Sunday, October 21, 2012

NASCAR Behind Scenes - Making of a Mom Fan


Before attending my very first NASCAR race last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway, I was just another woman who watched car racing once in awhile only if it happened to be on TV when I walked by. I didn't get it, never mind have any sort of appreciation or passion for the sport. I thought, "How could watching high speed drivers making hundreds of left hand turns going around in circles for hours on a track while racing each other to the finish line be very exciting?"

MBE partnered with Toyota for this post

Me in a Camry Racecar, Charlotte Motor Speedway

All that thinking changed drastically when Toyota Women Influencers Network (TWIN) hosted me and ten other influential women bloggers for an intensive NASCAR behind-the-scenes immersion trip experience in Charlotte, North Carolina. This is the story of how a unique and tactile opportunity turned me into a new fan of a sport I'd previously known little about.

Looking at this picture I know what you're thinking. I'm an unsafe race car driver that's not watching the road or wearing a seatbelt, helmet or any other safety gear, right? Don't worry. The image above was not taken in a moving, speeding vehicle, this is an actual race car that's been rigged for taking fan photos.

Liberty Walk near the NASCAR Hall of Fame

As I learned during my visit, Charlotte is indeed rich in Colonial history. But it's also a center for car racing history, too, and the NASCAR organization and the NASCAR Hall of Fame Museum are based here.

Historic Charlotte, North Carolina

For sure, working with Toyota as a member of  TWIN for the past nine months has been an adventurous ride for us privileged ladies hand-picked for the ambassador program. Along the way I've had the opportunity to learn and write about company news and a number of Toyota community initiatives like the Toyota Racing Dream Car Build as well as to do multiple vehicle test drives and reviews of various Toyota models including the Prius v, Prius c, and FJ Cruiser.

Lined up ready for the Start your engines! command

I've also had the chance to work with the brand's awesome in-house social media and marketing communications teams and interact with the racing promotions group as well as Toyota's external advertising and PR agencies Saatchi & Saatchi and Golin Harris.  Meeting and working together with some of the best women bloggers in the business has been really cool too, only adding to the thrill of this journey together.

Dollar General 300 Winner Joey Logano with us
L to R Dan Zukowski, Pam Jansen, Marc Spiegel, Golin Harris
Clint Bowyer exults on Victory Lane, Courtesy of Toyota

Simply put, this Toyota NASCAR adventure has got to be the sparkling crown jewel of  my TWIN experience thus far. Looking back with the sights, smells, vibrations and sounds of cars racing still fresh in my mind, it's hard to believe all we learned and everything we did in just the space of a little over two days on this trip.

TWIN gals with Denny Hamlin's Mom (Center)

The top-tier women bloggers on the TWIN NASCAR sojourn included

Me in the Toyota Suite overlooking the Speedway 
Toyota - Golin Harris team made this dream trip come true 

Not only did we have the opportunity to enjoy a bird's eye view from the Toyota Luxury Suite of two major NASCAR races: the Dollar General 300 in the Nationwide Cup Series and the Bank of America 500 in the Sprint Cup Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway. We also were treated to an afternoon to play at the race track's Midway in the afternoon and to explore the Toyota PitPass pavilion.

M&Ms Camry Race Car most colorful on the track

Below in this view from the glassed-in Toyota Suite high above the track is a short 36-second clip I shot of the high speed race action at the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway that featured the requisite 43 world-class qualified race car drivers. Nine of the ten top-tier race drivers competing for the Chase -- the World Series of car racing -- drove in this race. Driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr., son of the great late Dale Earnhardt and the tenth Chase candidate, was sitting out this race because of doctor's orders after suffering a concussion at an earlier event.

Video by

Just as exciting, Toyota provided us with a personalized and informative guided tour and Hot Passes to walk the grid, visit the garage and pit stops, and to go inside the roped off area at Victory Lane to help Toyota team driver Joe Logano celebrate his win. Another Toyota team driver Clint Bowyer (we got to meet and talk to some of his team's members in the pit before the big race) took the trophy for the Saturday night race. So I have a feeling that us TWIN gals were lucky charms for both these guys in Charlotte.

