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.
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.
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
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