It’s about damn time…


10 Mar 2024


Growing up in the UK, NASCAR wasn’t a typical sport one would follow, but it’s something I’ve been passionate about since I was a small child. Yet until recently, I never had the chance to be at the track on race day.

That wait finally ended on March 3 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

But before we get to the track, we need to take a detour down memory lane. In 2001, aged six, I visited the US for the first time. It was a place where everything was bigger and brighter, and where everyone spoke like they did in films.

My family wasn’t really into motorsport, but that didn’t stop America’s very different kind of racing cars from catching my eye on that trip. I’d seen them on display in theme parks and on TV, and all I knew was that they were from this thing called ‘NASCAR’. Before then I’d only been exposed to Formula 1 on television and video games.

The following year my mum bought me two Hot Wheels toy cars from a market in Durham. One was a No. 96 Caterpillar Chevrolet, the other a No. 10 Tide Ford, and they were just like the ones I’d seen the year before. I continued to be obsessed with these brightly-coloured things, but still knew very little about what they were.

Sitting in Ricky Rudd’s No. 21 Ford Fusion at Daytona in 2003


I returned to the US in 2003 and continued to inch closer to NASCAR by visiting Daytona for the first time. It wasn’t for a race, sadly, but for a tour. I got to see the track with my own eyes, feel the sheer scale of the place, and thanks to the Richard Petty Driving Experience, see and hear a car on-track for the very first time. We also went to the sadly-since-departed Race Rock Cafe on International Drive where we ate dinner surrounded by racing cars and memorabilia – the perfect environment to foster this young boy’s growing fascination with this unknown sport from a faraway land.

In the years that followed – and with the help of Papyrus’ legendary NASCAR Racing 2003 game – I learnt even more about the drivers and teams, and started to follow the Cup series properly. I returned to Daytona multiple times during family holidays to Florida’s tourist traps, too, and even worked at a Global Rallycross event there in 2014. Early in my professional career I covered a few Cup races remotely for Autosport as well, but I never had a chance to actually go to one in-person.

Fast forward to 2020, and a seismic shift in the Cup series schedule meant that Daytona’s second race would take place in August for the first time – at the exact same time as our family holiday. This was it. The painful wait was about to end. I was finally going to a NASCAR race.

But then 2020 happened, and with a health crisis tearing the world apart and the US’s borders closed to Brits, I wasn’t going anywhere. It would end up being another four years before the dream would finally be realised, and funnily enough, it was via a similar coincidence that the 2020 race almost happened.

I was due in Las Vegas to work at the Nitrocross season finale at Planet Hollywood. Unusually for motorsport, the double-header event was taking place on a Friday and Saturday, which left the Sunday free. And who happened to be in town at the same time as us? Of course, it was NASCAR.


Ahead of the weekend I reached out to my friend Davis, whom I met during the early days of Extreme E. Back then he worked for Chip Ganassi Racing in both NASCAR and the electric off-road series. Nowadays he plies his trade at 23XI Racing, so I asked if he could help me out. His reply left me way too excited to sleep. This was it. It was finally going to happen.

But after more than two decades of waiting, how do you actually do a NASCAR race? How do you get the most out of the day and make sure you experience the race to the fullest? Well, thankfully 23XI had me covered.

I was effectively embedded within 23XI for the day, getting to witness what a full day at the track for a team looks like. After meeting up with the team at the Toyota sponsor display in the fan zone, I hitched a golf buggy ride with Tyler Reddick to the infield. When we arrived there, the teams were hard at work preparing the cars before heading to the grid. A good few years working at electric car races meant that the noise of the paddock threw me a little at first, but that was nothing compared to what I’d experience when the cars got on track later.

Reigning Cup series champion Ryan Blaney stopped for a chat too. We’d already met at the Nitrocross event on Friday, and he wanted to know how our weekend had finished, while also explaining to me why Vegas was a good place for me to be making my debut as a NASCAR race day visitor. There aren’t many top-level sports where the reigning champion would be up for a casual natter before heading to the gladiatorial arena.

