Tuesday, June 24, 2008

My First NASCAR Experience

To begin, I am not a NASCAR fan. In eighth grade we were given a homework assignment of watching the Datoyna 500 for science class. I cheated and just watched the last lap. That was the one that ended in the crash, claiming the life of Dale Earnhardt. That has been the only bit of NASCAR that I've watched, with the exception of Sportcenter highlights when I'm either too lazy or too slow to change the channel.

Here's the text of the email I received on this past Wednesday that was forwarded
from the U of M Kinesiology Depatment.

Turner Sports is looking for some help with a guerilla marketing campaign at the NASCAR race this weekend and they can earn a free ticket plus $100.

Here's the description from our Marketing Manager:

7-10 responsible young adults willing to hand out NASCAR.COM/TNT promotional items to ticket holders at Michigan International Speedway this Sunday (6/15) from 11am - 1pm. We will be able to provide 1 Sprint Cup ticket per person as well as $100 per person.

So, I figure this is a pretty good opportunity to make some money and experience something new. I got a couple friends to sign up with me and on Sunday we headed out to the Michigan International Speedway at 7 in the morning to make sure we got there by our new 9 AM start time.

We were expecting a huge crowd and along with it, a huge traffic jam, but MIS officials did a good job of converting US-12 - a two-lane highway - into a three lane road with all three lanes leading towards the racetrack.

We were also expecting there to be a lot of domestic cars and domestic beer at and around the track. This was confirmed when we passed the first tailgate about 10 miles away from the track complete with burgers, eggs, and of course bud light.

When we got to the track, we met up with the TNT guy who pointed us to a pile of boxes that needed to be hauled to the various guest service tents that surrounded the track. Ryan, from TNT assured us that the boxes weren't heavy which sounded good to us since the track was 2.5 miles long, meaning the walk around the outside of the track had to be at least three miles.

Turns out the boxes were heavy. Very heavy. Who would have known that paper fans (which consisted of a circular paper cut-out stapled to a popsicle stick) would weigh so much? We figure we hauled around about 25,000 of these fans to the tents over the course of about an hour. Lucky for us, we were able to hitch a few rides on golf carts passing by to save our backs from completely giving out.

Part of our compensation for this back-breaking (literally) work was a ticket to the race. None of us had ever seen a NASCAR race, whether it be live or on TV so we briefly considered staying and watching, however common sense kicked in and we decided to sell our seats.

To gauge the market value of our $85 face value seats I went up to a guy trying to scalp his and asked how much he wanted for it. His seats had a face of $95, his asking price was $75. I said no thanks, I wasn't looking to spend that much and started walking away.

"How 'bout $50?" he asked.

"No, no thanks"

"$30?" as we keep walking. "20? 10?" he pleaded to our backs.

This was a very discouraging sign as we began our quest to scalp our tickets. We thought we could make some good money since the race was sold out and there were about a million people milling around in their campers in makeshift campgrounds set up around the track's perimeter.

Eventually, after 45 minutes of walking around MIS we were able to sell all three tickets for a combined $85. While we were disappointed that we couldn't get more than 1/3 of face value, we were all pretty content that we just made $128 for about two hours of actual work (including the work of selling the tickets).

All-in-all, it was a pretty interesting experience. There is a TON of money pumped into the sport from advertising and sponsorship. Just about every type of product imaginable was being marketed at the track. Some examples:

Vault energy drink (made by coke)
The Discovery Channels's "Ice Road Truckers"
The National Gaurd
LifeLock - the overall sponsor of the race. Apparently they sell identity theft protections. I'd never heard of them...
Jack Daniels

those are just a few of the sponsors that had booths set up selling or giving away products before the race.

Preconceived notions going into the race and how they turned out:
1) Lots of rednecks
It turns out NASCAR does a pretty good job reaching people from many demographics. There were a pretty good balance of men and women and what surprised me was the age range that the race drew. There were not a whole lot of kids (which was definitely a good thing since preconceived notion #2 was definitely accurate).
2) Lots of drinking
And as expected, everyone was drinking bud, bud light, with a few scattered coors light. Kyle pointed out that if we had brought a few garbage bags and collected empty cans we would have made another hundred dollars by returning them for the $.10 deposits.
Ironically enough, I read the next day that Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the race under caution which came when another driver spun out trying to avoid a beer can that a fan had thrown onto the track.
3) Lots of Fords, Chevy's, and GM's...and not just on the track
My Toyota was one of the few foreign makes in the lot. It seemed like everyone drove either a camper, pickup truck, or SUV. In fact, my car probably got twice the gas mileage than the majority of cars in the lot.
4) The literacy rate of the NASCAR fans would be less than we were used to
Well, to sum it up, the following sentence was just about the only line of text on the promotional fan that we were distributing:

"Are you the biggest RaceBuddy Fan out there? Upload your pictures with you're RaceBuddy "Fan" by going to NASCAR.COM/TNT and share them with others!"

Obviously someone working for TNT's NASCAR crew did not take grammar 101. There is no reason that fan should be capitalized and despite using your properly at the beginning of the sentence, they screwed it up the second time around. We figured about .5% of people there would notice the error.

All in all, it was a great experience. We got to see a totally different culture and despite not staying for the race, I think we got a pretty good feel for what race day is like at a major NASCAR track. I recommend giving it a try if the opportunity presents itself.


Anonymous said...

You spelled "sentence" wrong a few times while trying to critique someone else's grasp of grammar and the english language.....I'm just sayin'....

Rob S said...

Geez, tough critic.
Let's shoot for a NASCAR interview next year, Jeff Gordon, maybe.

Andrew Seid said...

As a NASCAR fan, I am offended by this article and its assumptions.

Fred said...

This article is total crap ... you must be happy for yourself acting all high and mighty.

The thing is you gave up one of the best things around ... actually watching a race in person.

What is wrong with Bud or Bud Light or are you one of those corona with the lime wedge ferries? If you are you arent a man ... man law ... dont fruit your beer.

Anonymous said...

It is certainly interesting for me to read the blog. Thanx for it. I like such topics and everything that is connected to them. I would like to read a bit more on that blog soon.

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Anonymous said...

Keep on posting such stories. I like to read stories like that. BTW add some pics :)