I spent several years working for Scotland County Schools as the public information officer, then at Richmond Community College as the marketing and public relations director, and during my time there, I had a regular spot on the live radio morning show on WLNC in Laurinburg. More times than not, in addition to host and station owner Gary Gallman, Neal Carter, then the pastor of Laurinburg Presbyterian Church, would be in the studio.
While 90 percent of the time we talked about local issues concerning the school district or the college, the conversation would inevitably turn to NASCAR as, at the time, I was writing a column for another area newspaper and working at Rockingham Speedway on the side.
Gary and I would launch into a conversation and Neal would inevitably provide comic relief or stare at us incredulously when we started talking about some esoteric nuance. We kept telling him to get to the track for a race and he would have a much greater appreciation for racing and, maybe, what we were talking about.
I left the area for the Raleigh area a couple years ago and Neal left for his native Concord and Rocky River Presbyterian Church shortly thereafter. During the Coca-Cola 600 weekend, Neal finally made it to the racetrack and I asked him to share his experience with me. It is always fun for me as someone who has been around the sport for a long time to get the perspective of a first-time race goer.
This is what Neal had to say about going to his first race at Charlotte Motor Speedway:
I went with a friend to see a mutual friend and his band perform in the fan area in the parking lot in front of the speedway. While I grew up in Concord, I had never been inside the speedway until this past year upon my return home after 30 years away.
After going for tours and several lunches at the Speedway Club, I finally was able to go to the track amidst the race-week festivities. I left with several observations:
1) These are events — not only a race. There is live music, food, fan appreciation, camaraderie, sports apparel and, of course, alcohol. This is sport, entertainment, interaction — it reaches all the senses.
2) There is an amazing array of color. From the Mello Yello booth to the M&M’s tent to the cars to the banners that cover the landscape, to the wardrobe dawned by the enthusiastic fan, the color just pops.
3) The sound is pervasive. Music, laughter, cheers, the announcer, and the cars making their practice laps with hopes and expectations of ending their weekend in the winner’s circle — the sound cannot be escaped. As I stood above turn one, the sound of the cars that glide by in their practice laps are loud — a loud that jars your entire body. As they pass by, there is little reprieve, several more approach with the same intensity and sound. Before you know it, the first car cycles around the oval to greet you with another thunderous boom of power and unfluctuating volume.
I looked down on the cars passing by, I notice a used pair of ear plugs sprawled on the ground at my right foot – a perfect image for the track.
5) The technology is extraordinary. The magnanimous digital screen that looms over the backstretch, the audio systems, the technology within the cars, the intricate assembly of each race team, the engineering of the track itself. It all melds together to debunk the image of racing as an unsophisticated sport.
6) This event is an economic engine running on all cylinders (pun intended). This track, this sport, this complex: all create an enormous amount of money and industry for this area. Like a rock thrown into a still pool, the waves reverberate out into the area in ways no other industry does in our region. Without it, our community would not enjoy the many amenities and other industry successes without the NASCAR industry here. It was an incredible and entertaining afternoon.
I am so glad I asked Neal to share his thoughts. Not only is he a very perceptive guy, but he has a great way of articulating his thoughts on what he experienced. I really appreciate him taking the time while at the race to do it. I try to write in this space from a fan perspective – as that is what I am, ultimately. It is refreshing to get a perspective from someone who doesn’t come to the track as jaded as a lot of the people I talk with on a regular basis about racing.
Thanks, Neal. I hope everyone who has made it this far enjoyed reading his thoughts on his first racing experience as much as I did.
Andy Cagle writes a weekly NASCAR column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.