As the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup is all set to begin this Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, I thought it a perfect time to share my personal experiences attending NASCAR races in person for the very first and second times a few years ago~.
Back in March of 2006 I had my very first of two memorable experiences at the NASCAR events held at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway!~! The complete weekends include qualifying, the then Busch Series race (now the Nationwide Series race) and then all leading up to of course the main event, the Nextel Cup (now the Sprint Cup) Sunday race. Las Vegas poses the most attractive race event to attend of the season’s 36 races for a lot of fans or even the casual fan as the locale itself lends to endless possibilities for one’s vacation even outside of the racing as Las Vegas is….simply a most exciting and attraction filled destination.
Freaky Las Vegas weather on that March 2006 Weekend had temperatures at the track dropping to a low of the 30’s on qualifying day with the added wind chill wreaking further weather havoc with extremely chilling air and it was the very first time that I actually can say that I felt my bones hurt, seriously after you limbs go numb the pain then follows and even being bundled up quite well with layers upon layers of clothing all topped off with an additional insulated race jacket (#48 Jimmie Johnson jacket of course!) it seemed to only help minimally…of course though you have to remember that I’m used to the Hawaii weather which never gets too extremely hot nor does it get extremely cold so putting it lightly, it was quite the culture shock which mother nature was sharing me with on that day. So on this qualifying day which is used to set the complete 43 car field for Sunday’s race we actually ended up leaving a wee bit early as it was just too cold to be there for any longer and after Jimmie Johnson had finished his qualifying run of two laps we quickly darted back to the cars for some much needed warmth. Being at my very first NASCAR race event was also most eye opening, although more likely not for me as much as most others attending the festivities as I clearly remember not seeing a single other Japanese person there throughout the entire weekend =O!! And while I did receive a few looks and stares O_o???….everyone was really friendly and I even made a few new friends with my fellow race fans whom were seated around us =D.
Placing a wager & meeting Jimmie!!!
And being in Vegas for the very first time it also meant that it could also be my very first betting experience upon the big boards of a casino! The Wynn had recently just opened the year or two before and it was a magnificent place to stay at for our dreamy~race vacation. So on Saturday we visited the Wynn’s wagering area and just after I had placed a bet on Jimmie Johnson to win the next day’s Cup race (he had 8-1 odds) as we were leaving the Wynn’s betting area one of my friends pulls me back and says “there’s Jimmie Johnson!” I couldn’t believe it. There he was sitting in the last row of seats with some friends. We had been out shopping earlier that day and I had purchased a Jimmie Johnson t-shirt and a Jeff Gordon t-shirt and in hindsight it was a very good thing that I hadn’t gone back to the room first and therefore still had my shopping bags with me. Luckily a friend had a sharpie which he always carries and Jimmie was really down to earth and nice. He signed my t-shirt (photographed above next to Aichan’s scarf) and I then shook his hand (mine trembling nervously) wishing him luck on the next day’s race and I showed him my bet ticket. I put $150 on him, betting with my heart.
~LVMS Nextel Cup race March 12th, 2006 (final two laps)~
The race was simply awesome with a sold out crowd of about 160,000 (officially the most people I’ve been with at the same time in one place!) and even better than I had dreamed! Watching it on TV does no justice to this sport, truly it doesn’t and being there is incredible and the sound of the cars OMG so loud! As the race was winding down Jimmie Johnson had been gradually catching the race leader Matt Kenseth as the end of the race neared and time was running out for him to catch up. However a late caution brought out when Tony Stewart loss a wheel brought the field back up to the leader and Jimmie was now right behind leader Matt Kenseth with 2 laps to go! First Jimmie tried to pass Kenseth on the inside of turns 3 & 4 (right where we are sitting!!) but Kenseth put the block on him going low keeping Jimmie from passing him and now with just 1 lap left it was Jimmie’s last chance to win as only seconds of the race remained. In a daring move he went to the outside of Kenseth in turn 3 and they were side by side up to the finish/start line! I forgot how many hundreds of a second the margin of victory was, let’s just say it was an extremely close finish as Jimmie won the race!! We were going crazy in the stands! Now it just can’t get better than that. Meet one of my 2 favorite drivers, get his autograph, shake his hand and he wins the race! You can watch the final two laps to the checkered flag in the video clip above which I edited as I had asked a friend to record the race for me to keep as a souvenir of sorts to commemorate my very first attending of an event.
Tailgating afterwards, and not by choice!
