Author: Brittany Snyder

Brittany is newer to NASCAR, but not writing. Using her English degree from Canisius College she brings a unique perspective to the Start 'N' Park Blog team.

Transitions – Merchandising

Last year I spent the majority of my time during the NASCAR weekend at Watkins Glen International (WGI) focused on my experience as a member of the media and it’s comparison to the fan experience. I have had the opportunity of taking it all in with fresh eyes, with little to no expectations. Since Mike has attended many races at WGI, he has provided insight as to how things “used to be.” Usually I just say okay and move on with the conversation, but this year there have been a few changes that even I have to adjust to. My goal for this weekend is to pause during the chaos, make time to reflect on the changes that effect fans, drivers, and essentially all who attend this weekend’s race.

One of the bigger changes that have taken place at the track this year is the modification of the sale of merchandise. “Back in the good ol’ days,” as Mike would say, NASCAR teams would bring in their haulers full of merchandise, pull them into the middle of the infield, open up and sell to fans. As a fan, you would walk in their pop-up village, find the trailer of your favorite team, and purchase whatever paraphernalia your heart desires. For example, being a Brad Keselowski fan, I would theoretically find the No.2 hauler and behind glass would be all of the 1-64 scale cars a girl could ever wish for, plenty of hoodies and t-shirts for men and women, bumper stickers, car decals, hats, etc. all for a competitive price of the surrounding haulers of different teams.

Nowadays, beginning last week at Pocono, all NASCAR merchandise is arranged in a rather large tent area run by ‘Fanatics.’ Walking through the Fanatics tent you can find anything you could possibly be looking for. Merchandise is organized in a number of ways; such as youth sizes and styles, a ‘Kids Corner,’ by team, by item (i.e. hats). While wandering through, I was absorbing all of the comments I could hear from people. I can promise you I was trying really hard not to blatantly be eaves-dropping, but the way the tent is set up, there is little room for people to look at merchandise and easily maneuver around other shoppers; so overhearing their conversations was not that difficult.

Fanatics_2The tent is strategically set up where each section requires you to walk in to the back, turn around to come back to the center aisle and turn the corner for the next section. You cannot move from section to section except one entrance again. If one staff member stood in every section, I feel they would serve more of the purpose of watching for shoplifting while helping people find the merchandise they are looking for.

These sections allow fans to not only view the items for sale, but to feel them and hold them up for size without having the pressure of asking someone to get it from the back for you. In the hauler, if you asked to view an item there was an awkward, unspoken expectation to then purchase said item. With the tent set up, you can hold it and decide that the back of the hat has the netting that you don’t like, and you can put it down without feeling obligated to buy it just because you made someone do their job.

One of the first things I noticed is that the tent area has gates around it, so you are forced to walk in one entrance and essentially one exit. Standing at the entrance/exit are two “ushers” who greet you and search your bags when you are leaving the area. The shopping experience is much different than the previous set up in that you grab a green ‘re-usable’ Fanatics bag (reminds me of the bags I use when grocery shopping to protect the environment by not using plastic bags, you know the kind) and fill it with all sorts of goodies. There are many staff members in the area to help you; however, I feel this position is more on a volunteer basis. We have had encountered several staff members so far this weekend who have been unable to answer our questions, which is why I believe that partaking as staff is a volunteer situation.

It is pretty awesome that going through the Fanatics tent you can find merchandise for many more drivers than you would have for the haulers. The teams individually fund their merchandise haulers; therefore, lower tiered drivers who may not have as much financial support as other teams would not likely be able to afford to haul merchandise haulers around the country. We all know the power of the Underdog and sometimes we just want to be able to buy a t-shirt to proud display our support, but those shirts can feel like they do not even exist. This set-up allows for those teams to make a portion of profits, which is more than they get from selling nothing. I am sure NASCAR is receiving the largest chunk of change from this new set-up.

For Watkins Glen International, though this is not a life or death situation, it is a shame that there is an area of the infield entitled “Turn Ten Village,” which was the site of the hauler circle of merchandise. From a nostalgic point of view, they have paved paradise and put up a parking lot. Yes, this area has now become a place for parking for buses, food trucks, and golf carts.

Brittany’s Fan Experience

For the past two years, I have accompanied Mike to the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen with media credentials and cold garage and pit passes.  Each year, as we walk around the track and I take in all the sites, Mike explains to me what is like to come to the track strictly as a fan.  I have been very spoiled (and thankful) of the opportunities to participate as a member of the media to cover the race, but I also feel like I have missed out on certain passage rights of NASCAR fans.

A few weeks ago, some friends and I came to Watkins Glen to attend their annual Wine Festival; my absolute favorite festival of all time!  We decided that the easiest and most responsible way to ensure our safety and continued fun would be to camp at the track.  Do not be fooled!  I guarantee it was a very comparable experience to camping during race weekend – the late night drinking fests, blaring music until 3 am, toga party, bon fire and fireworks.  There was little sleep acquired, which was okay with us since that was not the intent of our stay.  My imagination (and from leisurely walking around the track at 8am and seeing all the beer cans strewn about) tells me that race weekend is not much different.  So I have checked camping at the track off my list this year.

This weekend (yesterday), Mike was very motivated to be out of the Media Center as much as possible in order to freshen our horizons and spark creativity by experiencing the garages before and during practices.  This may sound boring or naïve to some, but for me, it was absolutely amazing!

First, we casually walked past the cars and their appropriate teams working diligently to perfect them for the races.  I am accustomed to watching these guys work from my living room couch.  I know they work fast and there are constant sounds of power tools and engines, but to smell the exhaust (and other fumes) and feel the rumble of the cars travel through my body as they light up the garage area really brought my attention to how much this is new to me… and I love it!

Mike successfully set up a few interviews yesterday, including Jeremy Clements and Chase Elliott.  Normally, I do not attend the interviews.  Initially I figured I would be a nervous mess that would rub off onto Mike, so I would just let him go on these adventures by himself.  This year he insisted I come along and I am so appreciative.  Though I probably did not say more than three words to either driver from what I remember, it was a remarkable experience for me because it yet again reminded me that this is real, these people are real, and it is not as easy as it looks on TV.

Thanks to Can-Am Spyder, Mike and I received Hot Passes this year which has allowed us the freedom of wandering the garage and admiring the atmosphere to my heart’s content.  During the Sprint Cup practice, my adrenaline surged as I watched the cars go in and out and crews work speedily from inside the garage area.  Because I like paying attention to small details that probably means nothing to anyone else, I was fascinated focusing on when drivers choose to get out of their cars.  Jimmie Johnson caught my attention a few times when he jumped out and immediately began working on the car with his crew.  Kyle Busch was another one I watched relatively closely and was a little surprised at the speeds he used while literally pulling his car into the actual garage.  The roar of the cars was phenomenal; I cannot think of words that truly justify an explanation of exhilaration.

I am excited to see what I experience today and cannot wait to report back!