Tag: Watkins Glen International

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.

The Glen Dog

Move over Martinsville, there’s a new dog in town. That is…The Glen Dog.

Offered at Watkins Glen International for the first time, The Glen Dog, is a Sahlen’s brand hot dog nestled in a pretzel bun, covered in Yancy’s Fancy macaroni and cheese and dusted with Cheez-It crumbles. The premise behind its creation was to rival fellow ISC track Martinsville with having the best hot dog in NASCAR. Martinsville’s dogs are well known, but this dog will give it a run for its money.

That is perfect sponsor placement on the part of the marketing folks at Watkins Glen (all three companies being track sponsors), but the ingredients come together for a delicious tasting dog. It retails for $7 and can be only found at certain food stands around the track, but if you get your hands on this dog, you will not be disappointed.

5 Questions Going Into Watkins Glen

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series finds it way to the final road race of the year one of the most exciting races in recent memory. The famed Watkins Glen International track has set the bar for excitement and drama, and this weekend figures to continue that when the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen is run.

With that excitement and the season closing in on the end of the regular season and start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, there are many questions coming into the weekend. Here are just five of them:

Who can pull off the win and get into the Chase?

Looking right off the bat you have to go to a driver who has wins, but is outside the top-30 in points. That’d be Kyle Busch, who’s a two time champion of this event. He needs to earn maximum points to get his way into the top-30 and into the Chase. More on him in a bit.

Two more intriguing names are Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon. Stewart is the all-time wins leader at The Glen with five and is on the outside looking in on the Chase. Gordon is in via points for the time being, but with the second most wins (four) at the track has to be a favorite. I would like to say the fact it will be Gordon final race at the track will factor in, but he hasn’t performed that well when running at tracks the final time. In fact, looking at his Watkins Glen record he hasn’t finished better than 10th in his last seven races here.

While in the Chase by points right now, Kasey Kahne must make up for a 43rd place finish last weekend at Pocono. He has an uphill battle to do so since his best finish here has been a 12th, that coming last season. AJ Allmendinger will look to duplicate his victory last season that got him into the Chase. Currently 23rd in points, Watkins Glen represents the last bit of hope Allmendinger has at getting his second career win.

Can Kyle Busch’s Streak Continue?

It is hard to believe that Busch has only run 10 races so far this season and has come away with four wins, four top-5s, and five top-10 finishes. Had it not been for being just shy on fuel last weekend, we’d be talking about how he’s gone five for 10 with wins. Busch is a two-time Watkins Glen winner who had a streak of eight consecutive top-10 finishes snapped last year at the track. He will be strong and quite possibly dominate this weekend knowing he needs to go balls out to get the most points he can.

Will the “Road Course Ringers” have an impact on the race?

Had this been written about 20 years earlier, I would say yes. Now that it is 2015 and quality rides are just not there for “Ringers,” it is an resounding “no” to the question. The only “Ringers” entered this weekend at Boris Said and TJ Bell. Bell will be with Premium Motorsports’ #62 team that has had a terrible record of qualifying for races. He might be a “ringer,” but Bell hasn’t been in a Sprint Cup car since 2012, and that coupled with the car he is in, he’ll be lucky to make the race. What plays in his favor is that there are only 44 cars entered this weekend. For Said he gets to run for Go FAS Racing in the #32 Genesee Brewery Ford. Go FAS isn’t the worst team on the track each weekend, but it is far from being even average. For all his skill, it would be a victory for the team if Said finished in the top-20 this weekend.

Will it rain this weekend?

It seems like whenever the Sprint Cup Series comes to my native New York, rain always tries to ruin the party. In a nine year stretch qualifying was rained out five times. Five freakin’ times, and yes I’m still bitter about having to drive two hours to sit in the rain and not see anything done. This weekend has a slight chance of rain on Sunday, but I’m confident it will stay away. As of this posting Accuweather.com has it at a 40% chance and with this NASCAR will be coming with rain tires just in case. The rest of the weekend looks to be perfect at around 80 and sunny. It’s just Sunday has the possibility, like always.

With it being Jeff Gordon’s final race here, what is your favorite memory?

