On Saturday, NASCAR held its Pepsi 400 Busch Series race. The race includes most of the drivers who will compete in Sunday's Daytona 500. As the race was getting ready to start I noticed a lot of people walking around pit row who didn't look like members of the pit crew or the media for that matter. So I flashed my credentials to the security guard at the front of pit row and he nodded me in. So I'm thinking I have a few minutes to walk around here before the race starts and they throw me out. Wrong again. I was allowed to stay after the race started, and even take pictures and video of the action (Pictures and video forthcoming). This is like basically sitting in the dugout of Yankee Stadium and drinking from the same cooler as Mariano Rivera. I only say that because there was a cooler of water next to me that I assumed was only for the crew, but I was thirsty and took one and didn't get in trouble for it.
I figured I would stay there at least until one pit stop and watch these guys in action. But when you see one of them getting dressed in a flame retardant suit and wearing a fire helmet you start to think this may not be as safe as you want to think it is. But I figured, what the hell, let's see what happens. The two things you really notice down on pit row is the smell of the gasoline and the level of seriousness these guys take in their jobs. They all wish each other a "good race" and most lean over and whisper something into one another's ear. You get a real calm before the storm type feeling watching these guys get ready for that first pit stop. Fresh tires are all lined up and ready to replace the worn ones and every once in a while you hear that high pitch whizzing of the testing of the air guns. It all puts you on the edge of your seat.
So here I am thinking I'll get to see a pit stop and five laps into the race there's a fender bender and two drivers have to drive their cars off the track and back to the garages. Now here's where it gets interesting. Not everyone on pit row was doing what I was doing. I found a spot to stand in behind one crew and watched from there but hundreds of other people are walking up and down as if it's a tour of the race track. Now the crews are sectioned off from each other and the spectators, but when a car is going back to the garage and needs immediate repair in order to get back on the track, nearly every member of that crew has to run back to the garage, which means running through the spectators who aren't even looking at the track.
"GET OUT OF THE WAY"...."COME ON MAN MOVE"...."LOOK OUT" These were some of the things crew members shouted at spectators as they tried to get back to the garage and in one case three or four members of a crew were pushing a large tool chest-type cabinet and almost ran someone over. Luckily this guy got out of the way but if he had gotten rolled up on or knocked down it would have been extremely hard to feel sorry for him.
NASCAR fans really have unprecedented access to their sport. And most are probably extremely grateful for it, appreciate it, and respect it. But some don't know how to appreciate that access.
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