American flags welcome the cars as they come around for the start of the race. (photo: Reed)
In the US, NASCAR is second only to the NFL in terms of televised audience for sporting events. It claims 75 million fans who purchase over $3 billion in annual licensed product sales making it one of the most brand-loyal organizations in the world. So when my friends Tom and Tressa invited me to go to the Sprint Cup Series NASCAR event in Richmond on September 11th, I couldn’t say no.
Here is something I found amazing. Compare Football to NASCAR. When my buddy Chris invites me to a Washington Redskins game I feel like owner Dan Snyder is always trying to get more money out of me some way. As if the $75 ticket I paid wasn’t enough. Ok, I’ll be honest. I don’t think my Chris, who has season tickets to the Redskins, has ever accepted a dime for the tickets he gives me, however, I am sure he’s paying Mr. Snyder. They charge $50 and up for parking, beers are $8, a sandwich is $10, there’s even been talk about making fans pay to tailgate! In contrast, NASCAR, which was started by Bill France in 1948 and still family owned, has a different approach. Perhaps this is what makes their fans so loyal. When we arrived at the Richmond International Raceway in Henrico County, VA, parking was free! What’s more, you were allowed to bring your own food and beverages into the stadium. Heck, the only other thing you really need to buy while you are there are earplugs. And those are provided at the track by the Boy Scouts in exchange for a donation.
From left to right, Josh, Roger, John, Turner and Jim (photo: Reed)
Anyway, speaking of food and beverages, we decided to do a little cookout prior to the race. A few cars away I spotted a group of five guys enjoying a few beers and laughs and wandered over there to find a recipient for my $10.
Instead of splitting the $10 five ways they choose for Roger, the president of a commercial real estate construction company in West Virginia, to receive the money. I later found out that the five men didn’t know each other before the race. Roger was there with a colleague of his, Josh. The two of them met John and Turner there tailgating. Jim wandered by at some point and made friends as well. It’s amazing what a little Budweiser and 45 cars speeding around in a circle can do to bring grown men together.
Roger said he was rooting for the #88 car, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Turner favored the FedEx car driven by Denny Hamlin. Jim worked for Ford for many years but said he was a fan of Chevrolet’s cars. None of them appeared to be die-hard fans of any one particular driver, just fans of NASCAR.
Roger told me some crazy stories about him having a condition he called “sleep terror.” I looked it up and found it to be more commonly called night terror, or pavor nocturnus, which according to Wikipedia is a parasomnia disorder that causes people to wake up abruptly from their sleep. This is often accompanied by gasping, moaning or screaming while they are waking. It is often nearly impossible to fully awaken a person experiencing a night terror so most individuals end up settling back into deep sleep and have no recollection of the episode.
Roger told me about a time when he was 17 and his parents finally woke him up in the middle of the night after they heard noises coming from the kitchen and found him there alone with a kitchen knife. “I thought I had a tick,” he told me. “I was trying to get it out.” Luckily his parents were able to wake him up and nobody was injured. Think this sounds crazy, check out two other stories Roger shared with me. I also included a short scene from the race…its hard to appreciate the speed and noise on video, but trust me they’re moving fast and it’s deafening!
Now it sounds to me like some of his sleep terror could be a result of the 12-packs of beer that are involved. Who knows?
I asked Roger what he was going to do with the $10 and he said he was going get something for his kids. “I’ve got one that is eight and the other is ten,” he told me as he tucked the bill away in his wallet.
Before leaving he told me that he thought of something that I could put on the Lend a Hand section. “I’d like my friend Josh here to get a chance at singing country music,” he said of his colleague who had joined him for the race. Josh enjoys singing but was a little shy at the moment to belt out some tunes in the middle of the beer drenched field.
Roger's favorite, Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished 34th at Richmond. (photo: Reed)
It was getting close to race time so we said our goodbyes and headed over to the track. I admit that I don’t know the first thing about NASCAR or any motor racing sport for that matter. I mean it took me a while to realize that former football coach Jimmy Johnson wasn’t driving the #48 car. That would be Jimmie Johnson, a difference of about 30 years and 50 pounds. It would have been impressive though had it been him. And hey, you can’t fault me too much thinking that with all the talk about Joe Gibbs’ racing team. Speaking of which, the Gibbs team went on to take first and second place in that night’s race. First place went to Turner’s pick, Denny Hamlin in the #11 car. His teammate, Kyle Busch, finished second in the #18 car. As for Roger’s hopeful, Dale Jr., he finished a disappointing 34th.
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