Look, Don't Touch

Just how much access do infield fans get to drivers? Surpisingly, lots, though it's kind of a tease.

The Fan Zone, which opened last year, puts fans right up against the garage area, where driver sightings are plentiful. But, although there's an outside chance for autographs, it's pretty much look, don't touch.

The observation deck, a standing room only platform that sits atop one row of garages, overlooks the front stretch coming out of Turn 4. It offers great views of the garages, the inspection stations, and, best of all, the drivers and crews as they walk from their team trailers, giving fans an opportunity to shout and be heard. I saw Michael Waltrip waving to fans during qualifying. On the whole, its nice, but sterile.

Fans have a little closer access to big-time media. Speed TV does its race broadcasts from the Zone, using fans as a backdrop. Cup legend- turned-broadcaster Darryl Waltrip is the crowd pleaser during breaks.

And there's plenty of entertainment in Fan Zone that has nothing to do with racing.

Live bands frequently play on a small stage. Around the refreshments oasis, there are several large HD televisions. During Saturday's rain event, even the Olympics were being shown, though folks I talked to were in agreement that the Weather Channel would have been a better choice.

Drivers and teams rarely venture into the Zone, but there are exceptions. I'd have to say the highlight of my weekend in the Zone was shaking Benny Parsons hand when he walked by. And I saw another lucky fan, Matt Phelix of Jupiter, Fla., get car owner Rick Hendrick to autograph his Jeff Gordon jacket. Matt literally jumped for joy, then called his mom on his cell phone.

Jerry and Chrissy Gibson of Silver Springs, Fla., checked out the Home Depot Chevy in it's garage stall Saturday. They say their 10-year-old son wants to paint his room orange, with a big number 20, but Chrissy won't go for it. Jerry says he raced stock cars as a teenager and thinks he coulda been a contendah, though Chrissy chuckled at that. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Chrissy gives a shout out to her family's seafood restaurant, Lena's, in Silver Springs (the "s" is correct), just west of Ocala. Everything's homemade, down to the breading. She highly recommends the onion rings.. (Mike Snyder - washingtonpost.com)

Personally I had hoped to interact with the RVers more this weekend, but the weather put a damper on my plans. I suspect there'll be coming out to play once the frigid temperatures retreat.

Track Tidbits

Loudest cheers during the Bud Shootout:
1. Anytime Junior made ANY move during the race.
2. When Jeff Gordon bumped into the back of Matt Kenseth, busting his own oil filter, which left his engine smoking, causng him to DNF. Not nice!
3. When Denny Hamlin took the checkered flag, a first for a rookie driver. What a thrill for the young man and his parents. Joe Gibbs Racing has picked another winner.

Send Me Your Photos

I'll soon be posting photos I took this weekend. I'd love to see yours, too. If you want to, e-mail them to me, and hopefully we can post some.

Let Me Know Your Mind

Please feel free to comment on the weekend's events:

*The controversy over the 48 and 96 having their qualifying times disqualified. One reporter asked NASCAR officials in the news conference how it was possible for a car to pass pre-qualifying inspection, run two laps, and fail post-qualifying inspection. The answer: The cars passed pre-qualifying inspection, ran two laps, and failed post-qualifying inspection. Scott McLellan should watch his back, that NASCAR official is right on his bumper to take over the position of White House spokesman.

* Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Junior's strong comments about the rough racing during the Bud Shootout: Stewart says if the bump drafting and undisciplined driving continue, somebody's going to get killed again. Earnhardt said he's strongly voiced his dislike for the race setup to NASCAR, to no avail.

* And how about Bobby Labonte's qualifying run in the legendary 43 Petty car? He had the fastest lap in qualifying for quite a while, and wound up in the top five after Johnson's time was thrown out. We'll have to see how he does in race conditions in the 125 duels on Thursday.

By Mike Snyder |  February 12, 2006; 9:08 PM ET  | Category:  Fans
Previous: Burton, Gordon Win Bud Poles; Rookie Hamlin Wins Shootout | Next: Monday Trivia

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Hey Mike, I have a suggestion for your blog.... How about a daily 'mullet tracker' where you tally the number of mullets you see and you describe your favorite one. Maybe that person can be featured in a photo in the blog....

