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I Heart NASCAR

Why stock-car racing gets Erica Singleton's motor running.

I grew up (and still live) in North Carolina, where there's a deep love of motorsports, and stock-car racing in particular. But I could never get into watching races on TV. I mean, really, 43 cars going around and around for two hours seemed like the very definition of redundant.

But in 2005, when I went to my first NASCAR race (the Subway 500 in Martinsville, Va.), it was exactly as one writer described: "part Disney, part Vegas, part Barnum & Bailey." More than a match or a game, a NASCAR race is an enormous party. And unlike football, where tailgating only happens on the day of the game, the festivities surrounding a race go on for a full week.

Moreover, the environment is different from other sporting events because you get much more access: Imagine being right on the sidelines for a whole football game or in the dugout with baseball players. You can even meet and mingle with your favorite drivers.

And that might explain why women have been NASCAR's fastest-growing group of fans. Today's drivers and pit crews have movie-star looks and rock-hard bodies. (Pit crew members are mostly former college athletes.) And should the race get repetitive, you can always watch the crowd instead. It's a veritable man fest, where you can look and sometimes even touch. While I wouldn't advise trying to get up close and personal with any of the drivers on qualifying or race days, it's a completely different story with crew members in the garages who aren't otherwise occupied.

In the past few years, I've learned a few things that NASCAR virgins will find useful. You should invest in earplugs, but you may not want to bring too much else, as speedways tend to limit the size and/or type of bags. You can cut costs by bringing your own refreshments; some tracks permit coolers, but usually nothing over fairly limited dimensions. Some speedways have no-alcohol (and therefore calmer) areas, which are definitely worth investigating if you're with kids. Policies for each track are listed at nascar.com.

Finally, getting to the speedway early isn't a suggestion, it's a requirement. Being stuck in traffic on your way to a stock-car race might be delightfully ironic, but it's also a total buzz kill.

How to Talk NASCAR
A pit pass allows you into the team garage and pit areas before races and during practice and qualifying runs; a cold pass is good until an hour before the race, at which point a hot pass is required.

Under a green flag, all cars are running.

A yellow flag means there's trouble on the track and the drivers must slow down and stay behind a pace car (or safety car), which sets the speed when a caution has been issued.

When the green flag reappears, the race is said to "go green."

The white flag means there's one lap left, and the black-and-white checkered flag signifies the race is over.

 
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