The Lifelock400.com race live…at the NASCAR Hall of Fame
You can either call it a unique night out at the movies or Charlotte on the cheap. I didn’t realize the NASCAR Hall of Fame was simulcasting races until recently. Now that’s a pretty cool idea. Take the theater inside of your Hall of Fame and use to to broadcast a Sprint Cup race during off hours. Okay, so that essentially relegates it to Saturday evening races, and we know those nights are thin on NASCAR’s Sprint Cup schedule (pssst…how about Nationwide races then?). Five bucks got me into a live broadcast of the Lifelock400.com race from Chicagoland, use of a scanner for the evening, and the simulator experience. That’s a can’t lose proposition for a Saturday evening.
Now don’t think you’re going to get to see the entire hall on five dollars. They make sure that doesn’t happen. They lined us up along S. Caldwell, which is away from the entrance to Glory Road. In fact, it’s underneath Glory Road right at the entrance to the 278 seating capacity Belk High Octane Theater. Alright, no big deal. I’ve seen Glory Road before and I’ll see it again. The second line was for the use of the scanner. These aren’t the bulky Sprint scanners with the little TV screen that you rent at the track. This scanner is about the size of a candy bar and works off of relays positioned below two corners of speakers. They also gave me a sheet for driver channels and a small pen light to see in the dark. It only has a 31 channel capacity, one of those is for the PRN broadcast and the other for NASCAR officials. Not every driver has a frequency to peak in on. Not that it’s a big loss. I mean, how many Bobby Labonte fans are there who feel a need to tune in to his driver/pit crew chatter? How many Bobby Labonte fans are there, anyway? If you know any, I’ll bet you make fun of them.
I’m also figuring that the concessions and cash bar would be where the hot coal raking would really start. What a shock! The concessions were only mildly overpriced! Four dollars for a bucket of popcorn is still a bit of a ripoff, but you do get a lot. If memory serves it was four dollars for beer, $4.50 for nachos, a buck for a bag of chips, etc.. I saw beer going for ten dollars at the Verizon Wireless in Charlotte for Phish a little over a week ago. This might as well have been a buy one/get one in comparison. Popcorn would be in my future, but not just yet. Let me lay claim to an aisle seat.
Here’s the thing about the Belk High Octane Theater. It’s wide. Real wide. I’m talking a 64′ wide curved projection screen, three screens melded into one. When I got there, which was a little after 6:30, they were already showing TNT’s broadcast. And it looked really cool. The center screen had the main TV broadcast, the left and right screens had different feeds. No commercials! Whenever TNT cut to a commercial the feed stayed live with on track natural audio. Sometime before 7 they started making calls out to anyone who wanted to do the simulator experience. I did it once before, played with the standing iRacing ones at other times, I have the hang of it. Sure, I’ll do it again! Besides, I’m tired of listening to the lady in front of me complain that she can’t hear anything coming from the scanner. Maybe if she looked up and saw that the drivers weren’t even in their cars yet…
This is the other time where they make sure you don’t wander off to check out the exhibits. At no time where we ever left without a hall employee. The simulators are on the floor above, just beyond the Hall of Honor. You could peek in, just don’t attempt to walk in. I know how this works, I don’t need the tutorial, just put me in my side of the car. They gave me the passenger’s side of Kurt Busch’s #2 Miller Lite Chevrolet Impala SS. Whatever. At least it wasn’t Jeff Gordon’s. Instead of racing Charlotte like last time, these simulators were programmed for Chicagoland. Get in the car, and remember where everything was. I know it’s smooth over speed, let the speed come to you. Ease out of pit road towards turn one, the first left comes almost immediately. You quickly come to realize that Chicagoland is nearly all turn. My initial lap was mostly hesitation just to see what the track was like, plus to get a feel for the car.
First lap: 0:44.944. Embarrassing.
By now I’m feeling comfortable with the car and track, and my foot is heavier on the gas. I’m starting to find my line and ride it for all it’s worth. I feel like a pro because I can feel the track come to me. I’m still hesitating but not nearly as much. In my mind I’m ready to just gun it.
Second lap: 0:36.671. Not so bad.
By now I’m seeing my speed reaching upwards of 160 mph. I’m white knuckled on the wheel and getting the sensation that she’s drifting about towards the wall coming out of turn 1. I come damn close to hitting it but not quite even though I do NOT want to hit that brake for any reason. I’m barreling down the back straightaway only to have the banking drift me up the high side next to the wall around turn 3. She wants to hit the barrier but I don’t let her. I barely ease on the gas but still refuse to touch the brake. Finally it comes to a rest.
Final lap: 0:35.837. Nearly nine seconds off of the first lap. Awesome. I leave convinced that Rick Hendrick is waiting to sign me to a multimillion dollar a year contract with big name sponsors lining up to get their ad on the hood of my car. Models, commercial deals, and championships await me. Fame! Fortune! Glory! Until it’s time to herd us back into the theater.
I get my popcorn, the last of the simulator folks file in, and we’re ready to race. We all stand for the invocation, take off our hats and cover our hearts for the national anthem. Now the screen is split with TNT’s broadcast dead center, Tony Stewart’s in dash cam to the left, and an alternate feed to the right. As the drivers pull out of pit road I find Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s frequency and listen to that for a bit. As the race progresses I look for various situations on the right screen to see what those drivers are saying. I find Kyle Busch’s frequency to see exactly how long it would take for him to drop the first F-bomb (about fifteen seconds, give or take). If anyone got PRN’s broadcast, I’d love to know. I didn’t hear it during the race nor during TNT’s commercial breaks (which, again, we didn’t see as they stayed live with natural audio). The biggest cheer of the evening went to Jimmie Johnson, not for taking the lead but for having what seemed to be Martin Truex Jr. take air off of Johnson’s spoiler, sending the #48 into the grass. And good for David Reutimann. He deserved to win at least one complete race. I just wish the race itself was more exciting. With the exception of watching Reutimann hunt down Jeff Gordon for the lead, Robbie Gordon’s brakes locking up and smashing into an already spun out Bill Elliot, and the aforementioned Jimmie Johnson incident, not much happened. It figures that the time I get to do this, the race itself was a dud. Uneventful as it was, the use of the scanner and three different angles still made it look frenetic at times, essentially making a boring race a lot better. I’ll bet last week’s broadcast from Daytona was hot. I won’t complain. The setting alone made it a blast.
Total cost of my evening out? Nine dollars. The simulator alone during normal operating hours is five dollars. I got to drive that thing and still watched the race for free. Had the garage next to the hall actually charged me to park it still would have been only fifteen bucks. That’s a deal that even the most passive NASCAR fan would have a hard time avoiding.
So, NASCAR Hall of Fame. Nationwide simulcasts. How about it?