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WHEN NASCAR COMES TO TOWN

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.

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

“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, Las Vegas, Miami and Phoenix and Kansas City, MO.

I look forward to every weekend during race season, especially if I'm traveling to watch a race." said Ron Kromer of New Jersey. Kromer is the local chapter president of the Official NASCAR Members Club, the sport's fan club organization launched at last year's Daytona 500.

"I look forward to the tracks and meeting with other members from other states," he said. "I think being a member of the Official NASCAR Members Club has a lot to do with fans wantingt o travel to the races.

"The most fun we had last season was at Dover International Speedway. I organized a trip of three buses for friends and family to go see the race."

Plenty 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 the race on Sept. 3, Ravenswood Winery will create a wine garden at the track, featuring 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's Raceway Club at Turn 7 is a great example of a pricey indulgence. The package 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.

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."

Just the way fans like their favorite American pastime.