Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Rookie Stripe: Preparing for Your First NASCAR Race

Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs  
When I found out I had passes to the Darlington race last year, my first question was, “What should I wear?” It was going to be my first-ever NASCAR race, and I wanted to look good. You never know who you’ll meet or what famous people you might run into.

Truth be told, your outfit at a NASCAR race actually is important in a way -- especially if you don’t want to end up with a scorching farmer’s tan or shivering in a cold-soaked rain -- but it's not about fashion. I learned a lot of lessons my first time hanging out at a track.

First and foremost, it’s a long day. You’ll do a lot of walking, so unless you want to lug your belongings around with you all day, reduce the drag and bring only what you need.

Take it from someone who has a hard time packing lightly: Embrace minimalism, people.
Granted, I’ve been to a number of races at this point, but I’m no diehard yet. These tips are from a still somewhat-fledgling perspective to help you have the best race experience possible:

Make a weekend of it.
Depending on your ticket package, you may have access to extra events. Most weekends at the track start early and your tickets may allow you to check out pit road, the track and garages, or you can buy these options separately. Every NASCAR Sprint Cup series race has support races such as the Xfinity series or Camping World Truck series that take place in the days before the big event, so go to the support races. They're usually cheaper, less crowded and easier to find parking. Your best bet is to check out the website for the track you’ll be visiting for a full list of events.

If you’re traveling to a race, book accommodations early and try to get as close to the track as you can, preferably walking distance. If camping is your thing, that’s an alternative – there are reserved spots and non-reserved, first-come-first-served spaces.

Channel your inner meteorologist.
When it comes to racing, the sun, rain, wind and cold are fair-weather friends. It might feel chilly when you leave for the race early in the morning, but by midday the sun may be out and temperatures soaring. Time of year, geographical location and all sorts of complex meteorology variables play into racing weather on any given day, so dress in layers and bring a raincoat or poncho. Sunscreen is an absolute must especially as the season progresses into the warmer months.
Another factor to consider is what happens if there is a rain delay. If weather causes postponement, a Sunday race may get pushed to Monday. NASCAR doesn’t offer refunds unless they cancel the race altogether. Just in case the weather rains on your parade, factor the chance of an extra day into your travel plans and book for Sunday night, too.
Credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
Arrive at the track early.
A NASCAR race is like an epic party that starts early -- well before the roar of the engines -- and goes late. As early as five or six hours pre-race, pit crews are working. There are souvenir stations, events at the Speed stage and on track, and sometimes driver meet-and-greets or autograph sessions. Wander around, look, listen, take photos and soak in the lifeblood of NASCAR. Allow extra time to get to the track as traffic can be nightmarish both coming and going.
Pack the essentials.
For me, it was helpful to leave my purse at home and load my minimal gear into a backpack for the day. Helpful items to bring include an empty water bottle you can refill, earplugs or some kind of ear protection, sunglasses, hat, seat cushions if you need them, and binoculars. Your bag can also hold a sweater or jacket you may need later on. Put anything that weather or moisture may damage (headphones, camera, cell phone, etc.) in small waterproof or plastic bags inside your pack. If you want to save money on concessions, bring snacks or a cooler with food, but check the restrictions at your destination track. Each track has its own rules about what you can bring in, so peruse the website for guidelines.
Get a radio scanner.
You know those cool earphones you always see people wearing at a NASCAR track? You guessed it. Racetracks are loud and chaotic. It can be difficult to follow the play-by-play without a scanner, which also allows you to listen to driver-team communications…and you never know what you might hear, cursing included. You can rent radio scanners or Sprint FanVision, which also show the TV broadcast, leader boards and more. You can also find used scanners for sale online on sites such as eBay. Before you leave home, check online for a list of drivers and what frequencies they will be on, or ask for the list when you rent a scanner at the track.

Wear sensible shoes.
Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world, right? Fashion aside, shoes deserve a category of their own in this post, because they are THAT important. Remember how I said you’ll do a lot of walking? NASCAR tracks are enormous and you’ll be getting your steps in for the day plus some, by the time you count travel from parking to racetrack to seats and everything in between. High heels and shoes with little cushioning will do you no favors. My personal favorites other than tennis shoes are Toms® or Keen® brand, which offers a metatomical footbed.

Park strategically.
Be prepared for traffic. That’s just the reality of a race, and it’s going to happen. Generally, the closer to the track you park, the longer you will be sitting in traffic after the race, aka horsepower at an all time low. My opinion? Put those carefully-selected comfortable shoes to good use, park far out, and escape more quickly after the race. Check the track’s website for directions, parking areas and other FAQs that will be helpful on race day.

Your first live NASCAR race is something you’ll never forget. The noise will immerse you, the pomp and circumstance will awe you, and the racing will leave you hungry for more. At the end of the day my makeup was washed away by streaks of sweat and my hair was in a dirty ponytail, but my feet were still comfortable in my walking shoes.

 Oh, so back to my original question: What did I wear? To be honest I don’t even remember.