The next lesson I got was the most intense of the day. As I was making my under the grandstand to the infield entrance about 20 cars made their way out on to the track for an hour of practice runs. Now mind you these practice runs are made at 180 MPH. From where I was it sounded as if there a number of F-16 fighter jets circling the track. I decided to walk up into the stands and walk right up to the fence where the cars would hit top speed down the straight away approaching the start finish line.
I watched as they came out of turn four with my camera in hand ready to take a photo and as they all stormed passed me, I literally ran away from the fence. I was not nearly prepared for the sound and force that those cars produce. A couple of teenagers standing behind me got a good laugh as I repeatedly checked my ears because I swear to you I thought they were bleeding. The sound must have loosened some wax or something but it felt as if there was liquid leaking out of my ears. It was truly deafening. I finally got my shot on the third time around at which time I came to realize the skill and precision needed by these drivers to keep less than an arms length from each other at those speeds is incredible.
From there I continued my mile long walk to the infield and along the way noticed that everyone, except me of course, seemed to have a golf cart to get around in. And not just any kind of golf cart, I'm talking badass-type golf carts made up to look like hot rods, monster trucks, and, even, race cars.
Walking through the vending area you notice immediately just how serious these fans take this sport. All of them holding bags and bags of gifts and memorabilia and all of them are dressed in their Budweiser Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Home Depot Tony Stewart jackets. It really makes you understand just how big of a marketing opportunity being a NASCAR sponsor represents. It's the same thing as someone wearing a Derek Jeter jersey except for the fact that it's a 14-hour (or however long a fan spends at the track) billboard for a brand. And there are literally tens of thousands of them here today, and it's not even race day.
Once on the infield you're surrounded by an army of mobile homes and trailers. This is something else I learned today. Those trailers and mobile homes you see on race day didn't just get there on Sunday. They move in there for a week or two before the race and live there until the race is over. At night everyone is out standing around there outdoor fireplaces playing music and drinking. It's like a big camping party. The drivers also move in for the week and have mobile homes that easily look like they're in the $1 million to $2 million range.
All in all it was an eye and ear opening day. My only complaint with NASCAR would be is that they should issue every reporter a golf cart to get around in, or at least a bike of some kind.
I realized today that when people talk about the devotion and appreciation of the NASCAR fans, it's not a load of BS. It's true.