The following feature appears in the March 2017 issue of NYLON Guys.
It seems like the sky is being torn in half. Forty cars engineered to battle g-forces have just hit their top speeds in unison, and the deafening, mechanical shriek sounds like an army of TIE Fighters arriving on earth to wreak havoc. But on this cloudless Sunday afternoon in South Florida, that bone-shattering noise doesn’t stir any panic, and the Rebel Alliance is nowhere in sight. On the contrary, as a toddler placidly chews an earplug that she probably should be wearing, the capacity crowd at the Homestead-Miami Speedway cheers and pumps their fists toward the sky in a shock wave of joyful adrenaline. It’s the start of the Ford EcoBoost 400, the last race of NASCAR’s 2016 playoffs, where one of four drivers will be crowned champion.
In a few hours, either Joey Logano, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, or Jimmie Johnson, whom Barack Obama once called “the Michael Jordan of NASCAR,” will be celebrating with his team and family in a storm of champagne and confetti. But for now, with 267 laps to go, the crowd at Homestead is content to just soak it all in, because as each one of them would tell you: There is nothing quite like seeing a NASCAR race live, in all of its roaring glory.
A race in NASCAR’s premier series, which last December was renamed the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, is the culmination of three days of events, all organized in the name of fan service. NASCAR, maybe more than any other sport, cherishes its fans, and stuffs each race weekend with autograph sessions, garage tours, and smaller races, and offers the kind of access other major sports reserve for the famous and well-connected. You don’t need to be in the one percent to stroll through pit road before a race or rub shoulders with the drivers themselves.
“There’s no other sport in the world where you can walk up to an athlete before the national anthem and actually stand beside them or be around them,” says Austin Dillon, a 26-year-old driver who was named NASCAR’s Rookie of the Year in 2012. “I have people every weekend where I have no clue who they are, that are standing within five feet of me before the national anthem, before the prayer, and as I’m strapping in.” And so, in the days leading up to the championship race—a 400-mile blitz around Homestead’s fearsome, oval-shaped track—the scene around the speedway is a dizzying panorama of stars, stripes, flags, sponsorship logos, military swag, tie-dye T-shirts, fuel tankers, fire crews, rubber, smoke, fire, country anthems, cheese fries, Bud Light, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, grandparents, and good will. Everyone’s happy to be there.