As a lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest, I have had to accept the fact that me being a NASCAR fan is slightly abnormal. Most of my friends think it is odd, like concerning to them odd. Outside of a few relatives (non-immediate family), I’m not sure I even knew anyone that was a NASCAR fan up until about two years ago. Considering the closest track to the Seattle area is over a ten hour drive away, attending a NASCAR race is something that would require a significant investment of both time and money. That being said, for the first thirty-six years of my life, I had not been able to attend a NASCAR race.
As 2018 came to a close, I knew that 2019 would be the year though. I was ready to make the investments and fulfill the dream. But I still didn’t know which race I would go to, but perhaps knowing a few that I knew I probably would not enjoy as much. The two races that were at the top of my list were the Daytona 500 and the Bristol Night Race. Both of which I consider bucket list items.
In early January I had some business meetings that spawned additional meetings in Tampa for the days following the Daytona 500. I’m not sure that I have ever accepted a meeting request as quickly as I did this one. With the “support” of my wife, I was able to get away from home for about a week which is a fairly significant impact to her and her schedule as we have an eight-year-old in second grade whom is fairly active in sports. For the first time, it was clear to me that I had a solid opportunity to attend a race with only a few additional expenses and I was long overdue for a few personal days away from work.
With the hardest parts of attending a race being settled (when, time, travel, etc.), it was time to begin planning for the event itself. But I had questions that resulted in more questions, confusion, and then more questions. I was truly a fish out of water when it came to knowing what I was getting myself into. Thankfully I had a great support group on Facebook (Friends of Jeff Gluck) that was there to encourage me and provide their insight. I will do my best to share some of what I learned about the process and perhaps some things I wish I had done differently and will do when the next time happens.
Perhaps the most expensive component of attending a race away from home is lodging. I ended up staying at a resort in the Orlando area rather close to Disney World. It was a little over an hour away from the track, but at 20% to 30% of the nightly price compared to those in Daytona Beach. To book my room, I used the name your price feature with Priceline where I could set my budget and requirements and hope for a match. The Caribe Royale was the match. From a financial perspective, this was a solid move. From a time perspective, staying in Daytona would certainly have been more convenient. If I were to do it over again with the same circumstances, I’d probably stay in Orlando. If I had more than a month’s notice I was going to the race, perhaps the cost differences between Daytona and Orlando would have been lower.
I think the airfare can be the second most expensive aspect of travelling and perhaps is the most expensive depending on the fare schedules, airports, airlines, etc. I was able to fly directly from Portland to Orlando which I was going to be doing for business anyways. It was actually cheaper to fly into Orlando than to fly into Tampa. So in this case, it didn’t directly cost me anything as it was a work expense and it actually helped my business by a few hundred dollars in fare differences.
One of the hardest decisions to make was where to sit. Daytona and NASCAR had many different seating options with some offering VIP type experiences along with food and beverages. Something that I learned many years ago is that I value experiences and love to have good experiences. I’d hate to invest $200 into something for an “OK” time only to discover that for $250 I could have had a “good” time. I ended up with tickets in section 348 for all 4 days of racing at the track in what they called the 4-Race Trioval Club. I was considering some more expensive options, but others in the group had convinced me that my experience would not be enhanced by spending additional money, so. I didn’t.
The seats were amazing and I generally had a solid view of everything going on (as far as superspeedway seats go). I did buy the fan zone passes for the weekend which was a good decision as I was able to get into the Truck and X-Finity series garages (free days). You obviously don’t always get to pick the folks who sit next to you and the guy off to my left was probably not the guy you’d want to sit next to for anything (long story). To my right was a couple from the Oklahoma City area and they were very excited to share in my first NASCAR experience. Each time they left their seats for some refreshments they offered to grab stuff for me and were two of the nicest people I’ve ever met. In fact, I’ve probably attended 50 professional sporting events in my life if not more and at no time has any random fan asked me if they could get me anything.
Another major consideration when attending a race is hearing protection. Those cars are LOUD and when they go by you at 200 MPH, you can’t hear anything other than the roar of the engines. With the tips from the Glucker community, I procured the Racing Electronics behind the head Platinum headset and Legend. I really do not think you can attend a NASCAR race without these items. Many had suggested to simply go with the scanner (RE3000) as the Legend was overkill and perhaps overly complicated. Perhaps my technical background aided me, but the Legend was amazing and easy to use. In fact, it was easier to use than the RE3000. I was able to listen to any driver I wanted on the track, select the broadcast to listen to, etc. When all hell broke out in the final 20 laps, I didn’t have to rely upon the big screens for replays and simply looked at what was hanging around my neck. There was a $70 price difference between the Legend and RE3000 scanner plus additional costs of per race activation fees, but I thought this was money well spent as it really enhanced my experience.
From a souvenir perspective, I’m a hat guy. I have tons of hats and now have a few more. I enjoyed visiting each of the team’s merchandise haulers and the NASCAR tents. I know there was recent drama on this, but I’ll just say that I had a great experience. I thought the pricing was reasonable and perhaps the only thing I’d have liked was more availability and variability, but the Internet is a beautiful thing.
One of the biggest concerns was parking. Again I turned to the Glucker community and was pointed to Lot 7 as being free. My expectations on this lot were rather low as it was free after all and what modern day event would offer something of quality for free, right? Well let me tell you…. Daytona nailed it with this one. Lot 7 was AMAZING. For a whopping $0, I was able to pull right into the huge grass fields on Saturday morning and complete the 3-minute walk to the waiting school buses. The buses then proceeded down what I’d best describe as a gravel service road used by the power companies to service their power lines between the lot and the track. Each time the bus needed to cross a street, law enforcement was there to stop traffic and give the buses the priority! It was literally like an express shuttle between the track and parking lot.
I think the walk between the bus pickup and my gate at the truck was about a mile. After the X-Finity race, there was certainly some crowd traffic to navigate to return to the waiting buses, but it was very well organized and ran. I can’t comment on what this lot looked like in the hours leading up to the Daytona 500 or afterwards as I carpooled to the track for race day, but I’d assume if you were to get to the lot before 9AM that you’d have been OK. Afterwards would likely have been rather crazy, but FREE!
All that being said, the million-dollar question is: was it worth it? An unequivocal HELL YES. Without question, it was absolutely amazing. I know that all 3 nights of racing yielded different results and offered varying levels of entertainment value, but the Daytona 500 itself and the experience was awesome. I still don’t have a driver that I’m cheering for since Dale Jr. retired, but I will say that Chase’s efforts on Saturday did not go unnoticed and were very much appreciated. I also am going to go out on a limb and say that Denny winning the race and it being my first race puts him in special place for me. Lastly, Mr. Kyle Busch. He can drive the wheels off and I’m actually beginning to like him more and more.
I think the stars are aligning for another race later in the 2019 season and I’m really looking forward to that one. Thanks to everyone who provided some insight and took the time to help me make this all possible. Special shout outs to Jeff and Nate for being there and sharing in these experiences with me. Until the next one! Boogity Boogity Boogity? Perhaps that by the way was the best part about being at the race, I didn’t hear that dreaded word on repeat J.