Not many people can say that they’ve had VIP access to a NASCAR race.
Motorsport is one of those activities that people tend to think is either cool, or something where just a bunch of middle aged men are driving around in circles. In some cases it can be incredibly exciting and fun to watch, other times it makes you want to jump onto the track itself in the hopes that it makes things more interesting.
Sept. 17-18, 2021, the Capital University NASCAR club took a trip to the Bristol Motorspeedway in Bristol, Tennessee–about a six and a half hour drive from Columbus, Ohio. I was along for the ride. The organization voted to not camp with the other spectators on the track’s property, as NASCAR campgrounds have a particularly unruly reputation.
We camped at Faith Lutheran Church a few miles away from the track, which came with its own set of challenges. Freshly mowed grass and recent rainfall is not a recipe for clean tents, but this is nitpicking. Still, at least I was promised a waterproof tent.
This may not be something anyone is particularly at fault for, but the tent I was staying in, the one I was told was waterproof, was most definitely not.
At about 4:30 a.m., after trying to go to sleep in a wet sleeping bag and resting my head on a wet pillow, I found my way inside the church and wrote my ethics paper.
Before arriving at the track itself, spectators were greeted to horrendous parking situations. We parked in the backyard of a lovely gentleman who went by the name Farmer Bob, about a mile away from the entrance to the track.
The NASCAR club was fortunate enough to be gifted VIP tickets to the race, which comes with a hell of a perk. That being, prior to and during the race, we got the chance to go into the pit area inside the track where the drivers and their trailers reside during the race weekend.
After working our way through a maze of corridors and stairwells, we found a long hallway leading underground with egg-shell walls, grocery-store-milk-aisle lighting, and pictures of famous NASCAR scenes that have taken place at the half-mile oval track.
As we emerged from the tunnel, we were met with a view that can only be described as massive. The sight of the tops of the extremely steep stadium, the covered race cars, brightly colored trailers, and the gargantuan central titantron suspended just above the middle of the entire area is a sight that gave us massive goosebumps.
At this time, it was as simple as walking about and pouring over the endless stacks of tires waiting to be bolted to a car to be tortured at about 90 mph. The pit crews were all busy getting their tools ready and arranging the massive metal jugs of fuel soon to be injected into the tanks.
You do not get any input or interaction with anyone actually competing, with the occasional chance of chasing down a driver while they power walk to and from their trailers.
Most of it though, if you really break it down, is just walking around.
Being mere feet away from these machines when the words “start your engines” is uttered is an experience straight out of a movie. The unapologetic, brutal, and crude cars produce noises that seem almost artificial. They roar and snort with an attitude that says the last thing you want to do is spill their beer.
You can feel the thump in your chest from the massive V-8 engines burning through an ungodly amount of fuel. Imagine being 10 feet away from the speakers at a concert — that is what it is like being 10 feet away from a NASCAR stock car.
Eventually though, you are in need of a change of scenery and leave the infield the way you came, and take your seats in the stands. Something that seems like a good idea at the time, but is not.
This issue may be specific to Bristol, but due to the fact the track is only half a mile around, the cars do not have room to put space between them, and as a result of the stands being so steep they are essentially vertical. The entire stadium acts as an amplifier for the engines.
Even with earplugs, the noise gets borderline unbearable after about 50 laps (about 20 minutes), and by the time the race is over three and a half hours later, your head is hurting, ears are ringing, and you’re just desperate to go to sleep. Mind you this is two hours after the race became completely incoherent and descended into a mess of cars endlessly turning left.
Overall, this was an incredible 36 hour period I will never forget, but if you plan on going anytime soon, maybe don’t go to Bristol, and make sure you own a waterproof tent.