Monday, December 17, 2012

No Comparison

A/N: It’s taken a while to publish this article because I’ve been so worried about offending people who disagree with my sentiment. NASCAR is a great organization and racing owes a debt for what it’s done for racing in America. As much as it may sound like it, I do not have anything against stock car racing, I just prefer sports cars. This is something that won’t change; it’s how I’ve been raised. As Lady Gaga would say, I was born this way! -Shea

 I’ve been in a lot of paddocks over my 22 years but by far the most alien came at Homestead-Miami Speedway, a place that not only is my home track but that felt comfortable the weekend before. Imagine if you will, drinking 2% milk your whole life. Every morning with cereal, every night as hot chocolate. You always know that whole milk is out there; it’s just not your preference. And as a self-proclaimed milk aficionado, you can’t understand why some people drink whole milk instead of 2%. But one day, you’re forced out of that comfort zone. You’re told to drink whole milk just for a weekend, just to see what it’s like. Naturally, you’re going to over-exaggerate the effects and make the two seem like polar opposites even though they are both still milk in the end. For the grand finale, when you’re back to your 2%, you’ll appreciate it more than ever because it is familiar, more comfortable, and your preference. Now, I haven’t just spent a paragraph talking about milk. No, because for people who don’t know racing at all, this is the perfect metaphor for my feelings about racing. My dad tried to persuade me to use skiing, water versus snow. But to a Miami girl, what good is that? What’s familiar to me is sports cars. I’ve spent more time recently in paddocks of the American Le Mans Series, which bears a slogan of “For the Fans”. Never more have I appreciated this than after spending time in the paddock of NASCAR’s 3 main series. The ALMS paddock is an inviting place. Drivers walk around, not with scowls in anticipation of the next thing to sign, but with smiles. When a fan walks up to most drivers, they are greeted with conversation and genuine interest in what the fan has to say. It isn’t a hassle; it’s a pleasure. When working on the cars, the mechanics may put up a chain but they’re always available to tell you what’s happening with the car and what they’re working on. Most tracks allow the fans to roam in the paddock and even on the starting grid, where they can have their pictures taken with the cars or drivers without having to spend money on additional passes. The teams are families, eating together in tents such as Marion’s, and often stay in the same hotels as one another. The same cannot be said for NASCAR.
A typical ALMS paddock garage. Noticed how close I am to the body panels,
and how many mechanics are working around the cars. They stop to explain to
any fan willing to listen.
When I first received the assignment of going to Homestead, honestly, I was not happy. In the past, I have ventured to the Finale Weekend in South Florida but quickly learned that that sort of racing wasn’t my cup of tea. When the Sprint car race began in 2007, I watched the first few laps and then ventured off to find food. If the racing couldn’t hold my attention from some of the best seats in the house, why would it excite me to walk around the paddock? When I got to Homestead, a track I simply ADORE, the people at the facilities could tell this was a new experience for me. They helped me out with smiles on their faces and graciously pointed me in the right direction. Now, exactly 6 days prior, I had been driving on that very hallowed ground for the annual Rides ‘N Smiles (a successful event in and of itself that merits its own article). These same people may have remembered me but chances were slim. When I first walked into the paddock, a very friendly gentleman asked to see my pass and my id (they check the match for security purposes, first sign of a difference) and wished me a good time. :Can’t be too bad,” I thought. Once I’d made it inside the gated area that housed the second tier level cars, I found exactly what I was looking for! There was practice happening. When I got to a yellow line, I was told not to get any closer to the cars. Now, you might think this yellow line would be at the edge of the garage. Nope, it was at the edge of the haulers, some 20 feet from the garage. Not a chance of talking to the mechanics about what was happening nor encountering a driver unless they were going to or from their personal RV. A perfect example of this difference lies within Joey Logano, a driver I’ve always felt to be underrated. After about 20 minutes of waiting, 2 girls were rewarded with Joey’s signature on one of their mementos (they had several) and a photo with their idol. All in all, it took less time than a NASCAR pit stop.
The NATIONWIDE garage during practice. This was as close as I was permitted.
No one would talk to me.
When their practice ended, not a driver was to be seen. They all retreated in similar fashion to their temporary homes and the Truck practice began. I decided to instead wonder around the Sprint paddock. When I walked toward that area, I noticed a board with different credentials on it. Turns out, NASCAR has what is known as a hot pit and cold pit pass. Each gains you entry to the paddock (not the pits) at different times. I had the latter and wasn’t permitted into the most popular level when drivers would be present because I didn’t fork out the extra money for the hot pit pass!
My favorite stock-car because of the red M&M. He mirrored
my sentiment.
Toward the end of the day, I began to feel like the M&M on the quarter-pannel of Kyle Busch's car, trapped. All in all, I stuck around just long enough to get a feel and realize that this sort of racing does not appeal to me in any way, shape, or form. When people say that NASCAR is like IndyCar or ALMS, they have no idea. Racetracks are places that you should feel like you belong without paying enough to justify belonging. A track this year wanted to charge fans for a grid walk. ALMS responded by cancelling the grid walk. THAT is a series for the fans. If you want to experience loyalty, close up racing, and a general family environment, try something new. Find a race near you that’s different from what you know. It’ll make you appreciate what you have. Try the whole milk.

No comments:

Post a Comment