When I went to my first NASCAR race, I sat in the 13th row in turn three.
It was a Nationwide race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the closest I came to a driver was having Tony Stewart's car parts flying at me after he crashed into the wall.
My second race was the very next day for the Sprint Cup series. This time I had “cold” garage passes and got a picture of Dale Jr., Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Kevin Harvick as they made their way to the driver's meeting. I also got to watch inspection.
I thought I was super cool.
Until someone told me about a “hot” pass—an all access pass that gets you everywhere except the driver's haulers (although if they invite you in, say yes!). You can even stay there during the race.
I had to get my hands on one.
In Aug. 2008, while living in Michigan, I decided to see a race at Michigan International Speedway. Thanks to a connection, I got my hands on a “hot” pass.
Nearly 100 of us lined up hours before the track even opened, waiting to get our passes. Some had the “C” for COLD on theirs but mine had the big “H”—for HOT. I shook as I drove to the parking lot.
What lied ahead for our day?
After we hit up the souvenir stands, we made our way to the pit/garage area. I was shaking as I showed the volunteer my identification. I asked her where to go and what to do, as this was my first time with access.
Her answer? “Go anywhere, do everything. This is the garage and you've got a hot pass.”
As I stood in shock trying to make the most of my pass, a nice older lady took my arm and gave me the best advice ever. And now I'll pass it on to you.
“Stand by the bathrooms before practice and the race. They always go in there before getting in their cars.” I thought she was crazy, but I kept it in mind.
My first autograph was Ryan Newman, as he snuck around the haulers. I shyly asked him for his autograph and he told me to walk beside him. I thanked him for being my first autograph and he said, “I'm your first? Wow, well, just learn to walk fast.”
This was a lot of information for one day!
Cup practice was about to begin and I took the advice of the lady and stood by the bathrooms at the entrance to the garage. One by one each driver went in the bathroom and came out.
Kyle Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Jimmie Johnson, Michael Waltrip, and a few others. Even Chad Knaus, Tony Eury Jr., and Greg Zipadelli were there.
I wondered if they washed their hands but who cares—it's Jimmie Johnson!
Having learned the art of the autograph and the advice of the bathroom trick, I took it back to LVMS when I returned the following year. I got double the autographs.
Despite having hot passes again, security was much different and a group of us had been locked behind a barrier at the beginning of pit road during the Nationwide race.
All of a sudden, people were hollering. I turned around to see a blond head.
It was Steven Wallace.
Why was he with us in the barriers? I looked around.
We were locked with the porta-potties!
Then came Brian Vickers. Justin Allgaier.
But the ultimate port-a-potty autograph prize came when Carl Edwards was stuck waiting in line for the next available stall. He took pictures, gave hugs, and signed autographs.
Then he used the porta-potty, waved goodbye, and headed to his car.
Without washing his hands.