Fans become family at NASCAR events

Differing favorites don't dampen camaraderie

cclaybourn@herald-leader.com, rclemons@herald-leader.comJuly 9, 2011 

  • First-time winners

    When Kentucky Speedway hosts its first Sprint Cup race on Saturday, it will be the ninth track newly added to the Cup schedule since 1993. A list of the tracks that have joined the Cup schedule since '93, and the winners of those events:

    Year Track and winner

    2001 Chicagoland, Kevin Harvick

    2001 Kansas, Jeff Gordon

    1999 Homestead, Tony Stewart

    1998 Las Vegas, Mark Martin

    1997 Texas, Jeff Burton

    1997 California, Jeff Gordon

    1994 Indianapolis, Jeff Gordon

    1993 New Hampshire, Rusty Wallace

    First-time winners at Sparta

    The winners of the first major races at Kentucky Speedway:

    NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: 2000, Greg Biffle

    NASCAR Nationwide Series: 2001, Kevin Harvick

    Izod IndyCar Series: 2000, Buddy Lazier

  • Saturday's schedule

    7 a.m.: Buses and trams for fans begin operations

    8 a.m.: Parking lots open

    9 a.m.: Gate 20 and Gate 20 ticket booth open. Souvenir Row and midway displays open.

    9 a.m.-8:30 p.m.: Ticket office hours

    9 a.m.-11 p.m.: Gift shop hours

    2 p.m.: All gates open

    2:40-3:40 p.m.: Pace-car rides

    5 p.m.: Pre-race concert by Clay Walker

    7 p.m.: Sprint Cup Series driver introductions

    7:30 p.m.: Sprint Cup Series race: Quaker State 400 (267 laps, 400 miles)

Days before Saturday's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway, racing fans gathered outside their campers in preparation for the track's first Sprint Cup race.

The thousands of campers that surrounded the track resembled a large neighborhood, but one with a common interest.

"We're one big community," said NASCAR fan Patti Dietz. "You've put together the two most friendly, most helpful groups of people — campers and NASCAR fans. If you have a problem with anything, anybody would help you."

That attitude brought Dietz and her group of friends together.

Most of them met at a Craftsman Truck Series race during the Kentucky Speedway's inaugural year, 2000, and their relationships persisted until the track's inaugural Sprint Cup race 11 years later. Dietz joined the group in 2004.

The group started when strangers offered to help Rex Lanman set up his camper.

The other nearby campers joined in, and Lanman said they all "just got to talking."

The 12 friends who hail from Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky traveled together to six or seven races in years past, including Talladega and the Daytona 500. Their traveling has diminished somewhat, but they're still close.

"We can't do all that anymore. We're getting too old," Lanman said jokingly. "But we all just kind of help each other out and hang together."

Now they all own adjacent spots among the 4,000 in the track's reserved RV area.

Their gatherings aren't limited to racetracks. Since they all live relatively close, Lanman said they meet up "quite a bit" throughout the year.

They get together for Halloween and Christmas parties, and sometimes they arrange to meet up for dinner.

"We're family now," Lanman's wife, Venus, said.

Campers Todd Tuttle and Ken Stinson, both of Youngstown, Ohio, enjoyed that same camaraderie NASCAR fans create.

Stinson and Tuttle said they and their six friends were in good company, including a local sheriff who stopped by to hang out.

"Everybody's nice," Tuttle said. "We have our stuff out here unlocked; nobody's going to take it.

"We drove the 5½ , 6 hours, and we'd do it again."

Friendly fans still give each other a hard time occasionally. Most campers have different favorite drivers, and they fly flags or put up some decoration that advertises their favorites.

"The more intelligent ones are Earnhardt fans," Rex Lanman said jokingly. "The less intelligent ones are Gordon fans."

That comment caused some impromptu ribbing amongst his friends.

"That's what makes it fun," he said. "If we all rooted for the same (driver), it wouldn't really be much fun. Now we can tease each other and give each other a hard time about their driver."

Some, such as Chevrolet fan Walt Whitacre, of Garrettsville, Ohio, choose their favorite drivers based on the car. Others go by the driver's sponsor. Tuttle said choosing a favorite is the fun part of the sport.

"It's all about the personalities now — picking your favorite driver, going by the merchandise tent," he said.

But even differing opinions on drivers can't divide NASCAR fans as sometimes occurs with fans of players or teams in other sports.

"It doesn't matter if you don't know someone, you still help them out," Rex Lanman said. "You may give them a hard time the whole time, but you still help them out."

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