By Connor Buestad
In my 24 years as a sports fan, there yet remains a whole host of sporting events that I have yet to witness live and in person. The Super Bowl, World Cup, NBA Finals, the list goes on. These are the type of events that, until you witness them in person, you can’t fully predict what they are actually like to attend.
Last month, by hook or by crook, I found myself with tickets to a pair of classic events: The United States Tennis Open in Flushing, NY and NASCAR’s Chevy Rock n’ Roll 400 in Richmond, VA.
My goal from the onset of this sports odyssey was to experience each event to the fullest, absorbing all aspects from the fans, to the customs, to the sport itself. I had never been to a major tennis tournament before although I am relatively hip to the sport itself, having played as a youngster. NASCAR, however, would be a completely foreign animal to me. If you want to count the fact that I’ve driven go-carts at Scandia Family Fun Centers and Malibu Grand Prix go right ahead. But let me repeat, NASCAR is a whole different animal.
Let me start by taking you through the transportation to each event. For the US Open I decided to take the Subway. Having never been to this neck of the woods in New York, I was careful and alert as to not find myself getting lost on my way. Little did I know this would not be a problem. All I needed to do was simply follow Polo by Ralph Lauren and I’d be fine. Collard shirt, Khaki shorts, designer watch, and a tan colored hat was the uniform of choice this day. Following those wearing said outfit would assure me of my safe arrival to the tennis grounds. Easy enough I guess.
My transportation to the Rock n’ Roll 400 began with a trip to the local grocer in Charlottesville, VA. There, me and my crew, all 20 of us, spilled out of our party bus to go fetch 30 racks of various light domestics. Back into the bus we went, embarking on a 90 minute jaunt into the heart of Virginia’s racing country. This joyride was made complete with talk of Tom Cruise’s epic performance in “Days of Thunder” coupled with a tutorial on the difference between a green and yellow flag.
After exiting the Subway I made my way toward to the grounds of the Open. A well dressed crowd of tennis fans peacefully walked toward Arthur Ashe Stadium, smiling faces and all. I was greeted by a young lady offering me a free sample of Oikos Organic Greek Yogurt. Ahh, how appropriate. In addition to Oikos Organic Yogurt, you had brands like IBM, Heineken Light, IBM, Lexus, Citizen, American Express, etcetera. All well respected names among the elite, all clamoring for attention at the Open.
Approaching the grounds of the Rock n’ Roll 400, I almost felt intimidated. Did I belong here? Do I deserve the right to be here right now? It felt like these NASCAR fans had been tailgating since Wednesday for the Saturday night race. Some probably had been. Fans proudly waved the flags of their favorite driver over their gigantic RV’s. The ultimate trifecta of Jean shorts, Cutoff shits, and a fanny pack was all too common. The area outside the racetrack turned out to be a marketing bonanza. The Home Depot, Coke Zero, Skoal, Redman, Klondike Bar, US Army, Bud, Coors, Miller, you get the idea. 20 minutes in, I was proudly sporting a Home Depot hard hat and wearing a free T-Shirt that the Army gave me for doing 10 pull-ups. The cigarette tents were perhaps the best part. If you called yourself a “smoker”, you were awarded a buffet of whatever type of smokes you wanted to try. Call yourself a “non-smoker” and you’re left with nothing. Makes you wonder.
It struck me as strange when I sat down at my first US Open tennis match and realized the crowd would be whispering for the majority of the match. For the most part, fans are there to sit back, enjoy the sunshine and root for a good match. Outside of a player’s loyal group of friends and family, most fans are not there to root on anyone in particular. Exciting points are applauded by loud clapping and not much else. Many fans listen to the match on the radio while they watch live. Perhaps the most memorable concession I saw was a Mojito stand sponsored by Bacardi. No doubt a popular place to be for tennis fans on a hot, late-summer day.
Maybe the biggest misnomer surrounding the sport of NASCAR is how deafly loud the races are. Earplugs are an absolute must. The speed of the cars is mesmerizing. The boredom of watching cars go around in circles for 400 laps is…not as bad as it looks on television. At this particular race in Richmond, fans were welcome to bring in a 6 pack of canned beer. The only catch is that imported beers are not allowed; at least this is what I was told by a NASCAR lifer drinking a Bud Heavy. I never did see an imported beer, so what the hell, this could actually be a rule enforced by racing officials.
In the end it came clear to me. The sport of tennis and stock car racing couldn’t be more different. From the rules, to the culture that surrounds the two sports, there is truly only one thing that they share in common. The love of competition.