When I left for the New Hampshire Motor Speedway last week, I had no idea what was to come. I was hoping for some good racing and to meet a few people. I really didn’t expect anything more than that, but what I ultimately left the track with were memories that would last a lifetime. These memories will forever be special to me and what’s special about them is that they all came as surprises.
Race weekend is never really just a weekend. Fans will camp out for almost a whole week just to get the at the track feeling and that feeling is oh so special. My weekend at the speedway started on Thursday and even though nothing involving NASCAR was happening on the track, it was still a great day.
Once I established my campsite for the weekend, I headed to the store. It was my first time camping at New Hampshire so I really didn’t know where to go to just even exit the track. While I found a road leading to the exit, I saw some pretty cool things lined up. They were the Sprint Cup Series haulers.
Just about every driver’s hauler was parked along the side of the road waiting for the hauler parade that would follow that day. After driving past them, I no longer needed a hauler parade. I just had my own private one. Getting to do that kicked off an amazing weekend with more incredible moments to follow.
Once I arrived at the actual track for the day, I made my way to the grandstands to watch the Global Rally Cars compete in their event. Before I even got to my seat, I saw the drivers having an autograph session. The line was too long for me, so I just snuck up and took some pictures. I really just wanted a picture of Tanner Foust (driver and co-host of Top Gear), but what I got was way more than a picture.
He saw me snapping a quick photo and being his friendly self; he recognized me standing there and simply waved at me. Those few seconds probably didn’t register in his mind, but they will in mine. I’ve always been a fan of his and for him to be that nice and wave to me was an incredible gesture.
That was the highlight of Thursday and the race that followed was pretty awesome as well. I didn’t think the weekend would get any better, but surely it did on Friday.
Friday was a pretty routine day at the track. There was some qualifying and practice along with the souvenir haulers being open. Once practice wrapped up for the day, I did some shopping around and then it was time for one of the most exciting moments in my life.
Prior to coming to the track, I had won a contest from the track’s twitter page to be able to wave the flags for one driver in Cup qualifying. This was an event that very few people are able to experience and that made it even more special for me.
Once the person before me came down the stand, I marched my way up there, taking my time to take it all in. At first, I was nervous about how stable the stand would feel when a car roars under it, but after one went under it, I felt much more excited.
The view from atop the stand is phenomenal and the flag man himself couldn’t have been any nicer. When Aric Almirola hit the track to warm up, I was handed the green flag. As Almirola stormed out of turn 4, I started to wave the flag as hard as I could and with a very tight grip. I did the same for the white and checkered flag, and I was thankful I didn’t drop it. Waving them was an experience that I will never forget. I was grateful for the opportunity since I know not many people are able to do that.
Friday ended as another great day and once again, I thought to myself that it can’t get better than this and surely on Saturday, it got better
Saturday started out very calm like the Friday. A few practice sessions and qualifying then the Modified Race along with the Nationwide one. In between all the action was some filming going on at the SPEED Stage. Trackside was set to record at 12:30 and I knew I had to go see it for myself. The show was great with guest Dick Berggren as he portrayed some of his racing tales.
According to my twitter followers, I was easy to spot in the crowd and got some TV time. There are few sports that allow fans to be on screen during a show and NASCAR is one of them where you can easily do so.
Following the show, fans lined up on the side of the stage, hoping that a few of the Trackside hosts would make their way out to sign autographs. I was waiting there, but not for an autograph, all I wanted was a conversation and that’s what I got.
Kaitlyn Vincie came right over to the area where I was waiting and began to give fans what they wanted and she eventually gave me what I wanted. To chat.
I started to say my twitter handle, and she knew exactly who I was before I even finished. The fact that she follows me may have helped too. Kaitlyn and I chatted for a bit and she couldn’t have been any sweeter or nicer.
While Kaitlyn was there, so was Rutledge Wood. I’ve been able to interact with him on twitter for a long time now and even got to interview him last year. When I walked up to Rutledge while he was signing, he knew exactly who I was and greeted me with his famous greeting of “Hey man.” We chatted for a bit and it was nice to talk with someone in person after communicating through social media for so long.
Once I finished talking with him, I waited around a bit longer and while I was waiting, Rutledge and Kaitlyn started talking to me together and we shared a few laughs before I made my way to the stands to watch the Nationwide Race.
At that moment, I was on cloud nine and thought that this was the best that anything could get. I chatted with some of the most popular TV personalities in NASCAR and they knew who I was, how cool?
The Nationwide Race followed and the 3 green-white-checkered finishes were spectacular. But, all I could thing about that night was getting to talk with them and I was stoked for Sunday and at this point, I knew things couldn’t get any better. Once again, I was astonished when they did.
