RELATED: See Zuckerberg's day at the shop and with Dale Jr. at the track
CHARLOTTE, NC -- Mark Zuckerberg sits in Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 Chevrolet with a huge grin on his face Tuesday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Facebook co-founder and CEO just finished a 175-plus-mph ride around the 1.5-mile track with Earnhardt Jr. as his driver.
And he's impressed.
"OK, if this is all we get to do in Charlotte, that will be enough," Zuckerberg says via Facebook Live. "What an amazing experience. … I think there were probably millions of people who would die to do what I just did."
He certainly looks the part, dressed in a white helmet and blue NASCAR Racing Experience fire suit, the coloring similar to Earnhardt Jr.'s own ensemble. Zuckerberg has a relaxed, easy demeanor about him as he chats with cameramen, crew members and speedway employees.
MORE: Learn about the NASCAR Racing experience
But those initial laps with Junior behind the wheel were anything but a Sunday morning jaunt.
"Holy s---t!" he says, as Junior veers the No. 88 machine around Turn 2 and up the banking. "All right we're a little close to the wall."
"I wanted him to get a sense of the speed and the grip and the G-Forces," Earnhardt says on the ride-along. " … I'm sure it was exhilarating. I couldn't imagine getting into a car with a race car driver having never driven before myself."
Zuckerberg's foray into NASCAR began with his desire to learn more about the racing community. He has been traveling around the country throughout the year, visiting different states in hopes of learning about the diverse groups of people that make up America.
The NASCAR community is one that intrigued him.
"NASCAR and driving and sports in general form the basis of a lot of communities," Zuckerberg says. "You think about not only the community of drivers and the families around them, but NASCAR's probably, I think, the biggest sport in the country that people go to and attend live.
"… I have this big belief with Facebook and what we're doing to help people try to build community that we all need to be a part of something bigger than ourselves and certainly all the fans -- I think you have three million fans on Facebook who follow Dale Jr. For them, NASCAR's a huge part of their identity and a lot of people pin their hopes on you going out and winning."
"They're very supportive," Earnhardt Jr. says of his fans later.
But Zuckerberg is privy to Junior Nation: "Well, you have good fans, though," he says with a chuckle.
• • •
Zuckerberg's quest to learn more about the NASCAR community began earlier that day in a sub-community of racing: The Hendrick Motorsports race shop in Charlotte, North Carolina.
He arrived at the Nos. 48/88 shop -- that builds and prepares race cars for Earnahrdt Jr. and reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson -- dressed in a gray hoodie, jeans and Nikes, with an appetite for racing knowledge apparent.
Who better to give it to him than No. 48 crew chief Chad Knaus?
"The crew captain!" Zuckerberg exclaims as he walks into the shop and shakes Knaus' hand. Knaus is giving Zuckerberg a private tour today. The two walk into the shop, and almost immediately Zuckerberg begins asking questions. His brow furrows and there's a "Wow!" often dancing around his mouth.
Knaus leads the group from the shop and into a side room where the 7-post machine is testing one of the unpainted cars. Zuckerberg's face lights up when the car starts to rattle and shake.
"Super nice guy, shockingly normal," Knaus tells NASCAR.com after the tour. "Very inquisitive. He was definitely curious about what it is that we do and he had a ton of questions. They were actually very good questions. I was happy to hear that.
"... He was asking about what we do, how the cars are built, where we take them, the differences between a short track car and a high speed track car," Knaus continues. "He was asking about the tire stagger, how we choreograph our pit stops."
Hendrick Motorsports presents Zuckerberg with a personalized team jersey and signed helmet upon the conclusion of the tour.
"Now don't wear that when you're driving your car, that's for display purposes only," Knaus jokes.
No matter: In a few minutes, he'll get his own racing-ready helmet anyway.
• • •
After a few laps with Junior, it's time for Zuckerberg to wheel a race car on his own. He had a few practice laps earlier that day, with Dale Jr. coaching him via in-car radio.
"You're going to come down the apron, down pit road," Earnhardt said earlier.
"Where's that?" Zuckerberg asked.
"Where you came from," Junior said with a smile.
"Oh, that's a wall, there's nothing good over there," Zuckerberg said cheerfully, piloting the race car around Turn 4 and down pit road.
Now, he's relatively prepared, as he climbs into the car for another run.
"I kind of showed you the line," Junior coaches. "Down the front straightaway, nice and broad, good smooth arc down the front straightaway. And then on the back straightaway, you get out against that fence, as close as you're comfortable with."
"I think probably a little further away than you were," Zuckerberg says. "You got pretty close there."
"I know, I was doing that on purpose, we probably wouldn't race that close," Junior says with a grin.
Zuckerberg gets going, hitting 5,000 RPMs soon into his run. He hugs the white line, moving toward the high line later. He seems to grow more comfortable as his run continues.
"We're just down here hanging out," he says with a smile. "After driving with you, I don't feel that we're pushing it that hard here."
"Get a little more aggressive!" Junior urges, as Zuckerberg hits the rev limiter on the car.
"I don't think it wants me going faster than 5,000 RPMs," Zuckerberg says.
He takes a couple more laps and then comes down pit road, the grin still plastered on his face.
And he's worked up an appetite.
He asks about a promised dinner of fried chicken, then invites Junior to join him for a post-race meal.
• • •
Zuckerberg and Earnhardt engage in a conversation after their ride, a plate of fried chicken and a biscuit sitting by Zuckerburg. They talk for a while quietly, away from the cameras and lights from today.
It has been a day of immersion for Zuckerberg, whose knowledge about racing has significantly increased since he arrived in North Carolina.
But it was just as beneficial for NASCAR, too, as the worlds of racing and ever-growing social media industry merged on a different front.
"When you have someone that has that many touch points, that many people that he influences, having him come and experience what NASCAR was all about is a tremendous opportunity for our sport," Steve Phelps, NASCAR executive vice president and chief global sales and marketing officer, told NASCAR.com. "Watching him ride along with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the expression on his face and truly to get to experience what it's like to be in car and how fast it is, how loud it is, how much the vibration of the car is.
"I think he has a newfound respect and we're trying to get new fans, one fan at a time. Having someone like Mark out here is certainly an opportunity for us to get more than one fan at a time."