Watching cars zoom around a track at unimaginable speeds is a great American past time for some. It’s not something I really grew up watching. I know a few big names but that’s about it. The extent of my racing knowledge is grounded in Talladega Nights and Disney/Pixar’s Cars, the animated movie. Now the guy I used to date was really into racing and I had gone to a few drag races, and even some dirt track races with him. I’ve even seen the inside of the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the snow. However I had not been to an actual NASCAR event and taking a solo day trip to Daytona Beach, Florida to one of the Sprint Cup series races was a unique adventure, even for me.
The Smithfield Brand invited me to come over to Daytona for the Coke Zero 400 last week and I jumped at the chance because as long as I have lived in Florida, I’ve actually never seen the Daytona International Speedway. Smithfield is the brand that fuels the Richard Petty Motorsports Sprint Cup Series race team No.43 with bacon. No really guys it says so on the No. 43 car and everything. They are one of the major brand sponsors for the RPM team and they held some kick booty events as part of the Coke Zero 400 festivities. Here’s a list of my favorite moments from this non racing fan’s epic first NASCAR race experience.
1. Getting Credentials
Apparently credentials is THE THING to have at a NASCAR event. It gets you access to areas that people with just normal grandstand tickets for the race don’t get. I’m really not 100% sure what all I had access to. I just walked into places until I was told that I couldn’t enter and that never happened so I had access to all the things!
I had Pit and Garage access as well as access to the infield and Sprint Fanzone area, which had food vendors, a stage for entertainment and Q & A’s with drivers, access to the fan deck and the garages where you can see the car inspections take place. I even bought myself a Daytona Speedway Lanyard to hold my credentials so that I looked like a real race fan. Plus it was a great cheap souvenir for my son who couldn’t make the trip.
2. Parking for Free
I’m not exactly sure where I should have been allowed to park. When I picked up my credentials I was told that it didn’t include a parking pass. However some of the other bloggers were able to park somewhere with their passes. I ended up finding Lot 7. It’s basically just a giant field a bit of a ways from the speedway. However if you park in Lot 7 they have air-conditioned buses running to take you to the speedway. I parked and hopped on the bus which was able to take a special shortcut so it was literally a 5 minute ride to be dropped off at the raised walkway.
3. It’s a Carnival – Basically outside of the race, it’s like the county fair! There was even a Ferris wheel and bumper cars. The major sponsors are there with games, prizes, free swag, free samples, and interactive experiences. Drivers made appearances all day for various events and there’s tons of food vendors and places to purchase merchandise, like the poncho I got because it was looking like the storm was going to roll in and ruin my life (and my camera).
4. Smithfield Stage
The Smithfield Brand had a huge presence in the fan zone. They had a spin the wheel game where fans had a chance to win a prize. I won a cute little mini piggy key chain. They were also giving away rib samples and coupons. Now that’s how you lure in a crowd. The line for free ribs was super long but it moved fast. They also had a free photo booth where you could take fun pictures and print them out. It was also a great way to escape the blazing sun for a few minutes. They had a No. 43 car on hand for fans to get some cool photo ops.
5. Whole Hog Challenge
The Smithfield Whole Hog Challenge is a series of amateur competitive eating contests. Qualifying contests will be held at races throughout the 2015 racing season at other tracks. The winners of each qualifying contest will receive a trip to the Homestead race in November to compete against other qualifying event winners throughout the season for the title of Smithfield Whole Hog Challenge Champion.
The competitors had to eat 8 ribs in the fastest time. The contest was emceed by Aric Almirola, a Tampa native and driver of No. 43. None other than Mr. Richard Petty came out on stage to oversee the event and sample a few ribs himself . Celebrity Chef Justin Leo, from American Q at Orlando’s B Resort was also there as a guest judge. The crowd was really excited to see The King.
Listen, even I know about The King, mainly due to the Richard Petty Driving Experience where you can do a ride along in a real race car on a race track. He is a racing legend so it was very cool to meet him. He was kind enough to say hello to my Periscope viewers during the my live streaming of the competition. They sent tons and tons and tons of hearts to show their appreciation for Mr. Petty.
Executive Chef Justin Leo (right), No. 43 driver Aric Almirola (left)
The competition contestants were both men and women. It was over in a flash! The winner devoured his ribs in just over 2 minutes time. He will receive a trip to the Homestead race in November to compete against other series event winners throughout the season for the title of Smithfield Whole Hog Challenge Champion. The Champion will win a trip to the 2016 season-opener race in Daytona! I wonder if they will let me enter my son….hmmmm. Possible conflict of interest but I’m pretty sure the boy could win it all.
