While the Newbie News series usually focuses on new, up and coming drivers, in honor of Bleacher Report being fans writing about our own favorite sports, I wanted to do a story about some "newbie" fans here at Pocono Raceway.
I especially wanted to focus on "newbie" fans who either had "hot passes" for full access to the garage area or had some special privilege at the race track, like James Ruscigno, the winner of the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500, who waved the green flag to start the race.
Our first "newbie" fans are pictured above. They are Stephanie and Craig Petulla, from Osceola Mills, Pennsylvania, three hours west of Pocono Raceway near State College.
Craig is a former professional baseball player and is currently a counselor in a state correctional facility. Stephanie works for Penn State athletics.
The Petullas have an "open marriage", with Craig rooting for Dale Jr. as his driver and Stephanie cheering for Jimmie Johnson. "We just recently got into NASCAR about two years ago," advised Craig.
"We needed a winter-time activity," confided Craig. "We loved the fact that the race season starts in February and it is a long season as well."
The couple were fortunate enough to score "hot" garage passes for the first race they had ever attended due to a friendship with one of the NASCAR officials. "Our seats are in the grandstand," said Craig, "but we just found out we can stay down here and watch the race."
"Because this is a once in a life-time experience, we will probably stay here to watch the race," continued Craig.
The couple have gotten so into their NASCAR fandom that they have booked their travel and purchased their tickets for the Martinsville race sharing, "We will go down for the whole weekend."
The Petullas were very disappointed that they did not get to see the race yesterday due to the rain. "But we had a great experience yesterday," said Stephanie. "We were happy to come back and we got a beautiful day."
The couple said they feel "really fortunate to be given the opportunity" to be in the garage area and to see the driver introductions "up close and personal".
"It's overwhelming almost," said Craig. Stephanie continued, "Just to see how many moving parts NASCAR has, and everything that goes into it in the garage area and all the people that work for the teams, it's just really neat."
"I don't think people realize all the people that are helping these teams out to succeed," summarized Stephanie. "It's pretty cool to watch and interesting to see."
The biggest issue for these "newbie" fans will be to decide whose pit to frequent during the race, Jimmie Johnson's or Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s stalls. "We might have to split up a bit," said Stephanie. "We will divide and conquer."
Also enjoying his "hot pass" action was Bob Corbett, from Watertown, Connecticut. Bob drove four hours to get to the track but fortunately had the foresight to book his hotel through Monday in case of rain.
Corbett has a friend who works for the 3M Greg Biffle team and that is how he scored his garage pass. "These are pretty tough to get," acknowledged Corbett.
But he has absolutely enjoyed his full access to the "cars going in and out for practice and seeing the drivers up close," said Corbett.
"And I got Matt Kenseth's autograph on my hat," shared Corbett, who was also sporting a Matt Kenseth shirt and gear. "That made me very happy."
"My wife is a big Mark Martin fan," continued Corbett. "She was able to get a hat and an autograph out of his hauler, so that was very nice."
When asked about his race plans, Corbett advised that he would watch some of the race from the pit stalls and then make his way over to his grandstand seats for another perspective.
Probably the best fan experience of the day, however, went to the winner of the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 Ultimate Fan Contest, James Ruscigno. This lucky fan got to be escorted across the track to wave the green flag to start the race.
Ruscigno, who won the contest after giving an additional donation to the Red Cross, has been overwhelmed with his race weekend. He was "a little nervous" and had some "butterflies", hoping he would not drop the flag onto the track.
Ruscigno was a quick study, waving the flag proudly, to start the race. He summarized all of his winning experiences, from hot laps with Greg Biffle to driver introductions to the green flag, by saying that "everyone has been real nice here."
"I want to thank Sunoco, the Red Cross and the Pocono Raceway," said Ruscigno. "Everyone treated us like royalty."
Every fan experiences a race in his or her own special way, often with family and friends by their sides. But these "newbie fans" have had the experiences of their lives here at the Sunoco Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 at a finally sunny Pocono Raceway.