NASCAR: SPEED, SPACE AND SPECTACLE (Part One – Speed)
With little time left before stock car engines roar again, we have little time to cool our heels and prepare ourselves for the 2017 Daytona 500 (February 26, 2017)
As an avid NASCAR fan, it was a travesty that, while I have been to a few events at my local track, I had yet to attend an actual NASCAR race. That all changed on Valentine’s Day, when my lovely wife purchased the best Valentine’s Day/Christmas/Birthday gift ever -weekend passes to the September race at Chicagoland Speedway.
Not only was this a great gift because it was an actual race, it was the first race of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship. This made it a well-planned and extremely thoughtful gift. It was a monumental race as the playoff group of 16 valiant drivers fought tooth-and-nail for the cherished trophy.
As monumental as it was for them, this event was equally as important for me. I would get to see the inner workings and feel the passion in the air for the very first time. I will try to capture my experience for you in a short series of stories that highlight aspects of the sport that stood out to me the most. SPEED, SPACE AND SPECTACLE. Here we go…..
First, let’s deal with the thing that most intrigued me…The SPEED. I was well aware that these 800 horsepower cars were capable of SPEED of over 200-mph on some tracks and covering over 2 1/2 miles of space in as little as 20 seconds. That’s all well and good when you are rattling off facts and figures, but to see it for yourself is a whole different experience. Of course you don’t get the same commentary and witty banter at the track that you get in your living room, so it’s on you to keep up with what’s going on. You’d better be ready with your driver’s number and paint scheme before the race begins. You should also learn how to read and interpret the scoring pylons at the track you’re visiting. Those are all you’ll have to keep you apprised of their whereabouts on track.
It’s not hard to lose your favorite driver(s) during a lap. If you turn away for a moment, your guy/gal could have made a pass or got passed before the end of the first turn. Often, by the time I had turned to look at my watch or snap a photo, the lead lap cars were already crossing the back stretch and I had to recalibrate myself to find them again. Every edit from Turn 4 resulted in a hurried chaos that blasted past me and those sitting in my section (front stretch, right before Turn 1) at 170 mph. The sound and fury stirred up a gust of wind every time is roared by and by the time I had exhaled, except for a few stragglers, it was gone. When I say this sport is fast, it is a huge understatement.
Should you miss the degree of SPEED that is happening on track, the best way to gauge it is to see an actual pit stop.
I was privileged to be seated on the front stretch, right across from the last three pit boxes– which, for this race were occupied by Kyle Bush, Joey Logano and Chase Elliott. Three of the brightest young stars in the sport.
I wish I had accurate words to describe the sheer energy that was felt — even from as far away as I was sitting — when those drivers pulled into the pits. Whenever the yellow flag flew or green flag pit stops took place, you could feel the suppressed strength waiting to be unleashed.
One of the more amazing things was that the pit stop doesn’t end with the cars going back on track. There is an entire ritual that every crew goes through; sweeping the pit stall, lining up a set of tires, checking their tools, etc. All to ensure that they are on point and ready for the next stop.
The videos do far more justice than my description, but do little to convey what was felt, even from a few hundred feet away.
Pound-for-pound, NASCAR beats everything else for pure exhilaration. Sure, a seat at the Super Bowl is a prized experience, but it is exciting because of the hype and hoopla surrounding it. It’s marketed as an ultimate event. Although a trip to the NASCAR playoffs is marketed similarly, one can be a total novice and have a passing interest in cars but still be moved to the edge of your seat simply by the power being put flung in front of you. Yes, both events would have a lull period and I admit that circling a track for 200 laps or watching a punt return are not the most mesmerizing things. NASCAR, however has the visceral benefit of giving you a ringside seat to a battle that has raged on for centuries – man vs. machine.
In addition to the sheer power on the track, there is as much speed taking place everywhere on the property. The pits, the garage area even the vending areas. Everything moves in a rushed pace. The NASCAR experience is first and foremost about speed. You need it to get in, you need it to stay in and you certainly need it to win.