6. Riding in the Pig Mobile
Smithfield has the best golf cart in use at the event. Nothing says boss, like a golf cart with a pig snout right? Why ride around the speedway grounds in a boring plain ol’ golf cart when you can be pink and fabulous? I loved it.
7. Signing the race track
I was able to take a stroll on the actual track. This was seriously cool to me. You don’t have to be a racing fan to appreciate that this isn’t something everybody gets a chance to do. It was also neat to see up close just how much the track inclines. It’s actually really difficult to even walk up the side of it because it’s very steep. I signed the track and the finish line. Who knew that was even a thing? But it is and I did the thing! Go me.
8. Meeting The King
I got a chance to chat with Aric Almirola and take pictures. I also got a chance to chat with Mr. Richard Petty. He even took a selfie with me and signed my credential! In the words of Lightening McQueen, Ka-Chow! Are you jealous? You should be. Richard Petty is a very big deal. I have to say that they were both super nice and very gracious.
9. BBQ with the team
Chef Justin Leo, Executive Chef at American Q at the B Resort Orlando, prepared a 4th of July style BBQ spread before the race at the team hauler. How much pork does it take to fuel a motorsports team? According to Chef Justin, 54 racks of ribs! That’s a lot of ribs.
This was by far my favorite part of the day because I love BBQ and also because nothing makes me smile like a handsome hunk of man on a grill. My ladies can relate I’m sure. Watching Chef Justin flip ribs on the grill was not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
Chef Justin and his team prepared a mouthwatering menu of ancho chile rubbed St. Louis style pork ribs, his take on a corn casserole, maple smoked white cheddar macaroni and cheese, coleslaw garnished with fried pork skin, and BBQ bacon-wrapped Chorizo stuffed sweet peppers.
I joked with Chef that I’m a Texas girl so I’m a barbeque snob and I didn’t want him to feel any pressure in trying to impress me — boy was I impressed. I enjoyed everything on my plate and it was hard to show some restraint. Eating ribs is down and dirty business and I was wearing white pants. I put aside all pretense and dug in and by some miracle I didn’t mess up my pants! Outdoorsy Diva for the win.
The star of the show was the stuffed peppers. It was seriously one of the best things I’ve put in my mouth so far this year. No exaggeration. As foodie adventures go this was a resounding crowd favorite. The best part, Chef Justin shared his recipe! I feel a new kitchen adventure in the works this summer. Subscribers can look forward to the recipe in their next newsletter. You will want to try this one so if you’re not a subscriber yet, make it happen today.
10. Tackling a new adventure and letting go of personal perceptions
I am compelled to share with you a moment of honesty. While I was excited about this opportunity, I was also a bit apprehensive at the same time. The racing culture has a certain stereotypical element that hasn’t always been the most culturally inclusive. To put it bluntly, in my skewed view of the world, I thought that stock car racing was only an activity enjoyed by rural white America and that a black woman there alone would not be a welcome sight. I was slightly afraid but I’ve never been one to let fear stop me from having an experience. I was expecting a sea of confederate flags and a feeling of isolation and had even mentally prepared myself to ignore insults or queries as to why I’m there.
What I got instead was smiles and welcomes and friendliness across the board. Sure there was the occasional rebel flag wearer but it was literally less than I can count on one hand and not the 100s I was expecting to see. While blacks and other minority groups were most certainly outnumbered, there was a more then respectable number of black racing fans and other black women. I’m probably not far off in guessing that there are probably more black fans that stay away due to the same misconceptions that I personally had as well.
We can’t paint an entire group of people with one wide brush. I’m happy that I had this new adventure and had my horizons broadened. I hope that more of you won’t let your assumptions keep you from trying something just because you think you might be in the minority. We are all bonded by humanity so go and live your life to the fullest.
I know, I know. I gave you a list of my top 10 moments from my first NASCAR race experience and none of them involved the race itself. There was a very late rain delay and being a Sunday evening I had to make the drive back to Tampa. I did however feel fully invested to tune in and cheer on No. 43. It was after 2 am when the race ended but I managed to see a few minutes at the beginning before falling asleep.
Would I go to another race day? Absolutely. Essentially you could go and enjoy the vendors, freebies, celebrity appearances, and the various activities without having any type of ticket in the general public fan zone area. All of that could be accessed for the low price of Free.99. I would actually like to see some of the races so I’m sure I will make my way to another race eventually.
Disclaimer: Smithfield invited me as a guest to be an on the ground reporter attend the experiences of race day. Credentials and other perks were provided in exchange for my honest opinions about my experiences during the day. Full Disclosure