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NASCAR 101: re-making Middle Tennessee a motorsport haven

Summertime near Nashville means 'start your engines'
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Posted at 11:03 AM, Jun 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-23 19:38:15-04

WILSON CO., Tenn. (WTVF) — As summer officially heats up, the engines begin to rev.

It's an old tradition becoming new again in Middle Tennessee with a recent racing renaissance that includes both NASCAR and IndyCar.

The Nashville Superspeedway near Lebanon sat dormant for nearly a decade before NASCAR brought a cup series race to town last year. It was the first time NASCAR had a presence in Middle Tennessee in 37 years.

Back again this weekend, many folks may still not feel overly familiar with the new, old sport in town.

Track President and GM Erik Moses can relate. He's been a part of the racing industry a mere two years but has learned lightning-fast. He agreed to give NewsChannel 5 Traffic Anchor Rebecca Schleicher a lesson in racing. Or, as some might call it, a "crash course."

Introduction

"So it's not just: go fast and turn left?" she joked.

"It is so much more than go fast and turn left! That is important, but it's so much more than that," Moses said. "There's a lot of nuance going on. Who's in clear air, who's in dirty air, who's pushing whom to get better speed down the backstretch."

The track in Wilson County is 1.33 miles of concrete, with room for 38,000 fans watching drivers go at break-neck speeds.

"Car vs. skill… what's more important?" Schleicher asked.

"That's a great question. So the short answer is it takes both. A really good driver in a really bad ride isn’t going to win races," he said. "A really bad driver in a really good ride is likely not gonna win races either, but may be competitive. The sweet spot is to find a capable and hopefully really talented driver and pair them with a really good ride and that’s what you see with drivers like Jimmie Johnson." To name one of the greats.

This year teams are racing a new Next Gen car and in Middle Tennessee, teams are dealing with a fairly new track.

"I think (it) provides for a really great combination of teams, crew chiefs, pit crews and drivers trying to figure out and solve this track with a new car on it," said Moses.

He adds that drivers are some of the biggest superstar athletes he knows.

"These guys sit in a car with no air conditioning for three-to-four hours with 30 other cars around them, six inches off of every sides, doing speeds in excess of 150 mph on a banked track."

Vocabulary

Moses schools us in some track terms that only true fans would know.

"Stickers are brand new tires because they stick to the track; scuffs are used tries that have already been on the car, maybe a few laps in practice that can be reused on the car," he explained.

Those terms were new to him too. He says he recently heard them on a broadcast and texted Darrell Waltrip to ask what they meant. Fortunately, he said the NASCAR legend with Middle Tennessee ties did not give him a hard time.

This weekend, fans can watch the Rackley Roofing 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race, the Tennessee Lottery 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series Race and the Ally 400 NASCAR Cup Series Race, known as the featured event.

Moses explains the races are named for the miles they include. And of course, sponsors. Hugely important to the sport.

"Which is why our drivers look like they have brands tattooed all over their fire suits and their cars," he laughed.

Speed Round

Finally, as the two speed around the track, it's time for the speed round of the lesson. Schleicher asked Moses several rapid fire questions. Here were his answers.

Turn angle: 14 degrees
Number of tire changes in a normal race: 5
Max speed drivers will hit: 185-186
Number of laps in the Ally 400: "I cant do that math in my head," Moses laughed.

We can help him out with the math. It's 300 laps.

Conclusion

The track president says there's no wrong way to fan. But he thinks the best way to learn is watching in person.

"You get a better sense of the speed, the sights, the sounds, the smells of everything out here that happens at the track," he said.

Just don't forget to bring your ear protection.

Laps for Charity

This year fans get a chance to drive on the track in their own car. Laps for Charity will happen Sunday at 9 am for $60 per car.

Participants can take three laps behind the pace car and even bring a few passengers along for the ride.