I made my first trip to Talladega for the Geico 500 last Sunday. An all boys trip with my father-in-law, 2 brothers-in-law, and son, Eli. Not knowing much about NASCAR, I went with an open mind – excited to see what all the hype was about. I left with a respect for the sport and more of an understanding why so many fans love it.
A few take-aways from my day at the Geic0 500:
ACCESS – We had HOT passes and the access we had prior to race was incredible. This picture with Denny Hamlin was taken 5 minutes before he climbed in the car to get in line for the start. We walked up to him in between interviews and got the picture. How cool would it be to walk out of the tunnel with Malzahn, Saban, or Popovich prior to gametime and ask him if the team is ready to play?
TEAMWORK – I had no idea how many people were involved with each race car and driver. Each car had at least 8 or more people in matching safety suits working on pit road to keep the car and driver going. No doubt – true teamwork to get a car in and out of the pit in under 10 seconds. Everyone has a job and they do it. Many parallels here to other team sports.
NOISE – We saw the Blue Angels airshow last summer in Pensacola and I thought they were loud. NASCAR is another level – especially when the cars are grouped together. I thought it was louder in the pits than in the stands – but when you factor in the rattling metal in the stands, it’s pretty close.
SIZE – I think the track is 2.6 miles or close to it. From the inside, it feels as if you are in some huge amusement park. It’s difficult to even see the other side. I couldn’t believe inside the track is a gas station, concessions, trailer park for fans, RV/Private Bus park for drivers, garage, more trailer area for driver/teams, an outdoor children’s play area, and all the pit road stuff.
FANS – No idea how many were there. Stands were full and there had to be just as many, or more, inside and outside the track in mobile homes. Had to be 100K+. Fans were all races, ages, and socioeconomic levels. And…..I did not see any altercations. Tons of law enforcement – but they were enjoying themselves as much as anyone.
SPEED – 195-200 mph. Unreal – it looked like they were just cruising along in the warm up laps until they told me that they were all going over 100 mph. You almost have to be that fast just to stay on the track.
We spent the first 100 laps inside on pit road, and in garage area. When Earnhardt wrecked the first time, people sprinted to the garage in front of his area. While they worked on his car – he did interviews and signed autographs and took pictures. Again, incredible access during the race. We went to the stands for the last 60 laps and got the view from above. Saw a couple of the wrecks from above the action and could actually see how close they drive to each other at 198 mph – unreal!
One thing NASCAR has figured out is how to make the fans feel a part of the event. Others tell me that the access you have has been scaled way back due to safety concerns with terrorism and such.
To top it all off, we realized after meeting and posing with Denny Hamlin that he’s sponsored by Jordan – with the logo on his suit and Jordan special racing shoes. Funny that we picked him, and it turns out he has a hoops connection.
Overall, Great experience and one that I would definitely recommend to anyone who has the chance to go. After 100 minutes of soccer at the Scenic Cup with HSV United on Saturday and an early start to get to the race on Sunday – Eli made it out of Talladega talking about the experience. Things got quiet and I looked back to see him snoozing.