A few times a year, I’m privileged to be able to go to a NASCAR race as part of the media. It’s a unique experience that allows me to be a small part of something that has an enormous impact on so many. What may surprise you is that it is often the little things that make it a special experience.
One of the most enjoyable aspects is the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life. During several conversations with one of the women who helped prepare our food at the media center she talked about being a lifelong NASCAR fan and proudly told me, “I’m a huge Dale Jr. fan but my Dad likes Kasey Kahne. Can you believe that?” The look on her face was priceless.
The young man who stood watch at the door to the media center told me how he begged a friend to switch assignments with him so that he could work the race at Darlington.
My favorite moment was shared with a photographer at Darlington Raceway who has been working the NASCAR circuit for over 30 years. I was surprised to hear he drove all the way from Canada to cover the Darlington race. He was accompanied by his daughter.
He began talking about how it was in the “old days’’ when drivers like David Pearson and Richard Petty would spend hours signing autographs for their fans. “I don’t know why,” he said “but they had such an appreciation for the fans, especially the kids. You don’t see that much anymore.”
But then he related a story about his daughter. She has been his constant companion since she was old enough to travel with him. “She grew up in NASCAR,” he told me.
When his daughter was a small girl, she had a Jeff Gordon Pepsi trading card and desperately wanted it autographed. When the opportunity arose, they approached Gordon who was surrounded by fans. It was beginning to rain but they were determined to wait. When Gordon saw the girl, he politely told the rest of the crowd; “children first.”
“Gordon took the card from her, placed it face down on his pants leg, covered it with his hand so it wouldn’t get wet and told us to follow him to his hauler. He signed the card and spent several minutes talking with my daughter and me.”
The photographer’s eyes were glistening as he looked at me and said, “Signing autographs, that’s business. But this, (he pantomimed covering up the card on his leg), this was from the heart.”
You never know who you will meet at a NASCAR race. It could be a famous driver, a celebrity or just the guy next door. But, one thing is certain; you’ll come home with some stories to tell.