While the Chiefs were in Buffalo this weekend, one professional sport made its way to Kansas City.
This past Sunday, I attended the NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway with my cousin. This was the first professional sporting event I had attended since the COVID-19 pandemic, and I must say that NASCAR did a great job with the protocols.
The track was allowed anywhere from 14%-18% capacity, which left anywhere between 3,300 and 8,640 tickets being sold. What the track did was have three gates open, and they had designated times for certain sections of the grandstands to enter and get screened. For example, I sat in Section 113, Row 6. This placed me to enter through Gate B at 1:00. Screenings took place at the entrance, as well as any additional time you had to re-enter if you were to go out and buy merchandise. There were fans evenly spread out throughout the grandstands, as well as some fans camped out in the infield in RVs.
NASCAR is deep into their playoffs. Kansas was the first race of the third round, with eight drivers left. The race came down to a battle between 2018 Champion Joey Logano, who has won twice this year, and 2014 Champion Kevin Harvick, who has a career high nine wins. After Harvick led for 85 laps earlier in the race, it was Logano who took the lead during the final pit stop. Harvick followed close behind for the last 42 laps, but Logano held him off to secure a spot in the championship race at Phoenix, where he won in March.
NASCAR is a sport that doesn’t nearly get as much national attention as the four major North American sports. That said, there have been plenty of major storylines in 2020. Star driver Kyle Larson got suspended for using a racial slur on an iRacing stream. (He was reinstated this Monday.) There was also the situation at Talladega Superspeedway this June, where there was an apparent noose tied in the garage stall of Bubba Wallace, the only African-American driver in the sport. While it was found to just be a garage door pull, the show of support from the other drivers was a great moment for the sport. Now this past month, driver Denny Hamlin announced he is starting a new team with NBA legend Michael Jordan, and will field the aforementioned Wallace.
If you have never attended a race, I strongly suggest you do so. The in-person experience, I believe, is enough to turn anyone into a fan. It’s an extremely unique atmosphere. Unlike a Chiefs or Royals game, there isn’t a home and away team. Instead, every fan has their favorite driver. While there are some clear fan favorites and least favorites, the way the crowd comes together during the pre race invocation, national anthem and command to start the engines is something that you want to experience in person.
It’s a sport rooted in history and tradition. It can be seen on the track, too. The 43, driven by Wallace, is the same 43 that Richard Petty won 200 races with, a car he still owns today. There’s also the 3 and 24 cars, made famous by the late Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon, are the same numbers driven today by Austin Dillon and William Byron. Seven-time Champion Jimmie Johnson is finishing up his last season in his iconic 48 car. Matt Kenseth, my favorite driver of all time, is likely in his final races as well. Second generation drivers Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, John Hunter Nemechek and Corey LaJoie are out there every day just like their fathers. Dale Earnhardt Jr., son of Dale Sr. and grandson of Ralph Earnhardt, finished racing and now calls races from the broadcast booth with NBC. That’s something the likes of which no other sport can compare to.
NASCAR is absolutely not for everyone. Nothing is for everyone. I truly believe, however, that a NASCAR race is an experience everyone should have. History has a chance to be written every week.