My tickets & credentials for Charlotte Motor Speedway

Clint Bowyer's pit crew chats with us before the BofA 500 win

But it wasn't only about going to the racetrack. We also had the chance to join in the fun of a NASCAR Fan Fest where drivers were signing autographs and where we met and talked with driver Denny Hamlin's mom in addition to doing some really fun interactive race-related activities. Plus we got to view various historical race cars and exhibits as well as to learn about and see what goes into building a winning race car by touring three different well-known shops in the area: Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing and Darrell Waltrip Racing.

At his namesake shop -- also the setting for the Fan Fest -- 3-time Super Bowl Championship coach Joe Gibbs treated us to a fascinating presentation just for our group and a walk on the floor of his working shop. 

During our Charlotte visit we visited Michael Waltrip's shop which offers tours to the public,too. Then, at another legend's racing shop we got to meet, chat and have lunch with retired race car driver super star Darrell Waltrip. Here we enjoyed his walk down memory lane museum of historical cars that he's personally driven -- a favorite stop for many of us including me.

Joe Gibbs and TWIN gals at his name sake shop 

Darrell's resume, BTW, truly is impressive. Not only is he one of just nine race car drivers ever to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame but because he is the voice of the character Darrell Cartrip in both of Disney's Cars movies on top of being a high profile sports commentator for Fox TV. He is also brother to fellow racer Michael Waltrip. With his engaging and down-to-earth style, Darrell -- who's darling wife of 43 years was with him for this event -- was truly the life of the party.

Vintage Fire Suit at Darrell's Harrisburg, NC shop
Darrell Waltrip tells about modern racing safety

Lunch with Darrell was entertaining
TWIN bus mate Katherine checking the itinerary

Since no Toyota event is ever complete for me without a community service element, I was also excited to be there when Samantha Busch, wife of NASCAR driver Kyle Busch, was declared winner of the Toyota Racing Breast Cancer Awareness T-shirt Contest benefiting non-profit Breast Friends.

Two of the the Toyota Breast Friends T-shirt Finalists  
Driver Kyle Bush reveals winning design by his wife Samantha
TWIN gals congratulate Samantha on her win

In between everything NASCAR that was going on there was even time for us mom and women bloggers to visit with each other and talk about our blogs and families back home. Over the course of our trip as Toyota's guests we enjoyed lunch, dinner and cocktails in several popular eateries in uptown Charlotte. These included elegant Aria and The Kings Table, a not-for-profit restaurant serving Southern cuisine that donates 100% of profits to feed those in need in the local community.

Office Depot Pit Crew rolls their car to the track

So many memories that I think will last a lifetime. Lucky I took hundreds of pictures with my own camera to try and capture it all. Still, it's a good thing to know that not only my ten TWIN gal pals were snapping away. Toyota had a dedicated photographer traveling with us the whole time to document the entire experience to make sure we didn't miss any of the many great photo opps!

A photographer snapping photos of our group

Another bucket list item checked off: Wearing a real fire suit -- this one previously worn by Martin Truex Jr. who is among the elite racers competing in the Chase -- during our tour of the Michael Waltrip Racing Shop. This trip was amazing and I can't wait for my next opportunity to go to another NASCAR event.

Me in one of Martin Truex Jr.'s fire suits, Image Courtesy of Toyota

FTC Disclosure: I attended this awesome NASCAR immersion trip as a guest of Toyota as a member of the Toyota Women Influencers Network TWIN community through a program with Clever Girls Collective.  I did not receive payment to write this post. The opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect the views of Toyota or any of its brands. See complete FTC Disclosure information that appears at the bottom of MommyBlogExpert's main page and at the bottom of every individual post on this blog, including this one.


  1. Such an awesome recap of our time at NASCAR! It was an experience I'll not soon forget. So glad that I could share this experience with you and the rest of the girls. :)

  2. Wow I'm impressed by this awesome recap!!! I had the best time and I'm glad you did too. Hope to see you again soon!

  3. Kristi and Andi, Thx for your kind comments. So glad we got to enjoy this amazing lifetime experience together. I'll never forget it for sure.