A Novice’s NASCAR Guide

For the initial 16 years of life, living within an hour of a NASCAR track was the norm. At the age of 15, a 1970 Olds 4-4-2 was acquired, and it was documented as a pace car at that race track. Yet, strangely enough, a NASCAR race was never attended until now. How did this happen? It’s uncertain – perhaps there was more inclination to persuade dad to visit Carlisle and Atco instead. The maiden voyage into the world of NASCAR? The United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway.

As a kid, watching anything on TV with four wheels meant listening to NASCAR broadcasts featuring iconic names like Yarborough, Earnhardt, Waltrip, and Allison. As years passed, it was discovered that moonshine seemed to have some magical connection with men and cars, giving rise to the notion that the last American hero was Junior Johnson (yes!). Three kings ruled this domain back then: Elvis, Budweiser, and Richard Petty.

In those days, stock cars bore a striking resemblance to production cars (hence the name). A lot has changed in NASCAR since the 1980s, including the involvement of a Japanese manufacturer (though it remains uncertain if Toyota was running sake through the hills of Fujiyoshida). Some might argue that Bill France is rolling in his grave, although considering his birthplace was Washington, DC, he was practically a Yankee to begin with.

While France founded NASCAR in Daytona Beach, and stock car races have traditionally reigned in the Southeastern United States, the sport has garnered an international fan base in modern times.

Entering a dusty parking lot, it appeared to be filled to capacity. Yet, it was surprising to see attendees carelessly parking their cars, failing to maximize the available space, or tailgaters who left an excess of two parking spaces’ worth of picnic gear. Where had Southern manners gone? Resourcefulness and a healthy dose of can-do Jersey blood came in handy as parking was navigated without any hassle.

The trek from Lot 3 was lengthy but somewhat average among the lots. Shuttles were an option for those disinclined to traverse the distance to the stadium. Unfortunately, every shuttle en route to the stadium was fully occupied, leaving no alternative but to catch a shuttle bound for more remote lots and then double back. The decision to walk the distance was made as part of a NASCAR ritual, akin to enduring the line at Pepe’s Pizza in New Haven or spending an hour on hold with the health insurance company. This decision proved wise as, along the way, a gentleman distributed Monster Energy’s The Beast Unleashed spiked seltzer – no ID check required! (Let’s keep this on the down-low, as the boss doesn’t need to be informed…)

Upon entering the complex, the race was already underway. Inside the stadium’s perimeter, the landscape was dominated by food stalls (all seemingly sharing the same graphic designer), T-shirt trailers, and various racing attractions courtesy of the NASCAR Experience and the NASCAR Kid Zone. Suddenly, I found myself engulfed by a barrage of sounds emanating from within the stadium’s confines. “Vrooooom!” echoed the mechanical chorus, returning every 20 seconds or so. It had been suggested that earplugs be brought along, and the wisdom of that advice became abundantly clear.

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