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Fans at center of Sprint Unlimited plans

NASCAR, Daytona, Sprint plan unrivaled live experience

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Other sports have their mega-sized jumbotron screens flashing shots of fanatic fans during games. And there’s the always-popular “kiss-cam,” egging on couples to show some affection while a massive crowd cheers them on.

But NASCAR, Daytona International Speedway and Sprint will kick off Speedweeks by taking crowd involvement to a whole new level with fan participation not seen before in the sport’s history.

Some fans attending The Sprint Unlimited at Daytona on Feb. 16 are going to get the ultimate full-sensory experience.

Imagine standing only a few feet above the famous speedway when The Sprint Unlimited field of 22 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars comes thundering toward you while you wave the green flag to start the race. Or riding in the pace car blazing by the grandstands directly in front of that pack of cars.

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“We’re going to pull fans from the track to actually be part of our pre-race ceremonies,” Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood explained. “We’re going to have a fan wave the green flag, give the (starting) command. We’re going to have fans be part of driver introductions.”

It’s exactly the kind of fan involvement the track, the sport and the series sponsor is hoping to capitalize on. And Chitwood grinned widely when talking about the possibilities.

Fans at the race will not only have a chance to participate in driver introductions, wave the green flag, ride in the pace car, serve as Grand Marshal, work as a NASCAR “official” and deliver the starting command, but will also decide — in the hours immediately before the race — the way cars will line up on the grid.

“If you show up, your vote is the only one that counts on how the field is set. We think that’s pretty cool,” Chitwood said. “We’re trying to come up with ways to make sure that the person at the track feels a part of it — an experience as good or better — as the person that stayed home.”

Those that can’t make it to the track will have opportunities to participate in The Sprint Unlimited, too — thanks to a new initiative that lets fans vote by mobile phone or on on the race format (how long each of three segments will be), pit stops, how many cars will be eliminated after each segment. … even the fire suit design for Miss Sprint Cup. 

The fans that attend The Sprint Unlimited will have a similarly high-tech way to register for their chance to participate in the event by scanning a pass card at various kiosks around the track.

“The beauty of it is, as soon as we determine the winners, we have a great P.A. system and video boards, and I have a feeling if you hear your name being called that you get to wave the green flag, you’re going to come running to the location so we can get you dialed in,” Chitwood said.

Sprint executives are confident The Sprint Unlimited — a 75-lap non-points race — provides the perfect setting to engage fans both at home and at the track.

“The idea of fan loyalty is in some ways, a catchphrase in the sport, but it exists,” Sprint’s Director of Sports Marketing Tim Considine said in announcing the company’s first sponsorship of the event. “Our customers who are race fans; they stay with us longer. They are significantly more loyal, and that empowers our management to say to our team, ‘Go out there and come up with new ways to engage these fans because they are great for our business.’ ”