It’s all about timing.
Drivers in NASCAR’s national series have weekend schedules loaded with on-track sessions, media availabilities, sponsorship obligations and more. But none of that takes away from the main reason they travel thousands of miles across the country to different tracks and events: the fans.
For racing enthusiasts attending multiple races throughout the season, meeting their favorite driver can be the highlight of their weekend; and for new fans, the challenge of interacting with one may be daunting.
Taking on his first full-time season in the Cup Series, 23-year-old Justin Haley understands the pressure of stepping outside your comfort zone.
“Growing up, you don’t think that you’re gonna be someone in the eyes of fans,” Haley said. “You start racing and you just wanna race. So it’s been a hard transition.”
Haley burst onto the national scene in 2015, making his first NASCAR starts in the Camping World Truck Series. He made his full-season debut in the series during the 2018 season, racking up three wins, nine top-five finishes and 18 top 10s in 23 races to boost him up the ranks to the Xfinity Series. Four wins later, he has settled into his role as the driver of the No. 31 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet on the sport’s biggest stage.
RELATED: Justin Haley’s driver page
Along the way, he has continuously grown his fanbase and realizes the value of interacting with them each week.
“Growing your fanbase is awesome,” said Haley. “Starting from trucks and then Xfinity and Cup, you start getting noticed more and more and I appreciate that. Especially, with the Indy Road Course a few weeks ago being my home track, there were a lot of people who were fans. It’s huge. You strive to be as much with the people as possible.
“At the end of the day, we all put our pants on the same way. I’ve got a pretty cool job and I’d love to share it with more people.”
Leading up to the Cup Series race, drivers have practice and qualifying sessions (at most tracks) that allow them special segments of time to interact with fans in the garage area before the main event.
But timing matters.
“We’re all very approachable,” Haley said. “And fans are what makes the world go ’round, right? So, you’ve just got to catch us at the right time or place and we will always try to make time for the fans.”
If you are heading to a track for the first time and trying to plan ahead, the best way to see the full schedule of events is to visit the track’s website. This will also keep you up to speed on any pre-race activities, new or updated amenities and the specific locations where you may be able to meet a driver.
And as far as interacting with any driver in any series, just be simple, patient and respectful.
“[The best way to interact with us is to] just come up to us and ask us for an autograph,” Haley said. “The biggest thing is if I’m busy doing something or talking to someone, just wait that extra second and have a more interactive experience with me. Either way, you’re going to get an autograph. It’s just what kind of experience do you want to have?”
Even younger fans may have a lot more in common with drivers than they think.
“For me, it’s obviously easier to kind of relate to the younger fans because I was a fan of the sport growing up,” Haley said. “I was in their shoes not too long ago, so I think it’s pretty cool, especially when young racers come up and ask for advice and things like that. Not too long ago, I was in their position and probably didn’t even think it was possible to become a NASCAR driver.”
Whether showing up for just a day or spending an entire weekend at the track, there is always something for everyone to enjoy. Especially getting a chance to see your favorite driver in person.
“It’s always nerve-racking going up to a NASCAR driver as a young kid,” Haley said. “Or maybe someone who just races and aspires to be in the Cup Series. But remember, [the interaction] is just as cool for us.”