By Joe Dunn
On the last weekend off for the Sprint Cup Series until mid July the Camping World Truck Series and the Nationwide Series headed to Nashville, for that tracks first NASCAR double header weekend. I arrived in Nashville on Thursday to get a chance to work behind the scenes with Ginnie Pritchett of NASCAR and Becky Cox of Nationwide Insurance.
The weekend experience for the fans began early Thursday as the local Camping World store cleared space in the parking lot for displays by Nationwide Insurance, O’Reilly Auto Parts, NASCAR Foundation and Nashville Superspeedway. Show cars for the Monster Energy Drink #4 Chevy Silverado truck of Ricky Carmichael, and the Conway Freight #16 Ford Mustang COT of Colin Braun, were joined by the Nationwide Insurance display that included both a Ford Mustang COT car and a racing simulator that fans could participate in.
There were plenty of souvenirs for the fans ranging from free tote bags, cups, T shirts and NNS decals from Nationwide, Ball caps from O’Reilly Auto Parts and Frigitowel, cooling towels from Frigitowel. . The Nashville Superspeedway also gave away Speedway Posters to all participants.
During the 3 hour event several hundred fans, traveling from near and far got to see the cars and trucks up close, participate in Q&A sessions with all of the 12 drivers attending and of course a full blown autograph session. Ray Dunlap from SPEEDTV was on hand to moderate the Q&A sessions and to introduce the drivers. These sessions were done in an open area of the parking lot in front of the store which allowed for free access for all of the fans to participate. Local radio and TV were on hand to do live ‘remote’ broadcast from the Fan Fest.
The program, which was a joint effort of NASCAR, Nashville Superspeedway, Nationwide Insurance and Camping World was well received and enjoyed by the many fans in attendance. The event, scheduled to begin at 5PM had fans lined up as early as 3PM. Jim Drummer of Nashville headed to the store straight from work to be first in line for the autographs. “ I’m here to see all of the driver’s”, Jim told me, “I really like Ricky Carmichael.” Behind Jim were fans from Baltimore, MD and Chester, S.C. who expressed their gratitude to NASCAR for brining the drivers out for the fans.
The Fan Fest was a new experience for store manager Rick Smith, “I’m real pleased with this, a larger crowd than I expected.” stated Smith, “ The weather is perfect tonight and this a beautiful crowd.” The Nashville Store is #12 in the Camping World system and one of it’s oldest retail locations. Smith was extremely pleased with the event and the Series sponsorship, “Camping World’s involvement in NASCAR has been a great thing, it has brought a lot of awareness for Camping World and events like this bring a lot of new faces into out stores.”
Among the drivers at the Camping World Fan Fest was Jennifer Jo Cobb, a rookie in the NCWTS. Because of a commitment at her hotel, the Courtyard, just down the road, she was forced top leave early. To be sure that any fans in line would not miss her, she left the autograph area and signed autographs for folks that were still waiting in line. She would not leave until she made it all the way to the end of the line. She then headed to the hotel, where her entire team assembled in the lobby to meet and greet fans.
Friday, the NASCAR group continued the Fan participation events at the track as 21 driver’s from the NCWTS and the NNS were transported convoy style from the garage area to the Expo area near the grandstands. Once there, a line of fans passed through the tent allowing every fan, access to every driver there. A similar event took place last year at Nashville, but this years crown far exceeded the number of fans. For a one hour period, hundreds of happy fans made their way though the line and exited with some great memorabilia and big smiles. This type of autograph session is becoming a big hit with fans at some of the stand alone events. As could be seen Friday at Nashville, this is something that NASCAR should try to expand on, imagine getting 15-20 NSCS drivers out like this!
The final Fan involvement event took place Saturday afternoon, as NASCAR, Nationwide and OnPitRoad joined together to do a ‘Tweetup’ in the Expo area. The 12:15 event went off nearly as planned. The bump in the road was the morning rain that delayed the start of qualifying by more than an hour. Driver’s scheduled to attend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Trevor Bayne, Shelby Howard (along with his crew chief Chris Rice) and John Wes Townley were forced to miss it due to qualifying. A surprise guest at the Tweet up was well received as Landon Cassill who was recently signed to drive the #7 NNS car for JRM for 4 races. Attendees of the Tweetup were treated to gifts from Nationwide, Zaxby’s and Suavemenracing, the sponsor of the JRM #88 car at Nashville.
Speaking of Suave for Men, the fans were not the only ones being treated this weekend. When I arrived at the media center Saturday morning, I was greeted by the folks from Suave who provided me, with a long overdue salon treatment that included a great haircut and style. No, I was not alone in this deal as numerous members of the media, as well as team members from JRM took full advantage of this promotion. It was all part of a Suave Men Racing promotion for the July race weekend at Chicagoland. It will be a head to head contest between the two JRM teams that weekend with the winner having a $40,000.00 donation made in their name, by Suave, to the Dale Junior Foundation. Check out the Suavemenracing facebook page for details.