Fan access to the sports heroes has been a long-standing tradition in NASCAR. However, as the sport's popularity has grown, so have the inherent problems associated with such access. NASCAR garages at every venue had become inundated with fans...
Fan access to the sports heroes has been a long-standing tradition in NASCAR. However, as the sport's popularity has grown, so have the inherent problems associated with such access.
NASCAR garages at every venue had become inundated with fans seeking an autograph from or a picture with there favorite drivers.
The problems of congestion in the work areas has become progressively worse, culminating in August of 2002, when a fan at the Bristol Motor Speedway accused driver Tony Stewart of assault, for moving her out of the way when she was blocking the egress to the teams transporter.
In response, NASCAR issued sweeping changes in garage and pit access policies, moving to a "hot", and "cold" pass system in 2003.
The new system prohibits any non-working individuals from the garage area, during on-track time.
The new system works well, but leaves many fans and track owners struggling to find a balance with the new work environment, and the tradition of fan access.
An answer to that problem exists, and has existed at the Pocono Raceway, long before the revised garage policies were ever considered.
"We specifically designed the garage to make the fans a part of the action", noted Dr Joseph Mattioli, owner of the raceway.
Several years ago, when Pocono constructed a new garage area, it was built to allow the drivers to have access to the fans, without the fans having access to the drivers.
A pit/paddock area was constructed around the garage area that allows fans an up close view without being in the work area. At the garage exit is "autograph alley", a grandstand area that faces the garage/track entrance where drivers walking to the track can stop, sign autographs and chat with fans.
"Autograph alley is unique in all of motorsports", Mattioli proudly states.
During qualifying day, fans are allowed behind the pit road wall, as the drivers and teams wait on pit road to take to the track. Drivers can walk over, mingle with the fans, and still have the freedom from being overwhelmed.
It is a system that meets the needs of all involved, and should be the model for all venues at which the sanctioning body competes.
In a sport where many argue corporate amenities have overshadowed the grass roots fans, Pocono's paddock area should be mandatory concept at any new or reconfigured venues.