The easy answer is to go for any one of his four wins, including three straight from 1997-1999, but I’m going to go a different direction. It was the 2000 race and right at the beginning (right in front of where I was sitting) Gordon and Tony Stewart got together through the esses. Both cars continued the race, Stewart finished sixth and Gordon 23rd. After the race is where the real fireworks happened, cameras caught the exchange between the two drivers, which to me made me respect Gordon a bit more afterwards. I had pegged him as a cry baby kind of driver who never would stand up for himself. Here I was proved wrong as the video shows, Gordon was not back down to anyone including Stewart. My favorite part is when Gordon tells Stewart to “speed up and that won’t happen” and closes with “I owe you one now buddy.” Classic. I hope both drivers can get back to their competitive fiery ways on Sunday.

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!

“I Wanna Kick Some Ass Later In Life”

Brendan_Gaughan_13_Watkins_Glen

Brendan Gaughan has spent the majority of his NASCAR career in the Camping World Truck Series. Since 1999 he has had 200 starts and collected 8 victories. He had one lone season (2004) in the Sprint Cup Series and ran two full seasons (2009-2010) in the Nationwide Series. Is running the Truck Series again full-time what he had envisioned for his career?

“I don’t regret anything in my career. Shane Wilson [and I] had a lot of buzz about us in the early 2000s, we won a lot of races, we went to Penske [Racing] and things looked good. It didn’t work out that way. This sport is so much about equipment, but for me I was so focused on wanting to own my own team and do it my way. I’m proud the way I did it, but now I’m really happy to be at a place [Richard Childress Racing] that has great equipment,” Gaughan told Start ‘N’ Park Blog in an exclusive interview Friday morning at Watkins Glen International.

There was a time when Richard Childress Racing didn’t seem to have the best equipment. That has changed and the team fields entries in all three series and they are up front on a regular basis in all three series.

“You know this is the best equipment I’ve ever had by far in the last 10 years. So to me it’s made life so much easier. I don’t have to sweat what’s being put on the track, I don’t have to question what the crew chiefs do. I have great crew chiefs, every series I run in.”

Helping out keeping all the entries fast is having great people in the organization to work on them. Each series he runs, Gaughan has a different crew chief, but there’s a common theme to them. They’re all winners.

“When I was in Sprint Cup last year I had Gil Martin, when I’m in Nationwide I have Ernie Cope, and when I’m in the Trucks I have Shane Wilson. I’m sitting in the best spot of my career, so what it’s later in life. I wanna kick some ass later in life. I want to run great, win some races, and I’m going to last as long as I can doing what I love.”

When pressed on where he’d want to be racing, Trucks, Nationwide, or Sprint Cup, Gaughan didn’t care where he was. There just had to be one thing.

“I don’t care what series it is, all I want is good equipment. I don’t care if I’m in Cup, in good equipment, we’ll run for championships. If I’m in Nationwide, in good equipment, we’ll run for championships. If I’m in Trucks, in good equipment like we are, we’ll run for championships and wins…That’s all I’m going to do the rest of my career.”

On the health of the Camping World Truck Series, Gaughan was pleased with the direction that NASCAR has gone with it. Specifically he had a lot of fun with the race held at Eldora Speedway a few weeks back. It was the first dirt race run by NASCAR in over forty years. “I applaud NASCAR for the balls it took to add a dirt track to the Truck schedule.” Another addition to the schedule he is looking forward to is the September 1st race at Canadian Tire Park, the first road course race in over a decade for the series.

On the opposite side, one thing he does not like is the current schedule length of 22 races.

“The Truck Series needs more races, 22 races is not enough to give value to a sponsor. And it doesn’t save us any money having less than 25 races. Get us back to 25 races. If they want to do it at big tracks, that’s great. If they want to do it at road courses, that’s great. Dirt tracks, great, short tracks, great, don’t care. Just take us to places that deserve to have professional races at them. Some places don’t, some places do, some places want it, and it’s like you look and you don’t want to go back to 1960s facilities. Let’s go to places that have great facilities like Motor Mile [Radford, VA]. It’s a beautiful short track, the facilities are great for fans, it’s a good looking short track. Go to places that have nice facilities, that take care of the fans, and have enough room for us to do what we do best with pit roads and all of that. Don’t just add a date because you need a date.”

The Truck Series is off this weekend, but you can catch Gaughan running the #33 South Point Casino Chevrolet later today. He will start from the <start> position and you can catch the action starting at 2 PM EST on ABC when the Nationwide Series runs the Zippo 200 from Watkins Glen International.