As was mentioned in the CrapTastiCast this past weekend, this weekend was a momentous occasion for yours truly. Never having been to a NASCAR race, I found myself very excited about the chance to journey down to Dover Interational - the Monster Mile - to see the early season Sprint Cup race. As an at-times opponent of car racing on the grounds that it constitutes a massive waste of fossil fuel and, besides that, has never really appealed to me as a fan, I was pretty surprised to be feeling genuine interest in the race itself. There were a lot of non-race reasons that I was excited about this past weekend's trip to Delaware - the chance to give a good buddy the send-off he deserves before his wedding, the excuse to drink and play lawn games, an opportunity to get out of New York City for a few days - so I wasn't short of reasons to make the trip. But, after a few conversations with the Scizz about his love of NASCAR, I walked onto the Bobby Allison Grandstand with a desire to appreciate the sport. Besides, after having tried many times to convince non-fans of the value of soccer, or even hockey, I figured I needed to give NASCAR a chance if only on principle.
So, here are my reflections on my first race weekend, some of which are definitively unrelated to the race itself. It probably makes sense to break my thoughts into sections, since I'm probably still a little hungover, and certainly exhausted.
Half sexually-charged metaphor for my first NASCAR race,
half exploding illustration of my ear drums when my ear plugs fell out.
First impression: Oh DEAR LORD is car racing loud. Sure, I was aware that the roar of the engines was part of NASCAR's mass-appeal - part of the argument that the sport is amazing and has to be seen live to appreciate it. But, holy crap, I had no idea.
We got to the track a little late on Sunday, having taken our sweet ass time with a series of grilled meats that started at about 10 a.m., and found our seats as the drivers were around lap 48. While we missed out on the first roar of the pack as they started, our seats were on turn 4, meaning that we had a great view of each restart throughout the course of the afternoon. Each time a caution was called, I was instantly looking forward to that extreme feeling of power that vibrated through the stadium as the cars regained normal (read: absurdly fucking fast) speed. It was really something special to see and experience.
As a novice to the sport, I knew pretty little about what to expect from the field, I knew that Jimmie Johnson is generally regarded as one of the best, that Kyle Busch drives the M&Ms car that my wife and I cheer for whenever we watch a race with friends (it happened once or twice, and we chose the M&Ms car because those are our initials), and that Carl Edwards is a man beloved by lady fans of NASCAR.
It goes without saying that I only had a vague notion of what was going on while the race progressed and finished, and that much of my recap is informed by post-race conversations with my buddy, Sean, as well as some basic research online. I knew that Edwards and Johnson are perennial favorites in the Sprint Cup Chase, and I knew that the points system was rewarding them both for their efforts at leading the pack throughout the afternoon. But, when the late restart happened, and they were suddenly in the middle of the pack, I was clueless as to why. It was the rare moment I wished for some commentators to clue me in, or at least a few minutes of quiet to get the explanation from the NASCAR fans on our group, so I ended up resigning myself to the belief that the Crown Royal car had taken over the lead because God knows Crown is such a tasty beverage. Works for me.
While I'm still not sure that NASCAR is as interesting as people make it out to be, my cluelessness and befuddlement as to why Johnson and Edwards suddenly pooped the proverbial bed certainly prove that there are things about the sport that I would need to learn before I really understand all there is to know. If the Scizz convinces me to make the trip up to Watkins Glen later this summer, I now know that it might make sense to grab a set of radio tuners and listen in on the pit crews and drivers talking, because that's where the action is - or, at least, where it can be in a tight race like I just saw at Dover. Little things like that, which could help keep my interest up as the laps blur together and my eyes grow heavy, might be just the thing I need to move from appreciating the sport to actually, possibly, liking it.
Honestly, though, I feel pretty dirty typing that. My hippy parents are going to disown me any minute now. If they actually read this blog, that is. Which they don't.
Of course, one of the biggest selling points for any NASCAR race is always going to be the atmosphere, most notaby the campers and RVs that lace the landscape around a track, along with the partying that comes with it . My humble crew of bachelor partiers, while generally prepared for the weekend as far as food and drink, was put to shame by the level of preparation displayed by the NASCAR faithful. Seeing the work that goes into it for the fan - as well as the payoffs of that work in the form of creature comforts - I was pretty amazed at the level of dedication displayed by the folks I met down at Dover.
Which isn't to say that these people were not drunken fools like the guys in my group, because they were. And that's where we all got along just fine. (And why I could simply ignore the frequency of vomit-inducing confederate flags everywhere). Only at a race can one feel so at home cracking a beer at 9 am over egg and cheese sandwiches, or passing around the inner bag of a box of wine for a game of Slap the Bag, knowing full well that no one is batting an eye at such a display of drunken disregard for the standards of civilized society. Indeed, why worry about preparing for creature comforts when your plan is to drink until you don't feel feelings anymore?
At the risk of foolishly relaying too much information, I'll take the opportunity to comment a little on our weekend life outside the track grounds, since we saw our fair share of sights on Saturday.
First, I'd like to thank the kickass manager at the par 3 golf course we went to Saturday afternoon. We were pretty far gone at that point - this was right after Slap the Bag - so it was really good of the dude to forego payment so that we could clown around the course for an hour while he just went home for the day. My grand plans of success in my first round of golf were drunkenly forgotten - putting aside the decent showing I had made at the driving range the night before - as I awkwardly hacked at ball after ball. Fun was had all around, though, and really no one was making any shots that they were particularly proud of, much less any that they will actually remember.
After golf, we headed to a great local crab shack - hell if I can remember the name - for a gluttonous meal. By the end of it, I was barely conscious from all the beer and food. Meaning I was perfectly ready to follow the evening wherever it led.
Which was a good thing, since the smell and shame of our dinner followed us to our next destination, a super shady, super hilarious gentlemen's club just north of Dover. Apart from the disappointment in there not being an amputee stripper (as was promised in several online reviews of this place), the bar was everything we had hoped it would be and more. So many stories of kids and deadbeat dads, of dreams for their future, being told to me as I searched for a new excuse for why I didn't want a "dollar dance." Never have I been more impressed and disgusted with what a dollar can get you in some parts of this great nation.
The bar had its perks - pun most definitely NOT intended - not the least of which was the $4 beers, cheap cover and hilarious conversation with dancers and locals grabbing cigarettes out back. At 12:30, when we casually mentioned that we'd be partying all night and that people were welcome to come join, part of me almost wanted a few of them to show up at our RV, looking to shotgun a Busch Light. While the other part of me was praying they wouldn't, and cursing myself for yet another bad decision.
And, that was my weekend. There are other parts of the weekend that could be discussed, but some parts of such discussions might be bad for my career, and the groom-to-be's bride-to-be might read this (she follows me on Twitter, after all), so I'll leave it at that. (And don't worry my friend! Your guy behaved himself, as always!)
All in all, not quite a NASCAR fan, but not the hater I once was. In general, it's probably not a sport I'll ever take a huge taking to, if only because my lady is already understanding enough when it comes to watching hockey and football. But, if given the chance to hit up another race in person, this time knowing a little bit about what to watch for, I have a feeling that it could be something I enjoy every once in a while. After all, until beers stop tasting so frickin delicious, I'm going to keep drinking them. Might as well be at the track.