It’s a family affair…NASCAR is… and this was never more apparent to me than at this year’s Champions Week Fan Fest at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The gates opened at 10 a.m. for fans to mingle in the Neon Garage in anticipation of the driver’s appearances that afternoon. Fans of all ages, just like the Christmas song says, “from ages 2-92”, were there and they were ready to see the Chasers.
There were some activities and sights to entertain the fans before the afternoon’s main event, but most began lining up alongside the red carpet almost immediately, looking to get an autograph or a picture of their favorite Chase driver.
Nothing like standing in the hot sun, elbow to elbow with complete strangers to create some camaraderie and friendship. NASCAR fans are a pretty friendly and gregarious group of people and when you are shoulder to shoulder together for hours on end you tend to get pretty close, pretty fast sharing stories to pass the time and take your mind off of how bad your feet hurt, and how much longer before the boys arrive.
This kind of quick camaraderie and sense of belonging among the fans didn’t surprise me. After all what NASCAR fan hasn’t witnessed the same thing in any parking lot and track on the circuit, but what did surprise me was how that sense of family, recognition and belonging carried on with the drivers. As the top 12 NASCAR drivers inched their way down the red carpet, it dawned on me how much like a family we all are. These elite athletes could easily have sauntered down the red carpet, smiling for a few pictures, maybe signing an autograph or two to appear engaged in the moment and then carried on with themselves, but they didn’t do that at all. In fact, just as I said, they literally “inched” their way down the carpet stopping to sign autographs for most, if not all, the fans who asked, taking time to really engage with the fans. Some even came back to fans that they had missed on the first pass. In the big scheme of things, the extra 15 minutes it took these guys to walk down the red carpet probably doesn’t matter much to them, but it made all the difference to those fans who watch them week in and week out, year after year. I have to admit, that the experiences I have had over the last two years during Fan Fest has given me admiration for drivers that I was previously ambivalent or even antipathetic toward before “meeting” them on the red carpet.
To bring home the family feel even further was the way they guys interacted with one another on stage during “Family Feud”. Watching them tease, joke and laugh at each other, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own family gatherings and struck by how much these guys remind me of my loud, crazy cousins getting rowdy at grandma’s every holiday. Who knew Clint Bowyer was such a cut up or that Tony Stewart could make Jeff Gordon laugh so hard he literally slapped his knee??? It was fun to watch and made me feel connected to these drivers and this sport even more than I already did.
Fan Fest is an awesome experience, a place you can bring your whole family to get a glimpse of the personalities they watch on track every week, and feel confident that nobody is going to be disappointed or disillusioned with their favorite driver. In fact, the only real danger I see is walking away liking one of the drivers that you previously rooted against on Sunday.