By Chris Slone
April 18, 2014
Professional athletes are celebrities and their field of play is considered to be Camelot, which doesn’t bode well for the die-hard fans that aspire to meet their favorite superstar or snap a picture from the 50-yard line of the hometown team.
For every day, hard-working individuals, those opportunities are non-existent because the chance of a lifetime comes with a hefty price tag.
However, the possibility of experiencing something surreal has arrived for interested participants and money is not the primary factor as the cost of admission will sufficiently award fans the opportunity of a lifetime.
On Saturday, April 26, fans in attendance of the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway have the chance to participate in the “Track Takeover.”
Before the race beigns, from 2-4:30 p.m., fans will gain access to the track where other opportunities await. Anyone with a Sharpie marker will be allowed to sign the start/finish line as they are walking around the .75-mile facility.
At different points around the track, there will be interactive opportunities for fans, which include a NASCAR hauler that fans can tour and a Goodyear booth, where fans can examine Goodyear racing tires.
There will also be a question and answer session with drivers Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, David Ragan, Parker Kligerman and Cole Whitt.
“We are giving people unbelievable access,” Richmond International Raceway President Dennis Bickmeier said. “I tell people all the time, you can not walk on an NFL field right before the coin flip. And that is basically what we are doing, we are letting people down on our field, our race track, just hours before the green flag. I think it’s going to be exciting for the fans.”
NASCAR has always provided a level of access to race fans that has been unmatched in other professional sports. However, even though Bickmeier is happy with the overall effort, he and his team are not content with maintaining the status quo.
“I’ve been in the sport for almost 14 years,” Bickmeier said. “Our sport defined fan access and we have to continue to stay on the leading edge. These types of opportunities, the interactions between our fans and their favorite drivers, is very unique. We have to continue to try to put fans as close to the sport as we can. Especially as we are introducing new fans to the sport. You are starting to see more families, it’s the next generation now coming to the race track.”
While the “Track Takeover” initiative is expected to become a success, Bickmeier is already planning for the September race. Nothing has been finalized but the goal is to have an announcement regarding the fall event before the spring race concludes.
While nothing is etched in stone, Brickmeier said he hopes to add something to the event every year.
“If you’re creating a memory like this, you want to make sure it has some sustainability,” Bickmeier said.”Our goal with this is to think long term. For our team, the challenge will be adding another layer each time to make it better.
“This is our first time through this and we have to get it right operationally. We are giving people a lot with this, but we also have to make it a good experience. Part of that is functioning operationally, so they will have a good experience. Every time we have a race and we do something like this, we will learn how to make it better and hopefully we will continue to improve for the fans.”
Throughout the country, different NASCAR facilities plan their own initiatives for race fans. And many fans have had similar opportunities thanks to Pit passes, which can be costly and are sold on a limited basis at each event. They are the equivalent of VIP passes.
The main goal for the initiative is to provide fans with the same opportunity without affecting their finances.
“This opportunity, for Track Takeover, is focused on providing more value for the ticket that fans buy to come watch the Toyota Owners 400,” Bickmeier said. “We want to provide fans more value for their dollar. We don’t charge for parking. Fans can bring their own food and beverage into the track, which is a great perk for our fans.”
Chris Slone can be reached at 353-3101, ext 298, or on Twitter @crslone.