I was offered an all-expense paid trip to the Sprint All-Star Race weekend courtesy of 3M and I jumped on it. They even let me bring one guest so I brought my boyfriend of 5 months along for the ride. It was his first NASCAR race and so we were both excited about the whole thing. I can report that our relationship is still intact and probably better off from the experience. If you want to test your relationship, spend 6 hours on a plane together.
We flew into Charlotte last Thursday night. I reserved a rental car (at my own expense) through Hertz because we were staying for one more day on Sunday and then coming home on Monday. So we got to the Hertz office and used one of the kiosks to complete the rental. Turns out the guy, Mike, that helped me “virtually” (he was physically in Oklahoma but we saw each other by cameras) was a big NASCAR fan and even organized a 30+ person fantasy league with his dad. I told him about my blog and he even left a comment on one of my posts by the time we got to the hotel. I just love meeting fellow NASCAR fans in totally random ways. It’s the closest thing I’ll ever have to being in a sorority, if you meet another NASCAR fan it breaks down barriers and you’ve got an instant conversation.
Our 3M Racing Experience began early on Friday morning as we met the other three bloggers (and their guests), the two (awesome!) Taylor PR people who were our “handlers/guides” for the weekend, and a communications person from 3M in the lobby of our hotel.
I must admit before I go any further that it was weird going to a race with a group of people and then staying with that group for the entire time. I always go to races by myself, so it was even strange being there with a significant other. It wasn’t a bad thing it was just VERY different. I learned to just go with it.
We went to breakfast at the Cracker Barrel (I’d never been to a Cracker Barrel and very much wanted to stay and look at everything in the shop, the candy selection alone was very tempting) and then headed over to Roush Fenway Racing for our tour of the shop.
This was, again, my first time visiting the inside of a shop. When I was in Charlotte two years ago for the All-Star Race and the 600 I visited a couple race shops but, of course, I was relegated to the museums and stores just like any fan. This visit was different because we were guided by Roush Fenway’s social media & web guy, Chip, and we had to wear protective glasses. And we couldn’t take any pictures. They didn’t want any of their hard work and secrets getting out.
They make everything for their cars in-house at Roush and the coolest thing was seeing the seven post machine in up close & in action. The seven post mimics 30 race tracks so they can test their setups for those tracks and see how it effects the cars. There’s a LOT of math involved which totally makes it not at all interesting to me in terms of how I would want to spend my time everyday, but the overall theory of it all is REALLY cool. It’s amazing all of the things they’ve thought of in order to find that edge on the competition.
In each of the rooms we were in there were vending machines from Fastenal (they sponsor RFR driver Carl Edwards) the dispensed parts & pieces. I thought that was interesting because I was expecting to see a soda machine. Apparently Fastenal can track the inventory of the the machine and which employee used what and then replenish them as necessary. It’s cool.
We got to see “white lightening” the room where they use dots to create 3D models of the car’s body. Talk about a crazy amount of science & math right there, it’s insane. We stopped by the pit crew training area where they have enough room to practice pitting two cars. The guys in our group attempted to pick up the tires, natch. Then we headed over to another shop where they paint the cars and put the decals on. I got to take a picture there, where the room smelled like Sharpies.
I wanted to figure out a way to convey all that 3M does and makes but it’s impossible. They make a TON of stuff. From the things you know and might use everyday, think Post-It’s and SCOTCH® tape, to NexCare bandages, to things teams use like industrial strength adhesives, car decals to ear plugs.
After our tour we spent a little time in the Roush Fenway Racing museum and then headed upstairs into their corporate offices for lunch. The BBQ pork sandwiches, macaroni & cheese, beans and banana pudding were from a place called Spoons. It was super yummy. We ate in one of the conference rooms and I have to say that it was truly crazy to be eating & sitting in RFR’s headquarters. The space itself is your typical office space but definitely nicer than the cube farms I’ve been used to (like 100 times classier than any newspaper newsroom). It was really quiet because I think most people might have been at the track that day.
However, Steve Newmark, the president of Roush Fenway Racing, was there and he saw us in the conference room and stopped in to say hello. He wasn’t scheduled to talk to us so it was a great treat to ask him questions about sponsorship and his job in general. He was very, very nice and honest about where he saw sponsorship headed. It’s basically what you’re seeing now, people signing on for a few races and figuring out if this is where they want to be and then gradually doing more in the sport.
After lunch we went to the track where everyone, except me, picked up their hot passes (I have a hard card) for the next day. Then we went straight over to the NASCAR Hall of Fame where we were met by out tour guide, Buz. He told us some great stories about some of the items in the Hall and then we took off on our own.
I’d been to the Hall before but this time I tried out the iRacing simulator with the rest of our group and promptly got kicked out of the race because I sped on pit road on accident (because I had an accident). I didn’t mean to! When they explained all of the rules of that thing before we got into the car my head was spinning. I was sure I wasn’t going to remember. Don’t speed here but you can speed here but not when this is happening. Ugh.
After the Hall of Fame we went back to our hotel for a break and then went back to the Uptown (aka downtown) area of Charlotte for dinner at Mez, a foo-foo-shi-shi restaurant in EpiCentre. The food was SO GOOD. The biggest debate at the table was whether or not the attendant in the men’s room was an employee of the restaurant or if he was just some dude trying to make a couple bucks.
Anyway, post-dinner we headed down one level to Whisky River, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s nightclub. The biggest focal point of entertainment was, of course, the mechanical bull where many an inebriated person attempted to conquer the bull. The women looking on to take pictures of their drunk friends and the men looking on hoping some woman’s top would fall down.
My boyfriend and I tried the photobooth that had the ability (supposedly) to take both of your photos and them mesh them together to show you an image of what your future children would look like. Well, my boyfriend is white and I’m black (duh) and the image we were given was of a boy that looked like Alfred E. Newman, the face of MAD magazine. Not cute! Thanks a lot Dale Jr.
And then we went back to the hotel where I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
Coming up next: The 2012 Sprint All-Star Race where we met Jack Roush & Greg Biffle!