My First Non-IndyCar Experience

I have long been a critic of NASCAR, as it has never really appealed to me. Ever since 2005, I have been IndyCar or bust. I've fallen in love with IndyCar so much and watching their races is some of the best moments of my year. I watch the occasional F1, NASCAR, and endurance race, but nothing has stuck with me quite like IndyCar.

But when I heard that the ARCA Series, a stock car series that is not officially sanctioned by NASCAR though the influence is apparent and obvious, was going to be about 20 minutes from my house, I had to check it out.

I traveled to Elko Speedway, in the town of Elko New Market which is about 10 minutes outside of the edge of the Twin Cities, to see my first ever non-IndyCar race. I had no expectations and no idea what kind of race I would see, but I was just hoping it wouldn't be like a Monster Energy NASCAR race, which puts me to sleep.

Once I got there, the good impressions started. All told, the night cost me $28 bucks, $20 for the ticket (pretty damn cheap) and two beers. Right when I got there, the drivers were having an impromptu autograph session on the grid next to their cars. I was thinking, how about that for access? You can just walk right up to the drivers who had hero cards to sign for the fans. Considering that kids got in free, this is a great way for ARCA to expose their drivers to new fans. It is also important to note that it is held only an hour before the race when a lot of fans are there, rather than the morning of the race or the day before the race when few people are there. I was already thoroughly impressed.

When they fired the engines, I felt like someone kicked me in the heart. THEY ARE SO LOUD! It was awesome. When the race started, I knew it was going to be a good race. The track was so small and the speeds were not great, but the tight turns track meant that passes would be tightly contested on the outside.

Also, their first pace lap is called the wave lap. Us fans stand up and wave to them, and I thought, this was a nice way to show our appreciation to the drivers. The best part? Almost all of the drivers stuck their arms out the window netting as far as they could and waved back! That image will stick with me for a very long time. Hard to find imagery like that of sheer fan appreciation!

Winning driver Austin Theriault (Photo: 929 The Ticket)

One thing that surprised me was the differences in the chassis in the field. Two-thirds of the field were in the brand new specs of stock cars that are comparable to the cars in the Monster Energy Series, whereas the rest of the field were in the old models comparable to the NASCAR cars before they launched the Car of Tomorrow, and thus were virtual sitting ducks the entire race. I referred to these cars as the "B" Class cars in my tweets. These were usually low budget teams with few mechanics who were out there for the love of racing.

One thing the "B" class did was enhance the racing. I pictured it like a stock car version of IMSA on an oval. There was no way a "B" class car was going to finish in the top-five, but they had good battles amongst themselves. While they battled, they also made the faster "A" class negotiate around them. Since the track was so short, that meant it could be every five-seven laps. I enjoyed the battles all throughout the track!

Another thing that was impressive was that for the small cohort who attended the race, the fans who sat around me seemed well versed in the knowledge of stock car racing and the drivers who were racing. I honestly had no idea who was in the race or what teams were there, while many fans around me knew who every driver was and could rattle off some facts about each driver.

While the race was awesome on all fronts, it was the finish that was utterly spectacular. With four laps to go, the field went green and had a exciting shootout. Four cars broke away, with bumping and shoving occurring on all four laps. Austin Theriault won in a photo finish despite only leading 4 of the 250 laps!

Coming to the line, fourth placed driver Riley Herbst, who is a Joe Gibbs Racing development driver, wrecked Zane Smith, who was demolished by two cars at speed coming to the finish. Looking at the replay, Herbst, who I thought was driving like an entitled clown all night, completely dumped Smith. Herbst was on a confusing tire strategy. He took new tires late in the race during a caution and put himself in the back of the field, and was hyper aggressive trying to get back to the front. First comparison that comes to mind is the track temperament of a Kyle Busch, another Joe Gibbs driver. I was not impressed with him.

Riley Herbst, who had the best looking car but the worst race craft (Photo: ARCA)

While the crash at the finish was a little sour, the race to the finish was exhilarating. I caught myself giggling like a little five year old when the cars were battling side-by-side in the last half of the race. The noise, the side by side, the lap traffic, the friendly fans, the relatively cheapness of the attending the event, the access to the drives, and the product put on made for a memorable event. I really enjoyed myself!

Having said that, I still can't justify sitting down for three hours to watch a Monster Energy NASCAR Series race. While I had an absolute blast at the ARCA race, it is different watching on TV. I think NASCAR can make the steps to get me to watch it on TV (shorter races, shorter schedule, more side-by-side action, less gimmicks, no chase / playoff system / whatever the fuck they do next year when they change it again, etc.). So I did have a lot of fun, but I'm still nowhere near getting on the NASCAR bandwagon.

Let me know what you think!

-Matthew Hickey