Early on a Saturday morning, we pack the kids, cooler, sunblock, and ear plugs into the car and head to Pocono Raceway. My husband and I are about to take our children to see their first NASCAR race.
We're all excited for a new adventure, and my husband cannot wait to share his love of racing with a younger generation.
Before I met my husband, I had never been to a race and really only had a general idea of what one was like. I knew the stereotype of race fans and never in a million years thought I would go to a race, let alone enjoy it and then want to share the experience with my children.
When I tell my friends that I'm a NASCAR fan, they are somewhat confused. I teach high school English, attend a book club, and do not fit their view of a stereotypical NASCAR fan. However, the more races I attend, the more I see that very stereotype defied.
I have come across my fair share of rowdy and intoxicated fans, like the crowd at many professional sporting events. However, I've also observed a man reading a novel to pass the time before the race started, families with young children sharing Goldfish crackers and juice boxes, and an elderly couple holding hands throughout most of the race.
Now, at the track with my children, I create another image to add to my list of “things I’ve seen at a NASCAR race”: A five-year-old boy cuddles on his mother’s lap while shelling peanuts, his eyes never leaving the track. He sits next to a four-year-old girl with her face painted like Hello Kitty. She looks up at her dad when the cars speed by and then raises her arm in a fist pump when he does the same.
This memory is just one of the many reasons I plan to take my children back to a race. Here are a few others:
From the cheering crowd to the revving engines to the speeding cars, your child will have something to watch the entire time. My children have been fascinated with cars and racetracks since the summer my son was three and watched the movie Cars just about every afternoon.
Seeing a real life track with cars that were not cartoon characters definitely created that WOW moment we had hoped for. It's amazing to hear the engines roar to life and then actually feel – not just see and hear – the cars as they race around the track. My son stated it best when he exclaimed, “I can feel it through my feet!”
It is loud. I was worried my kids wouldn’t keep their ears covered with the ear protection we brought along, but neither protested. Parents, there is also an added bonus to the noise: you can’t hear your children complain! When my daughter accidentally drank out of her brother’s juice box, or my son threw his peanut shells on my daughter, they would turn to me to voice their complaints. I was able to simply point to my headphones, shrug my shoulders, and shake my head. I was physically unable to take complaints. It was perfect.
Like any professional sport, ticket prices vary. We attended a NASCAR XFINITY series race, which is a type of “minor league” for car racing. Unlike other sports though, sometimes a few of the popular NASCAR racers will compete in this series, as well. The XFINITY race we attended was free for children with a paying adult. This was what hooked us. At four and five, we were unsure if our kids would have the stamina to last a whole race. Not having to pay for the kids made it an easy decision to go anyway.
At NASCAR races, you are also allowed to bring in your own cooler as long as it meets certain size guidelines. We packed juice boxes, water, sandwiches, and plenty of snacks for the kids. Concessions are available, but for a family of four they can really add up.
With the price of admission, we were also able to go early and watch the practice for the Sprint Cup series. This is an added bonus if you're a fan of certain drivers; if you aren’t a fan, it's still something interesting to watch as you wait for the race to start.
In between practice and the race, when our kids were just starting to get restless, I took them to the Kid Zone, which included free bounce houses and face painting. At home, later that night, my daughter cried when I made her wash off her face paint, exclaiming that she'd had, “the best day ever.”
Well played, NASCAR. You have officially won over one princess-loving, tutu-wearing girl!
Although the Kid Zone closed at the start of the race, there was a small playground to take the kids to for a short break mid-race. Each track is different, but most seem to have kid-friendly activities, especially during the Saturday XFINITY races. You can find a list of tracks here.
My husband is a big NASCAR fan, so my children were not new to the idea of it. They see the cars whiz by on the television on Sunday afternoons and hear my husband talk about his favorite drivers. However, at home, the race is usually only part of the background noise to their sword fights and tea parties.
In the stands on the day of the race, it was all new to them. The size of the track, the noise of the cars, and the number of fans were all met with amazement. This awe, an awe that could be shared between us all, was the goal.
Maybe they won’t end up being NASCAR fans, but they will always remember their first race. By offering new experiences to our children, whether it be a NASCAR race or a trip to the beach, we create moments together that will not be forgotten. These moments not only strengthen our bond as a family, but hopefully encourage our children to continue to explore the world around them and seek new experiences as they go through life.