Forty-three cars lined the frontstretch of New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The pace car sat at the front of the field, lights flashing. Ken Squier’s mellow tones filled the stands as he listed the accomplishments of each individual — each one a champion in their own right, invited to this race on their laurels. And every driver raised their hand to acknowledge the cheers that arose from the fans in the stands.
Yes, lots of loud, heartfelt cheers. No competitor faced silence. None were booed off the stage, so to speak. The fact these small teams – hailing from the hills and dales of New England, New York and the eastern reaches of Canada – even had their machines idling at one of NASCAR’s premiere tracks was huge! Being asked to run in the American-Canadian Tour Invitational is recognition of your team’s devotion to the sport, success at your local track or perhaps a storied racing past.
Whatever the reason, their neighbors and family made sure to make all the competitors welcome. Enough so that I looked around me to exchange smiles and wave to those making the most noise.
Fast forward to Sunday. Now there’s a shiny stage with a whole bunch of “somebodies” lined up with cameras clicking off shots as the driver works the reception line. And from the stands?
Well, near silence for the bottom 10-15 drivers of Sprint Cup Series from the approximately 50,000 fans gathered early for all the ceremony that comes with a race in the Chase to the Cup. That’s right. You can almost hear the crickets as driver after driver saunters across the stage, waves to the crowd and climbs into the back of the pickup for his parade lap.
We are talking about the biggest series in stock car racing. We are speaking of professionals, who have earned their spot on this starting grid through a lifetime of winning — in sprint cars, stock cars and even the elite IndyCar and F1 series. Yet, these familiar faces do not have their family and personal friends standing in the grandstand week after week to cheer them on. They have us.
Apparently the everyday race fan deems their applause are to be counted as a miser tallies up his bank account. Precious noise of praise and encouragement are given only to those that have earned it, because the Armchair Driver in all of us knows that if only those end-of-the-field unsponsored cars drove a little faster and a little harder week after week they would have garnered our respect and praise.
Last year I followed a couple competitors onto pit road early Saturday morning at NHMS. They wore matching t-shirts from a team I did not recognize. They spoke French. They stopped right at the entrance, gestured to the towering, vacant stands and basically said, “Can you believe they fill this place up?”
It hit me then – and the feeling was reinforced this year as those ACT cars waited to roll off for their parade laps. This place means something. It means more than a game of t-ball on your neighborhood playground. This is it. No matter who you are, and how many races you’ve run, when you compete at one of these altars of racing, you have accomplished something important. Part of achievement is recognition, from your peers and those who you seek to entertain.
I put it to you, fellow race fans; we should stop and remember what a feat it is simply to step onto a major NASCAR venue. All the competitors are worthy of our admiration (even the one who is depicted wearing a smirk in his M&M’s uniform), and therefore warrant more than a disinterested glance as we program our scanners and ensure we’ve got enough ice to last the race.
Haven’t you ever noticed the first person a driver thanks upon entering victory lane is you? The fan? Maybe it’s time we gave some of that love back and made sure our gratitude for filling our afternoons with the smell of unburned fuel and the sounds of unbridled speed can be heard.
The next time you pony up the bucks to go to the track, make sure you stand up! Put your hands together and make some noise — for your favorite driver and the one you’ve never even heard of before. They deserve it.
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.
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