How to NASCAR for Newbies
Sports on TV just aren’t as good as being in the stands. Racing is no exception. There’s nothing else quite like being there and getting to hear and feel the race experience. While Formula 1 in Austin, TX can cost as much as $5000 for the weekend, there are other options for the race fan to view an affordable professional race series. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series delivers pro race teams and drivers on some of the best tracks in North America, even if the new sponsored name is terrible. Come along as we show you “How-to NASCAR.”
Tracks and Schedule
The obvious first choice is to find a race that works for you. Whether that is a local track, or a favorite on the other side of the country, or one that coincides with your summer vacation, the best place to start is at NASCAR’s official schedule. This gives you the overview of dates/locations for races, and you can get basic info like type of track.
Yes, track selection makes a difference. While most tracks are some version of an oval like Talladega or Indy, there are road course options like Sonoma and Watkins Glen. Clicking the link to the desired race will take you to the track/ticket info page to select seats. If you aren’t picky, tickets in General Admission start in the $40 range, with free admission for kids 12 and under. That’s a steal for a full day celebration of speed.
Check Out the Options
Now, don’t just go and click buy and think you’re all set. There’s a lot of considerations here. Do you want to watch qualifying? What about the Xfinity race or maybe the Camping World Truck Series that same weekend? Want to get up close at the pre-race concert? How about checking out the pit area or team garage, or even meeting a driver? All of this can be arranged, for a price. Here’s a “few” of your optional extras:
- Xfinity & Truck race. If you want more racing packed into your weekend, pay a little extra for the cheaper tickets to the other races happening that weekend. Xfinity is the Monster Energy Cup feeder series, with cheaper vehicles and less famous drivers. This doesn’t mean less racing excitement though, as these guys are busting it trying to work their way up. The Truck series is exactly what you picture, with spec truck bodies dropped on the NASCAR chassis. It’s cool, if you ever wanted to see a “Tundra” ripping it around a track.
- Pit Pass. This aptly named pass allows the holder access to the pit area before the race. While there are no cars there, and little activity, you do get so see the pit crew at work pre-race, and it’s slow enough that they’ll answer questions. Good peeps in there.
- Garage Pass. This is where it gets interesting. Rather than just prepping extra tires in the pits, the garage crew works on the entire car before each race. Granted, the race prep is almost entirely done, and this is a “cold” garage, but there’s still interesting activity going on, and you can get within touching distance of the racers. From a gearhead perspective, the garage pass is also a great look at some drool worthy tools. These teams are well-funded.
- Do you love information overload? Sure, there’s the local track announcer, but they really only broadcast lead changes. You might find that the best seat at a race is the one at home watching TV. This is due to several announcers and scores of camera angles providing the most accurate view of what is happening. With a seat, you’re stuck with your view (again, select seats carefully). FanVision is a little Playstation Vita-sized device that offers all the info and camera angles you could want, even allowing you to follow just your favorite driver around the track. Prices start at $50 for a rental, but if you plan on multiple races a season, buy your own for $300.
- Pre-race concert. No, you won’t catch Carrie Underwood or Drake opening for a NASCAR race, but there are some decent, regionally famous acts that play for about 45 minutes before the driver’s introduction. Acts vary, but expect vanilla pop-country. On the plus side, it’s not quite a regular concert venue, so you can get really close, if that’s your thing.
- Driver’s introduction. You already know the driver’s names and personalities, so who needs this, right? Usually a rather big name celeb will introduce the drivers for the audience in some amusing way, and that was true for our race. Chuck Norris roundhouse kicked his way to the stage through dozens of bad guys. Okay, he walked up there, but still had amusing one-liners for each driver. “They say that Tony Stewart’s tears cure cancer. Too bad he’s never cried.” A pass allows you to get within high-five distance of these guys. Except that’s punching distance for Keselowski, ‘cause no one likes him.
That’s a lot of options! Don’t know what to get for your first time? Call up a sports tour service. We went through Action Jackson. There’s a few reasons you would want to pay extra for this service, and they’re really all about convenience. Most likely, you are travelling to an unfamiliar city for the first time. Do you really want to deal with Dallas’s construction nightmare on race day? A tour service will shuttle you both ways, making race day travel stress-free. Packages can include all passes, hotels, and even food, but like everything else, it all depends on the options you select.
For the actual race, we’re gonna leave a bit of mystique for the first time spectators. Let’s just say the race cars are unexpectedly loud and fast, and wrecks and impacts are much more impressive and forceful than on TV. The cars sound better in-person, making some of the best V8 noises ever heard. The race experience feels long, but it’s also entertaining, which combine to make it feel like a hell of a value.
What to bring
This is an all-day event, and you will want/need the right equipment for a great day. First, you will need cash. There’s a huge amount of souvenir t-shirts, tiny cars, bobble heads, and odds are you’ll want to buy all of them. Cash is faster than a card at the concession stand, where you can buy everything from cheese burgers and cheese fries to Philly cheese steaks and fried cheese sticks. NASCAR concessions have a cheese theme I guess. In addition, you’ll want to bring:
- A decent camera. Seriously, these tracks are massive and your phone camera doesn’t cut it for anything more than drunken selfies.
- Speakin’ of drinkin’, the track rules vary, but most allow you to bring your own cooler full of your favorite cold beverage, as long as it’s not in a glass container. Yup, you can bring in canned beer. For the southern tracks in the summer months, bottles of water are recommended, but then again, at $4 a cup at concessions, it might be a thrifty move to load up on beer.
- Ear protection. No, you won’t miss any of the experience by using earplugs. These cars are dangerously loud, and you would have a massive headache after 4 hours of them blasting at you from the track. Earplugs are available in the souvenir shops, but are much cheaper at Hope Depot.
- Appropriate clothes. While the dress code is not strict (at all – I saw one dude in a robe), you should dress for the weather. For us, this meant a light jacket, as it was supposed to be low 60s and partially overcast for the 1 pm start. Unfortunately, an unexpected rain delay pushed the start back by FIVE HOURS, so a light jacket that worked fine in daytime was inadequate in nighttime low 40s temps and wind gusts. Pack for an all-day event, because it just might end up being one.
- Bring a buddy. While you can reasonably go to a movie by yourself, a NASCAR race is a much more social event. The action is better when shared, and you can talk with your buddy during the long cautions. Plus, there’s someone to carry the beer cooler.
NASCAR is probably the cheapest way to be a spectator at a professional race series, but it’s not short on value. With the right planning, you can pack a whole lot of racing fun into a bargain of a good time.