Get your motor running

I still remember feeling the ground and grandstands shaking as 43 drivers fired up their 800-plus horsepower racing machines one Sunday afternoon in July some 10 years ago. Coupled with the thunderous, near-deafening roar of those mighty engines and the smell of exhaust fumes fed by 98 octane racing fuel, my senses overloaded and a smile slowly crept across my face.

"I LIKE this!" I proclaimed to Patrick, my oldest son, sitting next me in the grandstands high above the start-finish line at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

"I knew you would," he replied.

At that moment, I went from car racing skeptic to an all-in NASCAR fan.

Until then, I could have cared less about racing. I thought those cars merely drove around a continuous oval making left-turns only. Boring, I thought, even though I had never taken the time to even watch a race on TV.

Then one day, as I was driving home to Nashua’s French Hill from my job in Boston, my wife called and said, "Patrick wants to know if you would like to come to the race Sunday." He had an extra ticket for me, and for free, she explained.

My first thought was to say, "No, thanks," but for some reason, I agreed.

Usually, dads introduce their sons to sports. In this case, it went the other way. Patrick, who still lives in eastern coastal Maine, had been a fan for many years. He and a couple of his buddies traveled to Loudon from Maine every July and camped on the track’s grounds in Loudon.

So, with expectations low, I hit the road early that Sunday morning and met him near his campsite on a hill above Turn 3. We walked the grounds and saw drivers like Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards signing autographs and answering questions with fans at their souvenir haulers.

"Who’s your driver?" is a common question among NASCAR fans. Mine is Carl Edwards. My better half claims Denny Hamlin as her driver. We both like Dale Earnhardt Jr., but then again, who doesn’t? Dale "Junior," or "June Bug," remains NASCAR’s most popular driver.

Speaking of Junior, he has been in the forefront on the battle of sports-related brain injuries related to repeated concussion. For the second time in recent years, he took himself out of his race car and sought extended medical treatment after suffering a concussion in a wreck earlier in the year. NASCAR and the entire racing community have stood behind him, as well.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway, as well as tracks like Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and especially Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., are fan and family-friendly. Many have designated family seating area where alcohol is not allowed. Many tracks schedule events for all ages. And NASCAR continues to be a sport that attracts as many women fans as men.

Even I was surprised when my wife began watching the races with genuine interest at our apartment in Nashua and, later, Merrimack. When she declared Hamlin as her driver, I was stunned. So, as Patrick did with me, I sprung for tickets and pit passes for her and me for the September race in Loudon in 2012. Whatever mojo she had going for her that day, it worked. Her driver not only won that race; he dominated it from start to finish.

Since that first race, she has gone with me to races at Texas and Charlotte Motor Speedways and, just last weekend, Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. We’ll be at "The Monster Mile" in Dover, Del., in October, and next February we will be at the Daytona 500 with Patrick and his wife.

While at Charlotte this past May, we visited the NASCAR Hall of Fame and spent time at the shop at Joe Gibbs’ Racing in Concord. Gibbs’ stable of drivers just happens to include Edwards and Hamlin along with Kyle Bush and Matt Kenseth. Seeing the teams working on the cars, many stripped of their wraps and advertising, was amazing.

Meanwhile, NASCAR returns to Loudon in two weeks for the September race. New Hampshire is fortunate to have two Sprint Cup Series races here every year. Fans travel to Loudon from Canada and throughout New England and the Northeast region to catch these races.

Those same fans give New Hampshire businesses, such as hotels and restaurants, a tremendous financial boost. And the Granite State gets a little free publicity on national TV at the same time. What’s not to like about that?

So, the next time you’re inclined to think all those drivers do is make left-hand turns around an oval, buy a ticket and spend a day at Loudon. Then wait for the ground to shake and tell me what you think.

Nashua native Paul Sylvain writes from his home in Summerville, S.C. His column appears the second of the month. He can be reached at PSylvain.Telegraph@yahoo.com.