are out on the track and watching the dozen or so guys working together throughout the race, particularly for the 10-20 seconds/stop that they were “on” was quite impressive. The amount of work that can happen on a car that quickly is amazing.
The main downside of the day was the poorly planned design of the parking at the track and the completely inept attempts of the group working at traffic control to manage the situation. At one point we literally did not move for an hour trying to leave. Shortly after that I managed to convince the traffic folks of a better plan – mostly by moving the cones and implementing the plan myself while they were debating whether they should or not – and things got better. And it still took about 90 minutes from that point to travel the 15 miles from the race to the hotel. It was a rookie mistake on our part. The smart folks set up their grills and had a grand time watching us struggle to leave. That’s definitely the smart way to play the situation there.
Am I planning on emigrating to NASCAR nation anytime soon? Probably not. But I can definitely understand the enjoyment of the sport for those who are into it. There’s a lot more to it than “turn left at the corner” and trying not to crash too badly. I’m definitely happy that I got to experience it the once.
A few more pictures, just for fun. To see the rest of the shots from the day check out the photo gallery here.
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I don’t actually follow Nascar, but I do love Jeff Gordon. This article kind of made me love him: http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/23797310/
Nifty article. He definitely has the same sort of love him or hate him reputation around the track. And I heard at lest one guy singing some version of his own made up song “Jeff Gordon is Gay” as we were leaving the track.
He’s not my favorite but I have no real hard feelings towards him either. Of course, I don’t really have much of an opinion on any of the drivers since I don’t know enough to care. Listening to the various other conversations I heard around the track, the hotel, the casinos and the rental car shuttle and hearing how the fans were so atuned to the idea of which drivers they were actually direct fans of and then ancillary fans (i.e. if your driver is out who else can you cheer for) and then who they vehemently hate. It is a very interesting social experience to experience a race like that.
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