Next was a quick stop to the team’s haulers which were mightily impressive. Team-owner Michael Jordan’s influence was massively apparent here, with their usual clinical white interior making way for basketball locker room- and court-inspired polished wooden panelling. In there I met No. 23 crew chief Bootie Barker and Bubba Wallace – two very friendly guys who took great pleasure in reminding me that the race I was about to see would be a much more competitive affair than the Formula 1 grand prix that had concluded a few hours earlier with Max Verstappen winning by over 22 seconds.


I was having a fantastic time soaking everything in, but from the moment we walked with Reddick to the drivers’ meeting, the day proceeded at break-neck pace. I soon found myself walking the pit lane, spotting the Fox Sports crew of Chris Myers, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer. Drag racing legend John Force made a surprise appearance, too, as did my Nitrocross colleague Travis Pastrana – a bunch of staff from that series were around, actually, all celebrating the end of their season in the same way I was: by going to a different sort of race. It’s hard to keep us motorsport types away from a track.

One of the standout parts of a race day broadcast, the command to start engines, went somewhat under the radar on the ground, but even if you miss the call, you don’t miss the engines coming to life. People always talk about the sound of a NASCAR race, and I’ll admit, my thinking around that has always been a bit like ‘so what? Loud race cars, big deal.’ But I was wrong. They’re not loud, they’re loud. The earplugs are as good as useless. The headsets too, and for the few hours the race is on, there’s a near-constant earthquake at the track.

I spent the first stage of the race at Reddick’s pit area, watching the race through the start/finish straight and turns one and two, and keeping a close eye on what the team was doing. It was a surprisingly calm atmosphere when you consider how intense motorsport tends to be.

Fox’s Jamie Little stopped by as well, and watching how she went about her job was enthralling. On TV she appears on screen, relays information, then throws back to the commentators. It looks effortless, but she’s not just being fed details into her ear as some might expect. There’s no doubt a bit of that’s happening, but she’s also looking at live timing (a screen carried by a crewmember follows her around), taking notes, asking questions – she’s as flat out as the guys on track, working non-stop to be completely abreast of everything that was happening in the race.

After watching a couple of perfectly choreographed ballets in the pits, I headed into the stands for a fans’ eye view. Admittedly, up there it’s harder to follow the race without a headset (I had to leave mine on the pit box), but the visuals – particularly in Vegas with the mountain backdrop and jets landing at the nearby air force base – were no-less impressive.

The wind wasn’t too pleasant though, so after getting my fill of long runs, passes, green and yellow flag stops, a spin and a restart (plus the preceding ‘choose’ routine which felt like I’d climbed into my TV as I watched), I headed back to the pits for the final stage.


I was with the perfect team for my first race. The relaxed atmosphere of Stage 1 was replaced with tense optimism as Reddick took chunks of time out of dominant race leader Kyle Larson each lap. Ultimately the race was just a lap or two too short for our man in the No. 45 to take the victory, but following the chase to the end was captivating.

Just like that, the race was done. For most of my time on this planet I’d waited for this day, and it was over in a flash. I couldn’t be disappointed with that though, because every second had been faultless.

While other Brits watch the Premier League on a Sunday, I turn on the Cup race. Those two Hot Wheels cars are now part of a collection of over a thousand pieces, too. And now I’d finally completed my NASCAR bingo card. No longer would the question “have you ever been to a NASCAR race?” be met with a sigh and a dejected “not yet”.

If you’ve not been to a NASCAR race yourself, I’ll say this: You don’t go to watch the race, you go to experience it. What happens on track can, of course, be interesting and intriguing, but it’s the overall feel of the day – the sounds, the smells, and the profusion of colour – that sticks with you. And if you’re a fanboy like me, your cheeks will ache for a couple of days from all the grinning.

I just hope I won’t be waiting another 20-plus years for my next one.


CLICK HERE for more images from the 2024 Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.