If you are shocked that this article is showing up on Moderately High Maintenance, it's ok. If you had told me I was going to a NASCAR race a couple of months ago I would have been surprised too. Let me ease your trepidation and say this was my first NASCAR race but it surely will NOT be my last. I'll start by giving you the back story of how I ended up in Dallas for a NASCAR race weekend.
I was invited by Kelley Blue Book for a behind the scenes look at a race weekend. Kelley Blue Book was the primary sponsor for Chase Elliott's number 9 car that weekend so we had the pretty rare opportunity for all-access with Chase and his team. Kelley Blue Book and Chase have a long history together and it is obvious he truly believes in the KBB.com product. Chase says, “I have done enough research through KBB.com when I bought something that I haven't wanted to sell it. I felt like I bought my couple cars at the right price thanks to them.”
Anyways, I'm always down to try new experiences and have always heard that a race is WAY BETTER in person than on tv. Needless to say, I enthusiastically jumped at the opportunity! They were gracious enough to also invite Lillian, my photographer and friend, so that we could capture the moments our way and so I would have a buddy.
Overview of the Sport
The NASCAR season goes from February to November and there are a total of 39 races all over the country. Each track is different and tracks are divided into short tracks, intermediate tracks, and superspeedways based on distance. We were at Texas Motor Speedway, which is considered an intermediate track.
The Points System
There is an ongoing points system and at the end of the season, the drivers with the highest amount of points go into the “playoffs.” During the playoffs, all drivers still race, but only the ones competing in the playoffs are competing for the points to go to the next playoff level. The driver who wins the playoffs at the end of the season will win the Monster Engery Cup. Each race has a “race within a race” and is divided into stages. There are three stages in a race and drivers can accrue playoff points for their placement in each stage of the race. The overall race winner at the end still gets the most points.
Teams, Drivers, Car Types
Here is a flow chart of the organization of NASCAR because it's more than just individual drivers showing up and driving around the track. (I may or may not have thought that prior to this experience) There is NASCAR as a whole and then there are different racing teams who drive specific types of cars (Chevrolet, Ford, Toyota) and then there are drivers on each team. Some teams have only one driver, and other teams have as many as four or five drivers. Example of the hierarchy: we were at a NASCAR race, with Hendrick Motorsport's driver Chase Elliott.
Nitty Gritty of Teams
Crew Chief, Engineers, Mechanics, Pit Crew
The crew chief is the guy who is in charge of all matters pertaining to the car and who manages the rest of the crew. Beneath the Crew Chief, there are specialized engineers and mechanics who each work on building the cars and tweaking the car for each specific race track. What blew my mind is that there is a DIFFERENT car each week. That's right folks, each car is specifically built and engineered for the track that they are racing that week. Talk about job security for the mechanics and engineers, right? Each week they bring the main race car as well as a backup car in the “hauler” which is a trailer, sophisticated lab, and mobile command center all in one.
The mechanics work on the car 6 days a week. We had the opportunity to speak with Scott who is the Interior Mechanic for Chase Elliott's number 9 car and we learned about the specifics of his job.
Scott's job is to handle everything inside of the car, one of his main duties is also making sure that Chase is comfortable during the race. One thing he told us is that the temperature inside the car can reach upwards of 150 degrees, so the driver cooling system is very important. The cooling strategy is based on the driver's preference. Chase likes to have cooling on the top of his head and around his chest. The science behind it is if you keep the brain and core cool it helps with better decision making. Scott also noted that the driver's seat is specifically molded to Chase's body. This is for safety and would keep Chase from moving around a lot if there was a crash. Scott has been in the racing industry for almost 20 years and was so knowledgeable!
The pit crew is comprised of seven professional athletes who only work on the car during the race. Let me tell you, these guys are no joke. They recruit for members of the pit crew from collegiate sports. TJ played football in college and upon graduation was recruited to be on the pit crew. Their job is run much like a professional sports team. TJ's workday (other than actual race day) includes weight lifting, reviewing film of pit stops, drills, and pit practice.