Remember the 160,000 or so fellow fans I mentioned a bit earlier? Well having that many people attend a single sporting event also equates into a really congested parking lot!!! You see we had unwittingly parked a bit too far into the gigantic sized multi-area lot earlier in the day and let’s just say that cars trying to get out and back onto the highway weren’t moving anywhere very fast. Example: we witnessed (and timed) an SUV which was parked just a few feet away from us whom had started up and was hoping to head for the exits and that SUV moved approximately 10 feet within about 30 minutes =O. So, we had long decided that we’d tailgate to pass the time until the endless lines of cars were much better cleared out for us to even attempt at exiting =D. And as the sun set that chilly air just went crazy freezing on us as even the earlier overcast skies couldn’t have prepared us for the night time chill!! Still with a few drinks to enjoy and a portapotty line longer than you can imagine we somehow managed to survive the cold and pass the time okay.
Oh and btw 2006 was the year in which Jimmie Johnson won his very first of five championships ~*~~*.
LVMS had undergone a major facelift the day after last year’s Cup race as the entire infield was knocked down with the exception of just a single building while the banking on the track had been raised from 12 degrees to 20 degrees in the corners and the backstretch was raised as well. And what did this all mean? Higher speeds and basically a totally new race track. I was once again able to attend all 3 days of the 2007 event. And to speak of raising the bar, LVMS had done just that with the creation of the new Neon Garage, a new experience like no other had been created for race fans. For its debut the Neon Garage was going for the price of $100.00 per day and perhaps the best day to get in was on qualifying day and that’s just what we did. You see, you get access to a view of the teams like never before. All of the team’s garage’s were built with the fan in mind giving a view like no other at any track on the circuit. You can look directly into the garage area of any driver you want either on ground level or on an upper level. A good analogy would be that in the situation where medical students are able to observe an operation in progress from up above. You’re there looking right at the cars, crew chiefs, crews, drivers as they work on the car and discuss changes to the car. It’s almost surreal. There was a harsh glare and I’m a awful photographer so I apologize in advance for such poor photography here xD. It was a zoo to say the least and I had the feeling that the teams were perhaps not liking the new surrounding with fans being given this type of access close up. Cameras flashing and people yelling, yes basically a zoo atmosphere. Then again it’s Las Vegas so this seemed fitting in some way but I do sympathize with the teams as it must be difficult to conduct business while tons of fans are trying to get your attention and pics of you while you’re in your workplace and quite busy. Qualifying day was the best day to get in because you got to see the teams work on their cars, get them onto the track, return for more adjustments and repeat! In my first photograph below I caught Jimmie saying hi to the crowd outside his garage’s window. This was indeed a rarity though as most drivers didn’t exit their cars perhaps to avoid the zoo that was surrounding them. I know I’m biased here but in total truthfullness, Jimmie Johnson is the nicest guy. He was great when I met him the year before and signed my t-shirt allowing me to shake his hand even, wishing him luck on the race that next day. He wasn’t standoffish and really personal and nice. Some pics are from the ground level access while some are from the overhead view of the garages. Again I apologize for my poor photography skills and lack of it but I did try my very best with the simple camera I had back then. (=P) It was difficult to get good pics of my other favorite driver (and reason that I watch NASCAR) Jeff Gordon as his crew was always in the way of a good pic (hahah, you see us bothersome fans who only care about a good picture :P) but I did manage a few. Jeff Gordon had a cool green Nicorette paint scheme for this race as he did the previous year and after those are a few pics of inside the Neon Garage with it’s cool big screen and some pics of cars on the backstretch during practice prior to qualifying. It was really amazing that you could watch all of this with the Neon Garage pass. Again I’ll stress that it’s probably best to check out this new feature on qualifying day as you’ll probably get the most out of it versus race days. I also got some shots of a great view between some garages where you can see the cars pull out to head onto the track as well as see them return to their respective garages after a practice session out on the track. The last 4 pics below are from race day on Sunday but perhaps my camera or more likely me, am not up to action photography as a lot of them blurred terribly all of which I left out here xD.
~Jimmie Johnson LVMS qualifying March 2007~
I did record a video of Jimmie’s qualifying laps on Friday onto my camera which I’ve uploaded just above, qualifying allows for just two laps with one’s quicker lap determining one’s starting position on race day. While Jimmie is zipping along the backstretch he may be difficult to find but it you look really closely I’m sure you’ll find his #48 car speeding along the track as I followed his two laps around LVMS…this video brings back such great memories!
A look at LVMS in 2007 after the remodeling and track repavement