It’s 6:30am on a Sunday, and my cell phone rings. On any other early Sunday morning, it continues to ring, but this is no ordinary Sunday. Rather, it is Sunday, September 18, 2005 and somewhere in a land not too far from here, NASCAR Nation awaits.
As we have all been told many times before, the HBS experience is a transformational one. A collection of experiences that you would have otherwise never have experienced if not for the golden ticket that liberated you from the grind of corporate America and plopped you down in bustling Cambridge, MA. A trip to Bristol Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire with 30-plus sectionmates from OJ on this cloudy New England day would prove no exception.
A few months back, I would have never imagined there being such a strong contingent of NASCAR Nation this far north of the Mason-Dixon Line, but as we took the exit ramp towards Loudon, still 10 miles away from the track, I had strong indication otherwise. Construction cones littered the 3 lane country road, enabling 3 lanes of inbound traffic that moved inch-by-inch at what was now 4 hours before the race was to officially begin. With tickets costing $100 a pop, 100,000 strong were sure to get an early start and make the most of the day at the festivities, and we were no exception.
It was not too long after we parked our car that I had my first beer in hand. Busch Light seemed appropriate given our surroundings and the attire of sectionmates. One fashionably sported camo and a Coors Light t-shirt and another took the initiative to tear off the sleeves of his polo in the spirit of NASCAR Nation. Even more impressive were our neighboring tailgaters, one of which sported a shirt which read: “The 2nd Amendment: America’s Original Homeland Security”. I’m guessing this man was a Republican.
Several beers and several hours later, our contingent took to foot and headed for the grandstands. Highlights of the mile-plus walk included a landscape littered with trailers, which formed an unofficial capital of sorts for NASCAR Nation, and the traveling army of NASCAR loyalists hungry for some good ol’ fashioned racing action.
Once we arrived, the event as experienced from the grandstands was unlike any other I’ve attended – after all, I don’t think there are many sporting venues in this country that let attendees bring their own beer. NASCAR is strictly BYOB.
The race was packed full of drama. One particularly talked-about incident occurred between drivers Robby Gordon and Michael Waltrip. Waltrip wrecked Gordon’s car part way into the race, and Gordon retaliated by trying to hit Waltrip’s car with his own. Then, Gordon got out of his car, dodged race traffic, and tossed his helmet at Waltrip. Later, Gordon decided to auction off the helmet on eBay, with proceeds to go to charity, the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.
Gordon said the following about the incident: “People started asking me almost immediately after the race if they could have my helmet, and rather than just giving it away, we’ll use it to raise more money. Obviously I’m still angry about getting wrecked intentionally, but at the end of the day I still have a house to go home to which is a lot more than a lot of people can say. I hope people will dig deep and think of the big picture when they’re bidding on the helmet.”
After the Gordon-Waltrip incident, I was confident that I had gotten my fair share of the NASCAR experience. In what almost seemed like an aside, Ryan Newman emerged as the ultimate winner of the Sylvania 300, but as I so astutely observed, since that winner was neither #24 Jeff Gordon or #8 Dale Earnhardt, Jr., NASCAR nation seemed rather uninterested in the outcome.
The race wrapped up in the early afternoon and soon enough I was back at it on campus, taking down case after case in a place miles removed from NASCAR nation.
So, what does NASCAR have to do with life at HBS? Well, I’m not sure a whole lot, but I know that the chance of me experiencing NASCAR nation outside of HBS, let alone with a group of friends 30 strong, would have been slim to none. And while NASCAR will not be back in New England ’til sometime next year, NASCAR Nation has certainly found a home in the hearts and minds of Old Section J.