When Cup race day rolls around, the track is buzzing in the morning and I wanted to get there nice and early to take it all in. I didn’t really have anything planned besides the tweetup, but one tweet changed my plans for the better. The MWR girls had a few extra garage tour passes handy so they had a contest on twitter to give them away to the fans at the track. I was fortunate enough to be one of the winners and I got to go where few fans (especially not fans under 18) get to go. The garage on race day.
I was greeted by the girls just outside the garage area and they took me down the lane where everyone was working hard (or sometimes hardly working) to get their teams car ready for the race. The girls showed me how all the teams were preparing and then we made a stop at Clint Bowyer’s hauler. Never before had I been in a hauler during race weekend, let alone Sunday, and it was a very cool experience.
The girls and I walked down the narrow hall hauler and I got to see some of the cool things the team keeps in there. Once we exited, I talked to a few of the crew members outside of it and even stole a water bottle out of Bowyer’s cooler (though the girls offered it to me).
Next, we walked down pit road and chatted the whole way. We made a stop at the pit area of eventual race winner Brian Vickers and took a quick photo. That basically wrapped up the tour of a lifetime and it was the start to a magical day at the track.
Just as soon as I left the infield on the tour, I reentered for a pre-race pit walk. I was able to walk up and down the pits and just about anywhere in the infield except the garage. Nothing much was happening on pit road, so I went over to a crowd of fans. I soon learned that the drivers were walking down this little path to and from the drivers meeting.
I decided to hang out there for awhile and see who I could spot. There were so many drivers walking that way, I couldn’t recognize them all, but I did spot someone who I was hoping to meet all weekend. It was Jim Utter, the writer for the Charlotte Observer. We’ve been chatting on twitter for awhile now and planned to meet up at the track.
I saw him walking out of the drivers meeting gate and knew this was my opportunity to chat. I walked right up to him in the path between the fans and we chatted while he made his way back to the media center. While I was waiting for him, the track security was making sure no one walked past a certain line, but when I did, I wasn’t stopped and it seemed as talking with someone within NASCAR gave you immunity to the rules, and that would pop up again in the next part of my day.
To be able to do what I was hoping to accomplish next, would require some sneaking around. This type of thing is what I’ve planning out for awhile now and I was hoping it would work. Trying to sneak around track security isn’t the easiest, but when you don’t look like a fan and remove evidence that you’re only allowed where you are until a certain time before the race, its rather easy.
I was waiting just outside the garage entrance for my idols to walk through, Kyle and Samantha Busch. I was hoping they would come out before anyone caught me and it was getting close, but then I saw Samantha.
At first, I didn’t know if it was her or not, so I walked up to her and said her name and she turned around and recognized me right away. After she greeted me with a hug, I walked with her down the grid towards driver intros where I definitely wasn’t supposed to be. At the time, I didn’t know Kyle was right there as well, but it seemed as any track security wasn’t going to stop me as I walked with them.
It was only for a few minutes, but once again Samantha and I chatted about my aspirations and she complemented me with some kind words. Once we reached the driver intro stage, I turned to her to say bye and as I did, there was Kyle who had been walking with us the whole time. I quickly chatted with Kyle and they departed.
Now I was in this magical daze and didn’t realize where I was. I was walking down the grid where only people with hard cards are allowed to be. As I continued to walk while ignoring the rules, I spotted the MWR Girls again and chatted quickly before I left to proceed in wandering where I shouldn’t be. The only security guy on pit road eventually caught me, but by this time, I was down by pole sitter Brad Keselowski’s car.
I would then just watch the driver introductions from pit road and by this time, I really shouldn’t have been there anymore, but I stayed until I knew I had to leave to make it to my seats by the green flag time.
While walking back through the tunnel, I came to the realization of how amazing what I did was. I walked down the grid with my idols, Kyle and Samantha, and I just about ignored every rule the track had. That made for an awesome experience and one that I will never ever forget.
Once all the exciting stuff happened, there was a race going on. It was a great race filled with lots of action, but all the action for me came on pit road before the race.
Overall, as you can probably tell, this was the greatest track experience I have ever had. From waving the green flag to walking down the grid with Kyle and Samantha, it was an unforgettable experience. It’ll be one which I’ll remember forever. As the race weekend went on, my trip kept getting better and as many times as I thought it couldn’t be any better, I proved myself wrong. These encounters will never leave me and the July 2013 New Hampshire NASCAR weekend will forever hold a very special place in my memory.
By Jason Schultz