Why I Love NASCAR: Live Cup Races

I have been lucky enough in my lifetime to attend three NASCAR Cup races. To some that may seem like embarrassingly few, but to others, that is a wealth of NASCAR experience that is invaluable. I will not comment as to whether it is too few or too many, but I will tell you my impressions of attending a NASCAR race in person. There is no other event in the world quite like it, and, I’m here to tell you, nothing that can compare.
Chief187 and her husband, Racer 187 in Southwest Virginia, ca. 1992  Photo courtesy of Chief187

My first opportunity to see a NASCAR race came at Martinsville for the spring race in 1992. My husband and I, relatively new fans, wanted to take advantage of our proximity to the one-groove short track that produced some of the most action-packed racing we’ve seen on television. Living in Salem, Virginia, a suburb of Roanoke, we were a mere forty-five minutes away from the track allowing us to attend the race without the added expense or worry of finding lodging. As with southwest Virginia, the day of the race it was overcast and chilly with the threat of rain a constant concern. No matter, we were geared up for a day of racing so we left our home enthusiastically. The first impression that struck was the race day traffic we encountered. It’s amazing how NASCAR races beget the hugest traffic snarls known to Man. The difference, however, is, on the way to the races, most people are in the best of moods; congenial, excited, pleasant, and relatively polite. The event was well organized for parking as well. We were instructed to park on a hill, a muddy hill, which we would then have to climb down from to walk to the track. All around us people were sporting their NASCAR swag, team colors, drivers’ faces and signatures. They were prepared with coolers, tailgating necessities, ponchos, and lawn chairs. We were novices. The smells wafting from the parking lot were scrumptious and I questioned why we hadn’t found tailgating partners, but my husband assured me the Martinsville Hot Dog was worth the wait!

Once closer to the track NASCAR sprang to life even more vividly. Tractor-trailer haulers filled with every possible item that could have a driver’s image, signature, sponsor, car silhouette, or the like on it, was showcased and carried a price tag. And not just the big drivers of the day (Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Darrell Waltrip, Davey Allison) but all of the forty-three drivers were represented. Our favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt, was of special interest to us, but the race was part of Richard Petty’s “Farewell to the Fans” tour. My father, an avid race fan who has reverence for The King, was going to be the recipient of a collectible book about Richard Petty’s final year racing and we had brought it along to get Mr. Petty’s signature.

The intimacy at the track is palpable at Martinsville. All the action can be witnessed from any seat in the grandstands. And, during the hours of the race, we fans became a society of one. Although rooting for our different drivers, we had formed a tight-knit community who cheered, jeered, clapped, and watched in unison. From hearing the strains of the National Anthem performed to witnessing, in person, the declaration, “Gentlemen, start your engines!” when the roar of forty-three loud engines sprang to life causing my chest to reverberate and my nose to be intoxicated by the sweet pungent scent of racing fuel, I was hooked. My eyes teared from the vapors, my ears bled from the noise, and my senses were all at attention as the cars took the track for the event.

Racing at Martinsville is electric. There is never a downtime or a good time to use the restroom or go to the concession stand. You just have to choose a time and go. So, we did. And, while waiting in line to get our Martinsville hot dogs my husband jabbed me and whispered, “See that tall man over there? That’s Ned Jarrett!” “Really?” I asked incredulously. We were young and had never seen famous people in person before. It was Ned Jarrett, who, at the time, was a mainstay commentator on all NASCAR broadcasts. He was tall, still handsome, and carrying some Martinsville hot dogs back to the media booth. We ordered ours and scurried back to our seats. Martinsville hot dogs, by the way, are everything they are cracked up to be. If you’ve never had one, or been to a race at Martinsville, put both of them on your “bucket list”. 

Races are amazing in person. Martinsville, with the action ever-present and constantly shifting, is high on the top of my list of great racetracks. When the race ended we were not in a rush. With Richard Petty book in hand, we were on a quest to get his autograph as a gift to my father. Unfortunately, at that race, Richard Petty had been involved in an accident. With his day soured, the team packed his car up and Richard, anxious to beat the traffic, nearly ran us over in his quick getaway. There was to be no post-race autograph session. Quite frankly, we were crushed. But, we were determined to spend our time wandering around getting to know the lay of the land and see whom there was to be seen. My husband, more invested in the sport back then than I, zeroed in on team owner Robert Yates (#28 car of Davey Allison at the time) who was simply there in the pits, seemingly unencumbered. He was gracious to my husband and signed the book. My husband also snagged an autograph from the Cat in the Hat himself, Jack Roush.
Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Memories from Martinsville all of those years ago are still etched deeply in my memory. From my first glimpse of the infield to the crowd’s symbiotic reactions to their drivers’ performance, I can close my eyes and recall the details. Upon our trek back to our car, up the even muddier hill, amid a throng of race goers, my husband, walking a step ahead of me, trudging up the hill, began to slide back into me. He was nearly losing his balance and was preparing to fall on his buttocks into Virginia’s red mud. I, the one who did the laundry, refused to allow that to happen. As he slid in slow motion, I merely put my hand on his tushie and stopped his fall. All around us the crowd burst into knowing laughter! It was a fittingly memorable ending to our time at Martinsville!

It would be many years before we were able to attend another live NASCAR race. Winston Cup became Sprint Cup, Dale Earnhardt, our driver, was lost and his son, Junior was a regular competitor, and we, not so young anymore, were going as parents. But when I sit down and place myself in that memory of my first race I remember time and again why I love NASCAR.
Why I Love NASCAR: Live Cup Races Why I Love NASCAR: Live Cup Races Reviewed by Chief 187 on Monday, April 18, 2011 Rating: 5