"If You Ain't First, You're Last": Advice From a New Race Fan

racethis 50Correspondent IOctober 23, 2008

First Cup Race; A Day of Enlightenment

The infamous Ricky Bobby once said, "If you ain't first, you're last." Well, we definitely weren't first in the school of race fan savvy this weekend at Martinsville. My grown children and I just returned from our first Cup race. Apparently, we have a lot to learn about becoming official NASCAR fans. Oh, what we wish we had known before entering the arena Sunday!

For starters, don't, I repeat, DO NOT skimp on the tickets. We got the free ones from a promotion with the local grocery store. Although I am thankful that we went to the race for a song, the wise old saying "you get what you pay for" rang true. Row three, woo hoo! We felt like we were part of the action, because we literally were. As I held my purse in my lap, I could feel the contents shaking. I thought the hairspray bottle had sprung a leak, but when I checked, I realized it was simply the vibration from the track, which had come alive in my handbag.

After recovering from this new discovery, I focused my attention on the race.  However, all I could really see was turn two and the straightaway in front of us, IF we leaned forward...a LOT. I consoled myself by staring directly across the track at the people in the pits on turn two who had a worse view than we did. (At least we could see the tops of the cars as they came down the stretch across from us.)

I did spy some empty seats on row 22 when we came in. I cautiously eye-balled those babies for the first 50 laps, then lost my nerve to relocate. Maybe it was the fact that I brought my children with me and my moral conscience kicked in. Whatever it was, we lost those seats to others who moved up. I think the cooler of Bud Light they consumed pretty much gave them the courage to be more assertive than myself. Whatever it was, I have to admit I was a bit jealous of the new occupants of row 22.

When I stood up on the seat and held my mouth just right, I was able to see the big screen tv in turn four and cleverly piece together the entirety of a most of the laps. OK, whining aside, I did enjoy myself. It was a great two hour trip to Martinsville with my  boys and girls (plus one boyfriend) that I rarely have anymore (ages 25, 23, 20, 19 and 18). One can glean so much information about their lives, when they are held hostage in the car with you for an extended period of time. Ahh, the joys of motherhood!

We were amazed by the die-hard fans. What a great group of people they were! Every place we stopped along the way, there was a NASCAR "armchair quarterback" ready to share his or her opinion and story about their favorite driver. Everyone was nice, enthusiastic and ready to offer advice, knowing it was our first Cup race.

We were also surprised to find that once we passed a certain milemarker, it was obvious everyone and their brother were on their way to the race. For us, this occured on route eight in Riner, Virginia, about two hours from the track and 15 mintues into our trip! It was like being swept up in a riptide of sorts. Once we entered the flow of race traffic, there was no getting out of it. There was a little drafting, a little passing, but thankfully, no Carl Edwards-esque moves in our line-up!  

Now, there were a few items we neglected to take with us that are obvious Race Day "must haves." We did just fine without them, but next time...! Here's the short list of accessories no knowledgeable fan should be without:

  • seat cushions
  • NASCAR color changing lens sunglasses
  • one large clear bag for the free dip the tobacco companies shell out
  • tailgaiting gear
  • beer coozies with your favorite race team on them
  • beverages to put in the coozies
  • Wrangler jeans (Hollister is just not appropriate, need I say more?)
  • seat cushions
  • BC powders (trust me on this one)
  • ear plugs
  • clear backpacks
  • racing headsets
  • cell phones that text or an in depth knowledge of American Sign Language
  • camera and a Sharpie pen   
  • ...and did I mention...SEAT CUSHIONS?

There a few of these items I feel compelled to comment on further: the racing headsets, cell phone with texting, camera, and Sharpie pen. As the fans piled in, I  noticed we were in the minority in our street clothes and lack of team garb and gear.

I was a bit smug, I must admit, as I noticed people with headsets, thinking..."Is that really necessary? Isn't that just a bit of overkill?" The short answer..."NO!" I failed to realize that with earplugs in (and most of the time without them in) you can't hear a thing that is announced over the broadcast system. Apparently, the headphones not only allow you to screen out the engine noise, but tune into race information. My second moment of fan jealousy kicked in at this point.  

This would be the appropriate time to mention the cell phone text feature or sign language skills. There will be no communicating with the members of your party without these essentials. Lip reading could be substituted here, I suppose, but my children mumble under normal circumstances, so this technique wasn't effective for us.

As for the camera and Sharpie pen, this brings me to the most unusual part of our Martinsville experience. I didn't realize that the Dale Earnhardt Sr. impersonator would grace us with his presence. He made his way through the crowd, to be inundated with spectators wanting his autograph and a picture with him. Ordinarily, this wouldn't have been a big moment at the speedway, but here's where the story gets interesting. The boyfriend we had on the trip with us is a young relative of Dale Senior's.  

As the impersonator stopped, two rows in front of us, I had a moment, wondering what he must have thought of all of this. Although he is a racer and probably used to this phenomenon, I held my breath for a second or two to watch his reaction. He sat there quietly and respectfully watching, as the fans mobbed "Dale."  

It made me wonder how Lisa Marie must feel when she attends an event and Elvis impersonators come out of the woodworks. They must both experience a bittersweet feeling of pride that such love and admiration was inspired in the fans, while a fleeting hint of sadness surely floats past. No doubt, this was a bit ironic and more than a little awkward. But, it didn't make or break the day.  

The race must go on! This, too, passed like the cars on the track; a normal part of the racing experience.

I want to thank the Martinsville fans for making us feel so at home. It is true, there are no fans like NASCAR fans. It was a great day at the races and a learning experience to say the very least. I'm asking Santa for seat cushions and headphones this year. I've been a pretty good girl.