DOVER—Being around something long enough can make a person take even some of the coolest things for granted.
Such has been the case for me the past couple of years as everything about NASCAR has seemingly been focused on the negative, including declining attendance, sagging television ratings and a general overall blah that has seemed to dominate the sport.
Then, along comes a surprise afternoon like Wednesday, when Craftsman Truck drivers Ron Hornaday Jr. and Max Papis and Nationwide Series regular Ryan Truex came to Dover International Speedway to help promote the track’s upcoming May 13-15 NASCAR weekend.
Fans could get even closer to the sport that they love, and not just shoved aside by another public relations person.
Hornaday, Papis and Truex not only sold tickets at Dover’s ticket office on Wednesday, they also signed autographs and drove some season-ticket holders around the track in NASCAR race cars via the “Monster Racing” experience.
Mary Beth Larnick-Hughes has been coming to the races at Dover for years. She said that nothing compared to getting the chance to ride around the track at speeds of more than 120 mph.
On the life-experience scale, she rated it a perfect 10.
“Just because it was something out of the ordinary, it’s rollercoaster fun,” said Larnick-Hughes. “It was just crazy fun. I would certainly do it again. The first couple of laps I was just holding my head, going, ‘Boy, this is weird,’ and then I calmed down a little bit.”
John Baker drove an hour-and-a-half from Baltimore to ride around the high banks. Little did he know he would be doing it with four-time champion Hornaday.
“That was well worth the four laps,” Baker said. “I’ve been coming here for 10 years and have been a NASCAR fan all of my life. It was amazing the way those tires gripped, it just kept feeling like the whole car was going to slide around. That’s the closest I’ve been to racing.”
Even the drivers themselves admitted they get a thrill out of seeing the joy in the race fans’ eyes and the smiles on their faces.
“At the end of the day, I have great fun when I’m out there in my truck driving,” said Papis, “but at the same time, I still remember who was a kind guy to me when I was 12 years old when I went to see the race cars at the race track and who was not. So I just try to be myself. You try to make that time.”
It proved to be the kind of experience that everybody needs once in a while, just to remember what it was that attracted him to something in the first place.
For me, I got to take my place for the ride-along beside Truex, who recently had surgery on his right wrist and was wearing a cast. Not to worry, said the younger brother of Martin Truex Jr., he could drive with one hand at nearly full speed.
Oh yeah, that’s what attracted me to NASCAR—the speed, the color, the sound, the smells and the people. It only took a couple of hours on a midweek afternoon to remember that.
Contact Mike Finney at 734-7945 or firstname.lastname@example.org.