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Following their favorite driver, NASCAR fans congregate by the thousands

Judging by numbers, NASCAR really is America’s favorite pastime. A single NASCAR race can draw bigger crowds than a Super Bowl, a National Basketball Association finals game, and a World Series game combined.

NASCAR's cultural force also is felt in other ways, as its fans are the face of America's automobile and driving culture. A recently published Simmons National Consumer Survey revealed NASCAR fans own more cars, drive farther and simply like driving their vehicles more than non-fans--to the tune of 25-50% more in most categories.

And when race fans drive, often they're headed to a NASCAR tilt.

“Most NASCAR fans travel many miles to attend our events," Andrew Giangola, director of business communications for NASCAR, said. "Our research shows that about 25% travel more than 300 miles to attend a race.”

Once there, Giangola said, fans do more than just watch an exciting race. From pre-race tailgating to souvenir buying and post-race revels, NASCAR travel has become an American tradition.

Hit the Road

“Serious fans know where next week’s race will take place and precisely how their favorite driver is doing in the season-long points chase,” says Jay Ahuja, author of Speed Dreams. “And nearly all of them will gladly travel to every race they can get to."

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup racing season, under way since last February, lasts through November, running on 22 tracks in 19 states this year. The calendar is dotted with great city destinations, such as Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Miami and Phoenix.

Lots of Choices

Even if the race isn't rolling into one of the nation's largest cities, an enthusiastic throng arrives. A fan favorite is Richmond International Raceway, where the flag will drop May 6 and Sept. 9.

“We have hosted NASCAR’s top series, since 1953,” Keith Green, the track's director of public relations, said. “We’re a long-time favorite of the fans, drivers, race officials, and media. We’ve sold out 28 straight NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series events and (in 2005) we were voted the top track by NASCAR insiders in a NASCAR.COM poll.”

Richmond International Raceway is a popular track, but Richmond-area attractions also entice race fans to linger. The possibilities include theme parks like Busch Gardens and King’s Dominion, American heritage in places like Colonial Williamsburg and Washington, DC, the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Virginia Beach and the Southern heritage of Richmond.

NASCAR also plays well on the West Coast, where Sonoma Valley’s Infineon Raceway is a favorite destination, due in part to its location in California's wine country.

For 2006 (after being here in February, NASCAR races again on Sept. 3), Ravenswood Winery will feature the Ravenswood Wine Garden at Infineon, including a mobile marketing unit that features wine tastings, interactive displays, a wine learning center, and a wine lounge. Infineon’s Carneros Marketplace at NASCAR features local wines, fruit, cheese, breads, and more.

Those who travel great distances to NASCAR races often like to splurge once there, and Infineon provides a perfect example of the possibilities. The NASCAR Raceway Club at Turn 7 includes a weekend event pass, catered lunch on Saturday and Sunday of race weekend, total access to the VIP hospitality tent, closed circuit television, NASCAR driver appearances and fan forums, club credential holder and lanyard, race program and a reserved seat in the Turn 7 terrace area or in the shaded tent with television. Despite a high cost ($275 this year), Turn 7's 1,500 tickets sell out every time.

Driving Passion

In between the West and East coasts, many other tracks attract veteran and soon-to-be-veteran NASCAR followers. “My buddies knew I was hooked when I bought a $500 scanner, intercom, and headphone set that allows a friend and me to talk to each other as we watch the race and to listen to the drivers and crew members communicate,” Speed Dreams author Jay Ahuja said. “Once you’ve tried it, there’s no better way to watch a race.”

Ahuja says he loves donning his gear at any NASCAR track. “Unique facilities with their own quirks and nostalgia make any sport better," he said. "If they all look the same, why not stay home and watch the races on TV?”

One such place is Bristol Motor Speedway on the Tennessee/Virginia state line. It welcomes 160,000 people for races, typically including fans from all 50 states and a dozen countries. But the attraction isn't all race related.

“We have two sets of caverns for exploring within 15 minutes of the speedway," Kevin Triplett, vice president of public affairs for Bristol, said, "and the Holston River, with some of the best trout and smallmouth fishing in this region, is 20 minutes away."