The 100-plus degree temperatures and a crowd of 130,000 didn't stop me from attending my first NASCAR event. It might have been hotter than H-E-double toothpicks out at California Speedway that weekend, but the threat of a heatstroke was not going to keep me away from finally experiencing Nextel Cup Racing in person.
As those who have read my column know, I am a fan of all motorsports. While many of my fellow import fans knock NASCAR, I appreciate the basic fact that racing is racing - whether it's office chairs down Turbo's hallway, F1 or the good ol' boys of NASCAR. Having watched many a NASCAR race from the comfort of my couch on Sunday mornings, I jumped at the opportunity to attend a race when they ventured out to our neck of the woods.
The all-weekend race is like an endurance event. I wonder how many hardcore fans go all three twelve-hour days in full (practice, Busch race, Nextel Cup). I was blown away that well over 100,000 people flock into the stands for a car race - this number is greater than many of our readers' town populations. I was impressed by the level of excitement that the crowd generated. Fists pumping in the air, the fans yelled and rooted for their driver as if he could hear them personally.
Governor Arnold, aka the "Terminator," ceremoniously started the event, and the vehicles took off with a bang. The vibrations from the exhausts could be felt all the way up in the grandstands as the vehicles went around the track. It was a sight to see as the drivers got as near as one foot from the wall coming in and out from the corners. You could listen in on every communication between the driver and his crew on the track scanner - a rental must for any attendee.
What I realized is that, as with many other motorsports, some things are best viewed from TV. While having a pit pass was cool and seeing all of the drivers and cars up close cannot be replicated on TV, the actual racing is easier to watch on TV. You take for granted all of the multi-angled close-ups and drivers' vehicle camera footage shown on TV. The excitement of cars rubbing and near-crashes is not captured the same when you are up high in the grandstands at a huge oval track. (There were no crashes at the event I attended which is great for the safety of the drivers, but it makes for a rather uneventful race. I didn't realize how much the crashes make NASCAR so fun to watch.)
What you do get in person at a NASCAR race is the experience of camaraderie of so many fans all in one place, with not one of the 100,000 in attendance leaving early. The buzz in the air is not as palpable from the confines of your living room. Attending a NASCAR race is definitely an experience in and of itself - something that everyone should experience at least once in his or her lifetime.