|Credit: Debbie Thompson|
Not only am I a newbie to NASCAR, as a three-year fan, I am also deaf. I do well enough face to face, with one person talking to me at a time. Last weekend I went to Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) for the first time not knowing what to expect. I would imagine each racetrack's experience is different and that what day you go on can mean a different experience than another day. I attended the race on 11/11 with three friends, none of whom are NASCAR fans. One of my companions on that day is hearing while the other two are deaf.
My friend Angie and I arrived at the track just after 8 a.m. to make sure we had time to park, get the prerace pit pass validated, visit some booths, and tour the pits before the race. Luckily I had come out on Friday to meet up with some of the Denny’s Den (yes, I’m a Hamlin fan) members for lunch and to get basic feel for the parking and general layout of PIR. You just don’t know what you’ll get when you arrive on a sold out raceday, and since it was my first trip to the track I wanted to get the lay of the land in advance of the big day.
We headed over to the FedEx Office booth where I knew Denny would be and met up with some fans. I was unable to understand what the guys were talking about onstage, but that’s OK. I was there to see Denny and get some pictures, so what they were saying wasn’t really that important to me. From there the Den members helped me figure out where to go to get to the pits.
When we arrived at the pits, we just followed the crowd as we had no idea where to go. I ended up running into a Den member after I toured the pits and she said that they were getting ready to do driver announcements, so I stood by them. I couldn't hear anything other than blah blah, but I took my time taking pictures of the different drivers, watching them interact with one another.
|Credit: Debbie Thompson|
When I finally found my seats, my deaf friends had joined us. I was impressed with where my seats were as I could see the entire track, Hamlin's pit, and there was a screen not too far in front of us to watch. I would just pick seats a few rows higher next time so that I could see the screen better over the fence. Being deaf, we could "talk" during the race using ASL. I explained how long the track was (1 mile), how many laps (312), how to read the tower where it has the laps and driver standings. The deaf ladies ended up leaving early so they missed the exciting finish.
I remember there being a crash at Turn 4 and saw a car turn onto pit road. On the screen in front of me I saw someone, who I later found out was Clint Bowyer, running through the infield. I could feel everyone around me yelling, but I wasn’t sure what was going on. The couple in front of me had a FanVision and offered to let me see what was going on. Thanks to them I was able to learn that Bowyer’s crew was going after Jeff Gordon. I was looking around trying to figure out where all the cars had gone and finally saw they were sitting in the turn waiting on the red flag. The race resumed and Danica Patrick spun out but continued to drive. All the cars behind her started spinning out and hitting the wall. I didn’t realize the race had ended until I looked over at Victory Lane and realized Harvick had won and there was confetti flying around over there.
Being deaf does limit my understanding of what is going on. I thank the Den members for their help, and the guy in front of me with the FanVision for helping me as well. While I enjoyed my experience at the track, it would be nice for the televisions at the track to show closed captioning so that fans like me can better understand what’s going on. Of course, those who go to races know there’s no substitute hearing everyone shout, “YEAH!” when Jimmie Johnson hit the wall, or hearing the boos when Danica climbed from her car at the end of the race, or the the fans cheering for Kahne to pass Hamlin for third.
It would be nice though, if Sprint and NASCAR could find a way to make things a little easier for the deaf to understand what’s going on because we too enjoy racing just as much as hearing fans.