It was probably a good thing I wasn’t a NASCAR fan that Sunday morning when we arrived at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway after checking out the new Kobalt Tools 24V max tools. Until the Kobalt 400, I had never watched a NASCAR race or really knew anything about it. Most everyone recognizes a few drivers’ names, but I couldn’t have put a face, let alone a car, with more than a couple of those names. Watching people drive in counter clockwise circles for hours can seem redundant and somewhat pointless. Still, as a guy who loves cars, I always thought it would be cool to go to a race, just to see the speed and hear the thunder. As the day played out, and we were immersed in the VIP Experience of the NASCAR Kobalt 400 race (full disclosure: courtesy of Kobalt Tools), I realized that, were I a serious NASCAR fan, I may have screamed like a teen-aged girl at a One Direction concert…or something like that.
NASCAR Kobalt 400 Race Behind the Scenes
We started the day in the Kobalt Tools suite, above the grandstands, just right center of the track—our base for the day. I was surprised, at first, to find biscuits and gravy on the breakfast table in Las Vegas, but after all, NASCAR was born in the South. The view was terrific, the fare fantastic, and anticipation was sprouting. The panorama from the suite was amazing, and only surpassed by the scene from the roof, just a level above. From there, with the Speedway front and center, the Vegas Strip sat at the far right end of the desert landscape, while mountains surrounded on three sides. Nellis Air Force Base stood watch close by to the right, further escalating the air of Americana.
Before I had a chance to soak in the setting, it was time to go to the NASCAR Kobalt 400 race infield and meet the driver of the number 48 Lowes car, Jimmie Johnson. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was impressed with what I saw. The drivers, crews and families live in a travelling neighborhood of motor coaches that park together in the various infields during the race season. We waited outside the Johnson Family’s coach for Jimmie to return, while I wondered what this famous race car driver would be like. He arrived shortly, and seemed just as normal as anyone. Without a hint of arrogance or pretense, he thoughtfully and thoroughly answered all the questions from our group, ranging from racing to bicycling to tattoos. There is definitely a studied, disciplined approach that has led Jimmie to the top of the game, but there’s a lot more to him than just NASCAR.
NASCAR Kobalt 400 Race Pits
On the way to the pits, we stopped by the NASCAR Kobalt 400 race Neon Garage, where all the cars are maintained and prepped for race day. Close by were all the team haulers, lined up and at attention. These double-decker trailers hold the race car and back-up car on the top level, while the lower level serves as a camp for the crew, complete with just about everything they could need.
Pit Row was an incredible thing to see. The legendary P.T. Barnum himself would be awed by the organizational skills on display. The Lowes Team, as any other, has roughly 200 sq. ft. of space in which to work during the race. All the tools, tires, hoses, gas cans, computers, guys and other gear that keep that number 48 car moving have to fit in that small area. In the pit box, next to the sledge hammer and baseball bat, were a couple of Kobalt’s newest 24V Max reciprocating saws we were able to work with the day before. Fortunately for #48, we didn’t have to see those in action, but it’s sure better to have them and not need them.
Kobalt 400 Drivers Meeting
Another push of the “overload” button on the Kobalt VIP Experience dashboard landed us in the pre-race drivers’ meeting. We were guided back to the Neon Garage, and thru a closely guarded gate, and all of a sudden we were on a red carpet, lined on either side by hundreds of NASCAR fans waiting to catch a glimpse of their favorite drivers. Camera crews and security guards were everywhere as we walked the same path the drivers took to the meeting. It was almost surreal, and really made me appreciate my anonymity. That said, the meeting was very interesting. Special guests were announced, including a group from Nellis AFB and a Gold Star Family, who received a long, loud and very touching standing ovation. The drivers then got a rundown on any key points pertaining to the race, the track, and most importantly, safety. To wrap it up, a prayer was said over the day’s event and the safety of all involved, and then it was time to get back to the roof for the start of the race.
NASCAR Kobalt 400 Race
I had suspected earlier that the roof would be the best vantage point for the fly by and the start of the NASCAR Kobalt 400 race, and I wasn’t disappointed. The fury and grace of the Thunderbirds flying by just as Craig Morgan hit the end of “The Star Spangled Banner” put a lump in my throat that made my head feel like it would explode. Amazing! Shortly after, Lowe’s Chief Merchandising Officer, Mike McDermott, spoke the most famous words in motorsports: “Drivers, start your engines!”
Nothing quite describes the excitement in the air as those engines growl to life. At once, the entire venue was alive with sound as the drivers readied their machines for battle. The power was amazing, and it made the hair on my arms stand up. The anticipation grew as the cars entered the track and started the warm-up laps. Round and round they slowly went, with Jimmie Johnson in the number 11 slot. It seemed like an eternity, but the pace car finally turned onto Pit Road, Kobalt’s Larry Baad waved the green flag, and it was on!
I think only a space bound rocket could rival the combined sound and power of the 39 cars that simultaneously screamed to full throttle as Kurt Busch hit the starting box. If the pop of the cranking motors raised the hair on my arms, the start of the race stood every hair I have to attention. It’s almost crushingly stimulating; you don’t know whether to laugh or cry or shout – or melt! I may have been guilty of all the above. That moment solidified a suspicion that had been building in my head all day. NASCAR rocks!
Throughout the NASCAR Kobalt 400 race, our perspective changed several times. From changes in location, to changes in the weather, it was hard to keep track of it all. We saw it from up high, from down low, and with six cautions in the race, we saw it from too slow, to boot. The weather went from cloudy to rainy, sunny to windy, and then to an all-out wind storm (on the radio we heard one of the drivers, Matt Kenseth, say that this was the worst condition he’d ever driven in). One thing is for sure—there was never a bad seat or a dull moment. We even got to catch a dozen laps or so from the top of the pit box. A hardcore NASCAR fan told me later that he may actually consider that on par with the excitement of the act that got us all here in the first place. Just sayin.
When it was all said and done, our man Jimmie Johnson didn’t quite make it to Victory Lane as we had hoped. It was a hard fought battle and he lead more laps than anyone else, but in the end he finished third, while Brad Keselowski took the coveted top spot. As I took in the scene from Victory Lane, and watched the celebration as the trophy was awarded, I realized just how cool it all had been. The Kobalt team gave us a truly spectacular view of the NASCAR Kobalt 400 race, and they created a new NASCAR/Jimmie Johnson fan in the process. Had I been a fan going in, they may have had to carry me out.