Monday, June 30, 2008

NASCAR first-timer's report

I popped my NASCAR cherry last weekend, by going up to Infineon not just once, but twice.

Saturday morning I went up with a friend who does some design work for one of the drivers and had managed to snag us a couple of credentials. Having free entry makes it so much easier to leave early and not feel weird about it which was exactly our plan. Being on motorcycles alos made things easier since we could enter the main gate and park right next to the paddock (good tip if you're ever planning on going to Infineon).

When we arrived we immediately got a close-up of the cars at pit-in, where the entrance to the paddock was. They looked very, very big, projecting an impressive physical presence thanks to the brightly coloured liveries. Unfortunately, our supposed "all access" passes were no good whilst the Sprint Cup cars were on track. We'd have to wait until noon, when they were done, to get into the paddock area. In the meantime we took a stroll around the vendor area and then sat in the grandstands to watch practice and happy hour. It was pretty cool stuff, the cars seeming to be reaching high speeds in spite of themselves. One particular view, of the middle of the esses complex, had the cars loading up their left side over a small crest, the weight visibly shifting. The noise was also pretty spectacular, reminiscent of Australian V8 Supercars. Speaking of which, former Aussie V8 champ Marcos Ambrose was making his first Sprint Cup start, and had qualified an impressive 8th alongside fellow former road racer Robby Gordon. The field was actually very well stocked with road course veterans, including Scott Pruett, Max Papis, Ron Fellows and Boris Said.

Once the cars were finished with their sessions we were allowed into the Sprint Cup paddock area. I have never in all my life seen so many semi tractor-trailers lined up like that. It was pretty interesting. The cars themselves were mainly in the garages, although I did get a nice close-up look at Michael Waltrip's "Toyota". The quality of the construction and preparation of the cars was very high despite their relatively low-tech nature.

And that was that for Saturday.

Sunday was going to be different, mainly due to the massive amounts of people going. Once again we took the bikes and once again got parked pretty close to the track, with no major traffic issue going in. Our pit walk passes were great, allowing us to get close to virtually all the cars, as well as view the track from the hot pit area.

After a stroll around the merchandise area (impressive but nothing like the massive merch presence at Bathurst) we grabbed some lunch and headed for our seats at turn two. The pre-race was a bit of a drawn out affair but allowed everyone a chance to cheers for / boo their favorite / least favorite driver, which was good fun. Finally the race got underway, as 43 cars charged through the corner in front of us, amazingly without incident. It was quite a sight but (sorry for constant comparison to Bathurst, can't help it) nothing like as cool as a field of V8 Supercars.

The race unfolded in a sort of endurance-race fashion, as I found myself watching gaps and tracking strategy. The details of the race can be found elsewhere on the web but no-one will have a picture of this guy, the archetypal Dale Jr. fan, who raised his fist in support every time Jr. went by:

When all was said and done, we watched a pretty entertaining race, marred by too many late-race cautions, in which none of the road course specialists did well. It was a good day's racing though, made better by a painless exit from the track. Infineon clearly know how to handle traffic. Take that Laguna!

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