The pit crew is comprised of seven members who can fill up the car with gas, change all four tires, and do a plethora of other tasks in 14 seconds or less. You blink and they are done.
Each team is allotted a certain amount of tires for each race weekend and can cost up to $2,000 per set. After each tire change during the race, they test the tires to see how they are performing under the current conditions and roughness of the track. This may seem like a minor detail but in races that are close, the win or loss can be determined by if the car needs new tires in the last laps or not.
Our Race Weekend Activities
We got to ride around all weekend in a really fun Chevrolet Camaro, which happens to be the same type of car Chase Elliott drives in races.
Saturday we went to the track in time for the last practice. This is where each team tests the final adjustments on the car before the race. Like I said earlier, each car is built specifically for each race and track so the mechanics work hard to fine tune the details. We got a tour of the garages as well as the hauler.
One unique aspect of NASCAR is the access that fans have to the sport. Anyone can buy hot passes which gets you access to the infield, garages, pit row, and a lot of times the drivers themselves. It blew my mind that Chase was signing autographs up until about 5 minutes before he got into the car. You won't find that level of access in any other professional sport. After practice on Saturday, we went to In-N-Out Burger with the best host from KBB.com, Nichole.
Saturday night, we went to a private team dinner with Chase and the rest of his team. We sat next to Jenna and Morgan, the two ladies responsible for media and pr for the number 9 team! Both Jenna and Morgan grew up around racing and were a wealth of knowledge. In fact, the majority of the information shared in this post was from me asking them a million questions and them being kind enough to answer every single one of them.
Sunday was race day and we got to the track early for hot laps. A hot lap is a ride around the track in the official pace car. During this race, the official pace car was a souped-up Chevy Silverado. We got up to over 100 mph in a very quick lap around the track!
After the hot lap, we went back to the garages for a chat with the team and to learn about the inspection process. This is when we got to speak with Scott about his job and watch as the Kelley Blue Book number 9 car got inspected for the race. After the cars are inspected there can be no more major changes before the race.
After the inspection, we went up to the Cox Automotive suite for a little breakfast and Q&A with number 9 driver, Chase Elliott before the race. Chase answered questions about his race day routine. He says that he is not superstitious but he does like to eat the same thing before every race: grilled chicken. After a little time in the suite, we headed down to the track for the start of the race and one last photo opportunity with Chase.
The beginning of the race is very patriotic with a prayer, national anthem, and military flyover. According to my husband, John, the plane was a C-130.
Then it was time for the iconic, Gentlemen start your engines moment and it was off to the races!
During the first laps of the race, we stayed down near the pit box and got to witness the first pit stop! The other really cool thing was we had headsets and could listen to the communication between Chase, his spotter, and crew chief. When you go to the race, I highly recommend renting a set of these headphones because the chatter is really cool to hear.
After the first several laps, we headed back up to the suite to grab some lunch and watch the rest of the race. The view was amazing and it was climate controlled. When you go to a race, you can purchase suite level tickets fairly inexpensively. I would highly recommend a suite and a hot pass, but that may just be the moderately high maintenance in me.
Overall the experience was absolutely amazing and I have definitely been converted to a NASCAR fan. I would highly recommend looking up when a race comes near you and consider going. It's a ton of fun and now you know more about the intricate details that go into each race!
I want to say thank you so much to Kelley Blue Book for inviting me out to Dallas and hosting such an informative and fun weekend. Beyond the fact that Chase loves KBB.com I have used Kelley Blue Book each and every time I have bought or sold a vehicle. This past August when I traded in my car, I used the Kelley Blue Book Instant Cash Offer to trade-in my SUV quickly and painlessly. Selling a car is something millions of people decide to do each year, and one of the biggest pain points is understanding how to sell their car and how much to expect for it. KBB.com makes it easy for car shoppers ready to trade-in or sell their current vehicle with the availability of Kelley Blue Book Instant Cash Offer.