MADISON — Hours before racers started their engines at the region’s first NASCAR Cup Series race, the Enjoy Illinois 300, thousands of fans gathered halfway through.
Getting close to the cars and the drivers is a highlight of participating in the races. The middle – carnival food, souvenir stalls, remote control racing car play, bands – is another.
Jeff Klingelhoefer, 40, of Troy, Illinois, was able to get an autograph from driver Joey Logano – who ended up winning the race – as well as Logano’s pit crew.
Fans gather and crews prepare the pit road ahead of the NASCAR Enjoy Illinois 300 race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois on Sunday, J…
“I’m a lifelong NASCAR fan, I’m a mechanic myself, and I know how hard it is to maintain the cars. They’re an essential part of the team,” Klingelhoefer said after handing over his news. Logano baseball cap over the fence to the pit crew for their signings.
He said he felt like a kid in the candy store in the infield: “For me it’s the best experience, you can watch them go into the pit stop.”
Races are better than a lot of sporting events because the fans can be so close, he said: “You see things behind the scenes. Running is more than going around in circles all the time.
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Kathy Mitrano, 64, of Salem, Illinois, and her husband Paul, 66, secured Christmas tickets that put them 30 rows across the start/finish line among 57,000 other fans in the sold-out crowd.
“You sit up there and you hear all these engines and it just takes over you; it’s just exhilarating,” said Kathy Mitrano.
The couple were enjoying pre-race activities. They had the chance to speak to retired pilot Kenny Wallace and get his autograph.
The Mitranos have attended other races over the years at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison and are impressed with the upgrades to the facility since Curtis François took over as owner in 2011.
“They did an incredible job. It’s really fan-oriented. If they keep here, I’ll keep coming,” Kathy Mitrano said.
Kyle McIntire, 28, and his wife, Brittany, 32, decided to make the weekend a family affair, bringing their 7-month-old and 9-year-old daughters, plus a cousin and 9-year-old grandparents year. The race is Kyle McIntire’s sixth, but Brittany’s first.
“I just got married with this,” she said. But she loved seeing all the cars, visiting team garages and shopping for souvenirs.
Of all the cargo trailers for the drivers, the longest queues on Sunday morning were for memorabilia from the race itself. The shelves quickly emptied of Enjoy Illinois 300 T-shirts.
“It’s fun, really fun. There’s a lot to do, especially for the kids,” said Brittany McIntire. The family set out from Springfield, Ill., on Saturday, returned home after the race and returned Sunday morning.
David Scott, 59, and his friend Ron Wagher, 53, of Bloomington, Illinois, have competed in six NASCAR races. Wagher was happy to have one so close to enjoy.
“It’s one of those things. I wish someone would pay me to go 160, 170 mph. I like speed,” Scott said.
The pair said the logistics – how organizers direct fans to the parking lot and through the entrances to the track – were different to other races they’ve attended, but so far they haven’t encountered any major issues. . They were curious to see their view from their seats.
Most fans on Sunday morning were enjoying the activities (or the shade behind the stands) instead of heading to their seats in the stands.
Dustin and Kara Mossberger of St. Charles hoisted their 4-year-old son Jackson onto Dustin’s shoulders after he dropped off a cooler for them. The trio headed for the middle.
“I want a toy!” said Jackson.
Jackson was attending his first auto race in person after spending much of his young life watching cars on TV. He woke up Sunday morning ready to leave, with his ticket in hand, his parents said.
More than 1,000 people are camping at the track, with fans excited to see NASCAR locally.
Kevin James, 56, from Hazelwood, was among them. Going to a NASCAR race and camping in the infield was on his wish list. So he rented an RV and took his grandsons, Harrison, 14, and Hasani Hendrikson, 17, from St. Charles.
“Since it was here in St. Louis for its inaugural event, it was a perfect opportunity because it was so close to home,” James said. “I’ve never attended a NASCAR race, and what better way to do that than in the infield of my hometown.
The weekend brought them many opportunities in addition to the races: a concert by Nelly, photos with Bubba Wallace and friendly meetings with the neighbors of the camp. James said he had been to the race track before and also praised the renovations.
Many commented that the parking lot and queues to get in moved smoothly. The staff was kind and helpful.
“I think NASCAR will be back; I really am,” said Paul Mitrano.
The show will unfold in front of an expected 57,000 fans and a TV audience on FS1 as St. Louis adds another major sporting event to its history.
St. Louis is set to be the center of the stock car racing world this weekend—and the Enjoy Illinois 300 is the hottest ticket in town.