The biggest story at Michigan International Speedway yesterday was the unbelievable loyalty and perseverance exhibited by the race fans who came to the track on Sunday morning and were still around at the conclusion of the 3M Performance 400 on Tuesday afternoon. That the grandstands appeared to be at least half full is a testament to the fact that NASCAR enjoys a fanbase second to none in professional sports. Having experienced rainouts firsthand, I know there are hundreds of individual stories by those that slept in their cars, waded through ankle-deep mud, subsisted on junk food and remained generally uncomfortable during the two-day rain delay. And for some, their sacrifices to be in attendance for the race amounts to more than just physical discomfort, as many even ran the risk of straining their relationships with husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends and employers. But for them it seemed worth it, as they are racing fans!
And of course there are also the untold legions of fans who, although not at the track, spent two days trying to finagle access to the race that was first delayed until Monday and then finally to Tuesday. I would not even venture a guess at how many phantom doctor appointments, fevers and sick children were falsely reported by race fans to justify not showing up at work and school, but I know there were many. Then, of course, there were those that threw caution to the wind and risked disciplinary actions from their employers for unauthorized use of company computers as they logged on to NASCAR.com to access their HotPass account so that they could monitor, as best they could, the race while in progress. They were, of course, at the same time performing at least the charade of actually doing meaningful work. The NASCAR promotional commercials of a few years back with the theme “How bad you got it?” never scratched the surface of the lengths NASCAR fans will go for the love of their sport.
Though having witnessed on many occasions the unfettered mania that so many auto-racing enthusiasts demonstrate to view Cup racing live, I still never cease being amazed by it. After all, we are in a technological age that allows for the easy recording of a race for viewing at a less inconvenient and potentially personally harmful time. We’ve got the replays, VCRs, TIVOs, DVRs, etc, Heck, even a “techno-tard” such as myself can find a 10-year-old gracious enough to program in the race to record for me! But for many, it just isn’t the same. They want their NASCAR live! And for that, the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing needs to thank their lucky stars!!!
Rain delays usually result in broadcast teams being challenged to fill unexpected “dead time” with inane topics and interviews. ESPN2, desperate for something to discuss, made the rounds trackside with cameramen in tow to ask drivers how difficult the waiting around to compete for a couple of additional days had been on them. For that I can excuse them. When all else has been said, what else is there to do but turn it into an “open mike” session? But viewers did learn that apparently some drivers became “burned out” playing video games and others had exhausted their inventory of new DVD movies, eventually becoming downright bored in their ultra-expensive, luxurious motorhomes!
For pure entertainment value, and no doubt more dramatic interviews, the broadcasters should consider interviewing the stalwart fans who have stuck out the unavoidable delays in far less comfort – and at considerably more sacrifice – in the future. They should walk the muddy parking areas and start rapping on windows of 1992 Camrys to wake the occupant(s) asleep in the back seat and ask how he or she is holding up after 48 hours. For a nice touch, bring the ex-driver/color analyst along to pour the interviewees some much appreciated hot coffee.
That’s just one of many possible ideas to get the TV audience in touch with the real “feel” of a rain delay. And it would finally come from the perspective of those that the drivers and NASCAR purport are the real “life blood” of the sport.
You want stories? The fans can give you stories! All you have to do is ask them. Do you find the bathroom facilities acceptable out here? What have you had to eat today? How does your wife feel about you not coming home Sunday? Do you have an understanding boss? Did you allow for the possibility of staying a couple of extra days in Michigan in the household budget? Have you seen any unusual behavior in the parking areas and campgrounds by fellow race fans during your extended stay?
I guarantee that, almost without exception, fans would be more than willing to tell their individual tales of coping with the difficult conditions. The stories will be shared not with tones of complaint, regret or bitterness, but with pride in their ingenuity, toughness and resolve.
And yes, there are plenty more intriguing topics those undyingly dedicated NASCAR loyalists could share concerning their rain delay experiences. Yes, it would be essential that the interviewers and camera crews be considerate of the fans and any requests they might make to remain anonymous. There is no telling what stories they have in play on the home front to be able to suffer the requisite hardships necessary to stay for the race!
Beer can throwing hooligans aside, NASCAR fans are the best of the best. They can come together and create a makeshift town of campers, cars and tents and coexist together in virtual harmony, bound only by their mutual love of the sport for anywhere from a weekend to, well, whatever it takes. Again, fans of no other sport can compare.
Just for the fun of it, readers are encouraged to share some of their favorite stories of endurance, deception and peril that they, or someone they know has undertaken to watch a race. And we’ll all understand if you choose to do it anonymously.