Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Rookie Stripe: How to Meet Your Favorite NASCAR Driver(s)



By Logan Stewart

So you know the difference between the Busch brothers, Kyle and Kurt, and you’ve chosen your favorite NASCAR driver with deliberate calculation more precise than a hairpin turn. Maybe you’ve even been to your first race. But, even as you teeter on the brink of graduating from rookie to full-fledged NASCAR fan, something feels incomplete about the experience until you’ve gotten up close to its legendary drivers. One of the best parts of NASCAR is the accessibility of its stars, which is far more than you’ll find in most professional sports. But, it still takes some planning and sometimes downright luck to get up-close to your favorite driver. Here are some of my best tips.

Meeting Drivers at the Track
Not to be the spoiler of your budding NASCAR affection, but the cold hard truth is that it’s difficult to get access to a driver at a race unless you have a pit pass in hand. Normally costing from $50 up, in addition to your grandstand ticket (and not available at every track), upgrading to a pre-race pit pass will get you into NASCAR’s nucleus: pit road, the garage and the infield. These areas, besides the track, are the heart of the race and a feast for the eyes and ears. In my humble rookie opinion, pit passes are highly worth the experience, at least once. (Read more about buying NASCAR tickets and pit passes)

Attend Q&A sessions: Drivers often host question and answer sessions for fans pre-race (these usually require a pit pass or special ticket package); normally at a stage or in some designated area. The drivers attending the session will depend on the race, so you should visit the track’s website or call directly to get information.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Photo Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs


Hang out close to your driver’s garage stall:
Your pit pass won’t allow you access into the garage but you can stand just outside of it and watch the pit crew work. Trust me, if your driver makes an appearance you’ll notice the crowd clamor. (Note: typically around 1:00 PM the garage and area surrounding it close down to only teams and those with Hot passes so teams can make final race preparations, it’s best to check this area out early.)

Find your driver’s hauler. Wait. Wait some more. Each driver has a hauler that carriers their car, backup car and gear to each race, and you’ll find them parked side by side near the garage. Also known as a race shop on wheels, each hauler is also the work hub and home base for the team at the track. Odds are high that a driver may show up at his or her hauler sometime before the race (or during the race, if they wreck). My best advice is to stay close by, but not too close unless you want to creep out the pit crew. Just remember, it’s kind of the team’s home away from home, so give them a bit of space.

This handy timetable from NASCAR.com chronicles a day at the track during a typical Sunday afternoon race, and can serve as a useful guide for places you might spot a driver.

Attend practice.
Not only are there far fewer people at practice and qualifying runs in the days leading up to a race, but you will encounter a much less tense atmosphere than race day. Kick your heels up, hang out awhile, and odds are high you’ll see some drivers – maybe even your favorite. Without the pressure of race day, they may be more inclined to not only pause for photos and autographs, but to stop and chat for a few.
Ryan Newman
Photo Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs


According to Jeff Gordon, one major no-no is asking a driver for an autograph if you run into him or her in the bathroom -- slightly awkward, no? And Gordon would know. In fact, his Top 10 Tips for Getting Your Favorite Driver’s Autograph is a great read.


Meeting Drivers Away from the Track

The most loyal NASCAR fans will tell you that when it comes to meeting your driver, there’s always a way, even away from the track.

Go to driver appearances: Drivers host autograph sessions and meet-and-greet opportunities away from the track all the time. Schedules for these appearances are generally posted on the driver’s or team’s website, but also check the website of the track for upcoming races. Jayski.com and For the Love of Racing have helpful ongoing lists of driver appearances (plus follow Dana on Twitter at @DanaLovesRacing).
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
Photo Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs


Talk to them on social media: The unfenced world of social media has become a favorite for many drivers, and they often respond directly to fans. Dale Jr. and Jimmie Johnson are among some of the most prolific on Twitter and favorites for fan interaction.

NASCAR’s list of drivers on Twitter
NASCAR drivers ranked by Twitter followers

When fate is on your side and you do find yourself face-to-face with your favorite driver, take the fabled advice to keep calm. Approach them with confidence, but quickly, for an autograph or photo. Put whatever you want signed directly in front of them, with a pen, so they see it, and make sure to thank them. Trust me, they are used to this. Remember too that you are in their workspace, at their jobsite, as they prepare for a meeting fraught with jeopardy, so cut them some slack if they don’t stop for small talk.

And even in those moments of despair when you think you’ll never meet your favorite driver just remember…you never know who’s stuck in traffic next to you saying “SUP?”

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