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April 20, 2014

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More to do than just watch cars at NASCAR weekend

Thousands of fans will make the drive in heavy bumper-to-bumper traffic only to join the shoulder-to-shoulder circus at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. But not everyone is there for the race.

The Henricksons drove from their home in Nampa, Idaho, to camp out with the other RVs for their ninth NASCAR race, and their first time at the Las Vegas track.

“This Neon garage thing is cool,” Linda Henrickson said. “We’ve done pit passes at other races, but there is so much going on here.”

Linda’s husband, Tim Henrickson, added that they like to try to get driver’s autographs if they can get close enough, but they spent more than an hour just people watching on Friday instead. He said that NASCAR fans are an interesting bunch and he and his wife like to guess their backgrounds and life stories for fun.

Las Vegas residents, the Robertses, are another family that enjoys the festivities from their NASCAR poster-plastered RV. Despite having to rent the trailer, space and buy tickets, which can get expensive, they still return every year.

“The people, its just America at its best. We can leave all of our stuff out here. Everybody shares food and drinks. If your motor home breaks down everyone comes out to help you,” Debbie Roberts said. “It’s a different tailgate than when you’re out at football stadium, you have to experience to really understand and that’s why we have our friends come out.”

Debbie Roberts said that for the past eight years her family has been renting the same spot, with the same neighbors. Next door they have friends from Phoenix, Ariz., and behind them are friends from California.

She said it's not all tailgaiting though. The Robertses enjoy going on Pit Road and the Neon Garage as well as actually watching the races. Debbie Roberts actually got the autograph of her favorite diver, number 44, A,J, Allmendinger.

“He’s my man,” Debbie Roberts said. “He’s kind of had to battle his way up … and he’s only sponsored for eight races so he has to qualify for every race.”

With all of the different drivers to root for, Debbie Roberts said that there was actually no competition among fans of who is better. And come Saturday night, the campground turns into a huge party.

“Everyone is basically here now for the races and they will have watched the Saturday, the Nationwide race and they’re all here for Sunday’s race,” she said.

The Robertses get out a fire pit on colder evenings and eat and drink, sharing with whomever passes. Randy Roberts, Debbie’s husband, said that when they were walking around the campgrounds last year, a man asked them to try a bite of steak he had just grilled. And instead of cutting off a morsel, he offered them half of the steak.

What also makes Saturday night a good time to walk around is to check out other fans' RVs, because it's like Christmas, Debbie Roberts said — everyone decorates with flags and life-size posters of NASCAR drivers. And some even set up picket fences and outdoor dining rooms.

Another fan, Chip Chapman from Los Angeles, avoids the circus beyond the parking lot for the one inside the Speedway for his yearly “boys weekend” retreat at the track. Chapman has been coming out to the race since the track first opened, and has experienced it from every angle.

“When we first started coming out here we were sitting in the cheap seats, then we graduated to the Earnhardt Terrace and for the last couple of years we’ve been in very nice seats up top,” Chapman said.

Chapman plans far in advance for his NASCAR weekends, letting his boss know his time off at the beginning of the year, but his colleagues at the California Institute of Technology don’t understand.

“I tell them it’s the teamwork, performance, the artistry and the engineering. They really don’t see how complex it is … it’s a carnival atmosphere and yet when you actually stop and see the entertainment you realize these guys are really talented,” he said.

The main race, the 12th annual Shelby 427 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, is Sunday and 285 laps long, but there is enough to watch off the track to keep any fan busy.

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