|How to remember your parking area, look for the driver sign!
Not sure why rocker Tom Petty was on this sign.
OK, it's Richard Petty, ha-ha!
First off, thanks to VetTix for the super cheap tickets to attend the Darlington Cook Out Southern 500! This was the first playoff race of the year too. We had great seats up in turn 4, about halfway up the grandstand, and like most seats, pretty much see the entire track! Compared to other big sporting events I've attended, it was very easy to get in and out of the parking lot, so that's a big plus! If you're already a big NASCAR fan I can't tell you anything you don't know, so I'm writing strictly as a newbie at a race. I will point out that thanks to autocross I've been to Darlington a good number of times, and even driven on the track for a charity event, so it was fun to attend a race.
With the race starting at 6pm, our seats were in the shade, and that was GREAT because it was a hot day in South Carolina. We didn't go camping for the entire weekend, but we did hang out in the parking area for about an hour before the race. A couple of easy observations about Darlington: parking was free, which sounds like a no-brainer, but come on now, how many big events charge big bucks for parking? A LOT of them! Score one for NASCAR.
|This was the first Playoff Race for 2023
Next up on the plus side, you can take soft coolers into the track! Most events don't allow that and of course they then charge an arm and a leg for drinks and food. Oh, and at Darlington you could have food AND beer (cans only, not sure if a keg would qualify as a "can") in your soft cooler! Now that's just not going to happen at pretty much any other big event unless you sit on the grass at an outdoor orchestra concert and pack a picnic basket with wine and cheese, but that's a different crowd! Score a big plus to NASCAR for this one!
|The Panoramic view from Turn 4
Brian observed a lot of generators around the track to power the lights, the TV cameras (remote control) and we think the safety lights for the racers (yellow flag lights usually.) We could be wrong about this, but with 2 NASCAR races per year, maybe the place just isn't wired for full nighttime racing, electrically speaking. This kind of became an important point when during the 2nd stage of the race, when the sun was going down. The main track lights came on, but there was an issue with the lights along the inside of the track, that help the drivers by lighting up the outside walls. With no lights in turns 3+4, race control threw a yellow caution as the track worked to get those lights running. OK, no big deal, safety is important, and a few yellow flags never hurt anyone.
|All cars are stopped on the backstretch. The infield lights are not on, you can see some of them at the bottom of the photo pointing right at us.
Anyway, it took so long they finally stopped the cars on the backstretch. That seemed unusual to me, but again, safety! Before too long, the lights came on, and racing continued.
|Cars are still on the backstretch, and the infield lights are on! Let's go racing!
Another big plus for this race, was the 282nd Army Band from Fort Jackson SC played the National Anthem, and over the PA they sounded great. Hats off to their conductor and commander, my friend Kevin Pick. The band got some great photos from being down on track and in the pits. If you're near Columbia SC, check them out!
|National Anthem from the 282nd Army Band, Fort Jackson SC, two jets complete a fly-over
OK, here's the main point, or biggest fun part, or even biggest drawback to going to a NASCAR race. No kidding, it was loud. I MEAN LIKE MESS UP YOUR HEARING LOUD! When the race started, of course the pack was close together, so we got a big roar of them going by, and then it got a little quieter as they worked their way around the rest of the track. Once the leaders caught the tail end and started lapping cars, then we had the entire track filled with cars, and it was a NON-STOP NOISE PARTY. We were wearing hearing protection, so we'd like to insist that you do the same if you attend a race.
|NMS sitting in the shade: Priceless!
At many local car events, the facility has a noise level of usually 100db, and any car louder than that has to meet the noise level or stop running. In my experience, if one car is hitting that level, it is HUGELY loud and really sticks out. Now multiply that by 36 or more cars at an even louder level, and that's NASCAR. The best I can explain the experience is to picture you're sitting in a C-130 transport, flying along, and that constant HUM makes it just about impossible to talk to the person next to you. This is mostly due to the noise, but also because you're both wearing ear protection! So, you've got that as the baseline noise volume, and then you need to add the noise of the motors right in front of you, any small bit of PA announcing you hear, or maybe the other fans around you cheering/booing. IT'S LOUD!
|#23 spun out in the smoke
This made me think that if you know sign language, it wouldn't be any big deal, because you could just sit there and talk with your friends like normal.
I was curious how loud it was, and downloaded a basic free decimeter, and took a couple readings from 24 rows up, and got a constant 119 decibels. I SAID, THAT'S LOUD!