Friday, June 20, 2008

Becoming NASCAR Nation

Yes, it's true: I get to go to my first NASCAR race this weekend. I'll admit it's not a real NASCAR race since it features that very strange animal, a right-hand corner. Still, NASCAR put it on the Sprint Cup schedule so the drivers' loss is my gain...

What can I expect? It's hard to say when you're going to NASCAR in wine country. I'm sure there will be plenty of people there who aren't racing fans. Many of NASCAR's newer, bigger sponsors can be found in nearby Silicon Valley or elsewhere in the Bay Area, and this event serves as a big hospitality opportunity for them. I'm sure whatever local redneckery there is in Northern California will also decide to take their cars off the blocks in the front yard and come too. Then there's the gentrified WT crowd - these are the folks who make very good money as contractors or unionized workers and who buy those awful big pink tract homes with fake hacienda roof tiles in Bay Area sprawl communities like Tracy, Gilroy, American Canyon and Rohnert Park and who fill them with toy haulers, GMC Suburbans, dirt bikes and kids, whilst they always make sure to vote republican and make fun of San Francisco. I'm guessing that will be the bulk of the crowd since I see so goddamn many of these people as I travel around here.

So, a little like Bathurst then...

The similarities to Mount Panorama's "Great Race" may not stop there. We're dealing with an event of massive magnitude, the biggest sporting event west of the Rockies in fact, at a race track that dances up and down a hillside to the tune of a massive field of entries. The cars are not dissimilar either: pushrod V8s powering sedan-like chassis that bear little to no resemblance mechanically to the cars they're supposed to be based on. To be fair, NASCAR is much worse in this regard - at least V8 Supercars must start with a stock shell and chassis.

Like Bathurst, the race often turns on strategy. It's about 3 laps short of being a two-stop race, but the certainty of cautions opens the door to various strategies since gaining track position at Sears Point is so much harder than at most ovals.

I also expect outrageous traffic headaches going both in and out, so much so that my girlfriend and I are trying to figure out how to take our motorcycles, even though we have a third person coming with us. Traffic in that part of the Bay Area can be ferocious on Sunday afternoons at the best of times, so a little lane-splitting might come in handy.

Expect a full report next week.

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