Posted by: Jon F. | February 13, 2006 11:26 AM

Mike, I hear that they found an access hole to a lowering jackbolt on the rear window of the #48 (presumably this had been covered on the initial inspection), and that the carb on the #97 was slapped with the classic "unapproved modifications" tag. That latter usually involves another team nudging an inspector and telling them to take a close look at the piece in question. Since the #96 team has to actually qualify to get in the race (as opposed to the top 35 in points from last year who are in no matter what), there's a lot of clawing and scratching 'mongst those backmarkers who actually have to perform to get in. Sadly, sometimes that means dropping a dime on a competitor. Starting money for the "500" can mean a big difference for the Carl Longs and the Kirk Shelmerdines of the world.


Posted by: bc | February 13, 2006 11:43 AM

Whoops, I meant #96 in the first sentence above, not #97.


Posted by: bc | February 13, 2006 11:45 AM

While watching the shootout yesterday, my 4 year old son asked me where the Interstate Battery car was. Almost brought a tear to my eye, as it is now certainly the 3rd car in the stable. Oh well, Hamlin has had me excited since the end of last season. I'll have to brief the lad on the #11 Fedex.

Posted by: Mike M | February 13, 2006 12:06 PM

Interesting thought on the mullet tracker. But I think even among NASCAR fans, mullets have become passe. But I'll keep an eye out and see if I can find a good one for the blog.

Thanks for the knowledge on the post-qualifying inspections, bc. Your're all over it. I don't mean to dis the NASCAR inspectors, they're making the tough calls.

And Mike M, I feel your pain on the Interstate Batteries car. Tho I am wishing Bobby and the Pettys good luck in the 43.

Posted by: Mike | February 13, 2006 12:49 PM

Its the Gatorade Duel 150s. Like everything else NASCAR it has to have a sponsor. I am not a Ford fan, Roush fan, or Carl Edwards fan, but he had every right to complain about what happened to him. That rule has got to be changed. Twice he saved the field from chaos by driving below that line. The rule should be a judgment rule. It was obvious that both times he avoided a wreck and was not trying to advance his position. If another driver wants to cut another driver off then the driver being cutoff should be allowed to maneuver anywhere. Causing a driver to "check up" after being cut off is the reason many accidents/DNFs have occurred in the past.

Posted by: warren | February 13, 2006 01:16 PM

Actually JJ Yeley is driving the Interstate Batteries 18 car. He was not in the race yesterday because he did not win a pole last year. He was supposed to be the next big thing last year. Maybe his luck turns this year. He will start 7th in the second Twin 150 Thursday afternoon. Hamlin and Truex for rookie of the year should be fun to watch.

For all the conpriacy theorists out there: Did Joe Gibbs give Hall of Fame racing (owned by 2 HOF QBs from Dallas) bad engines just b/c they are former Cowboys? I absolutely believe not also, but you never know.......just a thought.

Posted by: Car # 18 | February 13, 2006 01:23 PM

Warren: I'm totally with you on the Edwards black flags. That was pretty rotten. Completely undeserved.

Posted by: Mike | February 13, 2006 01:49 PM

Hey there, Car #18, I'm looking forward to watching Yeley duel with Truex and Hamlin. A great crop of rookies.

As far Gibbs goes, I'm sure that's not their style. Call it divine intervention.

Posted by: Mike | February 13, 2006 01:51 PM

I grew up in Daytona Beach and used to attend the Permatex 200, the Daytona 500 and the Firecracker 400 every year. I remember paying $15 to get into the race. Try that today.

It used to be that after the race, they would open the gate near the starter's stand and allow you to walk down the track and into the pits. One year my friend and I actually got to hep push Bobby Allison's car into the garage. Don't suppose they allow that anymore, but that was, what, nearly 40 years ago.

Posted by: tom | February 13, 2006 02:40 PM

Since my driver Rusty Wallace has retired, I was wondering if you could share your thoughts and in-depth knowledge(since I see a number 20 on your cap)on some of the other whiners/cry babies out there on the cup circuit that I might cheer for in 06?

Posted by: Pissy Pants | February 13, 2006 04:59 PM

Well Mr.(?) Pants, since the biggest one retired, 24 or 48 are sure bets. But why not stick with the 2 car, seems like they've picked the right replacement.

Posted by: Mike | February 13, 2006 05:27 PM

Tom: Thanks for the great stories. That's old-school. I'm envious. I just met three oldtimers who've been hawking programs for races since they were racing on the beach. I'll have a good post on that tomorrow. Come back and check it out.

Posted by: Mike | February 13, 2006 05:29 PM

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