Wednesday, October 3, 2012

My First Monster Mile

Welcome to the Route 30 Detour! US Route 30 intersects at I-95 in Philadelphia and goes from coast to coast, including passing through Pittsburgh and the home of Drexel University SMT student and blog contributor, Bryan Fyalkowski (@fyalkowski)...

I attended my first NASCAR race this past Sunday (Sept. 30, 2012); the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway. Since I began to "follow" the sport a few years ago, my interest, knowledge and curiosity in it has grown tremendously. When my roommate, a rare (or so I thought) northern NASCAR fan, had an extra ticket for me, I jumped at the opportunity to join him.

When he told me he wanted to get to the track around 10am for the 2:15pm race, I was not necessarily in favor because it meant we would have to leave Philadelphia at 8am on a Sunday morning. When we arrived, however, I realized I was in for a very unique and fun experience.

Outside of DIS, which was probably the most gargantuan sporting venue I have ever seen, there was a carnival-esque setup that stretched for about a mile. If you want to see a clinic on sponsorship activation, I suggest you attend the next available NASCAR race.

First of all, DIS has a huge structure of the Monster Mile mascot outside of the entrance with past winners' names etched into plaques that are placed around the bottom. A few hours before the race, Brian Dawkins, who was serving as the grand marshal (guy who says: "Gentlemen, start your engines!"), did an interview right below the statue.

The SPEED channel set up a stage with the four analysts around a desk with the crazed fans in the background waving their arms and their own signs. The signs had big Sunoco (the Official Fuel of NASCAR) logos on them and could be created at a booth just across the way.

Chevrolet had a big area with Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s #88 National Guard car and Kevin Harvick's #29 Budweiser car. They had a new Challenger and a square table with computers set up to input your name and contact information to receive a free t-shirt.

Sprint set up an area where you could take a picture with the Sprint Cup and have it sent to your email. Meanwhile, there was an emcee on stage with the Miss Sprint Cup girls, throwing free caps to the fans who screamed the loudest.

AAA has to overcome people referring to the race just as the "Sprint Cup Series at Dover" and attempt to leave their footprint on an event for which they actually have the naming rights. AAA had a setup with the winner's trophy of the Monster Mile guy holding a Sprint Cup car in his hand. At one point, the people at the boot held a water balloon toss, where the winning pair received a hat and the losing participants got earplugs (which were absolutely necessary, by the way).

3M, sponsor of Greg Biffle's #16 Ford Fusion, set up an area and fans were lining up to receive free home supplies such as sponges, tape and post-it notes. 5-hour Energy, sponsor of Clint Bowyer's #15 Toyota Camry, was giving out free samples of their product and throwing them into a large crowd in front of their setup.

US Army, sponsor of Ryan Newman's #39 Chevrolet Impala, posted up with a hummer, a table with unloaded firearms and a man dressed up in mossy camouflage. Then, one of the soldiers began pumping up the crowd and asking his bud to shoot t-shirts out of his launcher at the loudest section of fans.

National Guard had an area where fans could see who could do the most push-ups as service men and women cheered them on. Anyone who did at least 20 got their choice of a water bottle or t-shirt, while other service men and women gave out #88 stickers, magnets and lanyards. My roommate did the push-ups while my fat ass got in line for the free stuff.

Drive to End Hunger, sponsor of Jeff Gordon's #24 Chevrolet Impala, set up a spot where they held a hourly trivia contest where five fans would answer questions about Gordon and senior hunger in the United States. The winner of the trivia would receive an autographed Gordon item while the losers would received Drive to End Hunger wristbands and drink koozies.

Not to mention, each driver worth rooting for (excluding guys like Dave Blaney, JJ Yeley, etc.) have their own truck in which their employees sell merchandise with their name and sponsor on them. Although drivers like Earnhardt, Gordon and Jimmie Johnson have the most crowds around their trucks, I found the most interesting tidbit from my visit to Brad Keselowski mobile headquarters.

Keselowski drives the (Blue Two) #2 Dodge Charger, sponsored by Miller Lite. While purchasing a t-shirt from his team's truck before the race (which Keselowski would ultimately win and jump to the front of the Sprint Cup standings in the process) I was asked to show my ID to the worker in the truck so I could buy a shirt with a Miller Lite logo.

NASCAR is a unique sport because a fan does not actually see his or her favorite driver during a race. The only thing a fan has to associate with a driver is the number of the car and its sponsor. Even with this huge obstacle, NASCAR drivers connect with their fans as well as any other sport, probably even better.

I witnessed this firsthand at Dover, where some drivers would actually come out to their sponsor's tents and have interviews just a few hours before the green flag. Juan Pablo Montoya came out to the Chevrolet area, Denny Hamlin had a brief interview in the FedEx tent, Mark Martin answered questions near the AAA setup and many more.

Since there are no timeouts, halftimes or breaks in the action during NASCAR races, sponsors have to be more creative with their activation during pre-race and post-race events. It is a highly sponsor-driven (no pun intended) business, but unlike any other sport.

As I said before, if you intend to be a sport professional and have never been to a NASCAR race, I highly suggest going at some point. You will get a one-of-a-kind experience you cannot get anywhere else.

Enjoy your trip back to I-95 and I'll see you next week!

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