One of the greatest things about discovering NASCAR is that I get to share my experiences with you guys. In the last racing article about my journey I mentioned how my NASCAR All-Star experience helped dispel a lot of skepticism I had regarding the sport, and this past weekend I got to witness what some say is racing at its finest…on the grassroots level at Bowman Gray Stadium.
Bowman Gray, in Winston Salem, NC, is considered one of racing’s most legendary venues. It was home to NASCAR’s first-ever sanctioned race in 1949. During the summer, grassroots racing fans can watch drivers compete in races at a more developmental level. These aspiring drivers drive in order to get more experience and earn enough points so that they can move up the NASCAR ranks in hopes of becoming the next Jeff Gordon.
The feel that I got from attending this race was expectedly very different from my NASCAR Sprint All-Star race experience. The All-Star race was like attending a Sunday night NFL game. The race at Bowman Gray Stadium Saturday night was like attending a high school football rivalry between two great teams. There was a sense of excitement in the air, but without the fanfare and sometimes pretentiousness you get at the highest level. The pit area was just as cool, with drivers walking and cars being pushed right by you. The crowd mainly consisted of families of all age ranges, and included just as much (if not more) women than men. And the fan focus that I’ve come to love about the NASCAR culture continued to impress me.
Prior to the race all of the drivers lined up next to their cars. Fans were given the opportunity to go to the track to meet them, get autographs, and take pictures. The line went all the way from the track, through the stands and past the concessions. Once on the track, fans walked around looking at the cars, greeted friends, encouraged the drivers, and for $2 many even signed the finish line.
Once the race started you could clearly see the division among rival fans. Many of those in attendance make coming to these races a weekly ritual, and like with any good high school football rivalry, alliances are formed and fans hold true to them. They wore shirts announcing their affiliation, offered cheers of encouragement as their driver passed by and also cheers dripping with sarcastic undertones as rival drivers crashed or were flagged for a penalty.
The two races I watched that night were 150 and 100 laps long. I know this sounds like a lot, but it goes by fast and I found myself wishing they were longer just so I could continue to study each driver’s technique, get the rush of seeing the cars pass by, or watch the crowd as they cheered their favorite driver on.
Many of NASCAR’s Drive 4 Diversity and Rev Racing’s drivers compete at this level, and with three top-ten finishes Rev Racing is proving that its developmental process is one that works.
This NASCAR discovery journey has been amazing…me, someone who always argued about how legitimate it was, to now become someone who is looking forward to attending her next race. I am shocking myself. My next stop will be Daytona next month. So continue to ride with me as I discover the world of NASCAR.