By Michael Eubanks
If you’ve ever been to a Verizon IndyCar Series race, you probably know that the fan access is like no other sport. The drivers are friendly and approachable, and for fans who want an up close and personal view of the machines those drivers pilot, there are pit and paddock passes for purchase that allow said fans to do just that.
But if you consider yourself an IndyCar “superfan” like I do, you want to be able to get even closer to the cars and stars you adore, and as I found out last weekend at Portland International Raceway, an INDYCAR Nation membership will allow you to do just that.
Before I begin to tell you about my amazing experience that I will certainly never forget, I just want to let you know that I am in no way being paid or compensated by INDYCAR Nation to write this post, nor did I receive my membership for free. I paid for mine just like everyone else. I simply feel that anyone who even considers themselves the most casual of an IndyCar fan should consider joining this fan community, as it has a wide variety of perks.
INDYCAR Nation has multiple membership levels. The yearly membership level I purchased was a Champion membership, which is $34.95 per year. There are two other paid membership levels: Pit Crew, which is for fans aged 13-17, is $24.95 a year, and Legend which is $99.95 and features a couple of key benefits not included in the aforementioned levels (mostly pace car and two seater rides). There is also a Rookie membership that is free, though has very few benefits aside from a weekly newsletter and special event promotion emails.
So, what exactly did I receive and what did I get to do with my membership? Well, first, every Champion and Legend member will receive a membership kit in the mail a few weeks after purchasing their membership. The kit includes various trinkets that can be used on a race weekend, such as a branded cooling towel that could be used on a hot race day, as well as a lanyard, mini fan and a few other small goodies. Pit Crew, Champion and Legend members also have the opportunity to print out a membership card that provides a 15% discount on merchandise when presented at the official trackside store.
Those benefits are nice, and are greatly appreciated. But the real value from having an INDYCAR Nation membership is the exclusive experiences only for members. On any given race weekend, members have the opportunity to RSVP to special events such as driver meet and greets, Q & A sessions and photo opportunities. Once entered, a select amount of members are drawn through a lottery system and are sent a confirmation email with a pass to print out to participate in the event. There’s no guarantee that your name will automatically be drawn for every event that you RSVP to, but considering that I was drawn for an experience on all three days of the race weekend, it appears that INDYCAR Nation tries their best to keep you satisfied with a variety of experiences throughout the race weekend.
The first experience I won was a fast pass to the full-field autograph session on Friday. One thing that makes the IndyCar Series unique compared to other popular motorsport series is that each race weekend, all drivers competing in the race must attend a free, mandatory autograph session for the fans. You won’t find this in NASCAR or Formula One. Instead of running through the paddock trying to track down their favorite drivers to sign their prized memorabilia, fans can simply arrive at the fan zone at the scheduled time and receive autographs from their favorite drivers.
A fast pass might not seem like much of a prize if the event was already free, but considering the fact that the drivers are only signing autographs for only an hour, and the field was split into two very long lines, there is no guarantee you’ll be able to receive every driver’s signature-unless you have a fast pass. Having bought a white mini helmet at the trackside store earlier in the morning, I was eager and excited to be able to have every single driver sign it. With my fast pass, I walked into a much, much shorter line and was the first person to have receive autographs from all of the drivers in the first line. Once I was done there, I simply walked right back around to the fast pass line and was let directly in to the second line. I had my mini helmet signed by all 25 drivers and was done in about 15 minutes. Sure beats waiting.
On Saturday, I had another exciting opportunity. I was drawn to take tour of the paddock area at the track, guided by Patrick Stephan of Trackside Online. Having covered the sport for years, Stephan was incredibly knowledgeable of all of the happenings in the paddock and he told many great and humorous stories. He showed us how Firestone prepares tires for the race weekend, how technical inspection works and lastly, he took us to Pietro Fittipaldi’s hauler to show us how a race team operates over the course of a weekend.
The autograph session fast pass and the paddock tour were amazing experiences in themselves, but the best experience was on Sunday following the race. After the checkered flag dropped, I had the opportunity to head straight to the winner’s circle and take part in a group photo with other INDYCAR Nation members, as well as race winner Takuma Sato and his car! Unless you work for or sponsor the winning team, or are a member of the media, you’re not going to be able to get as up close and personal to the winning car and driver without an INDYCAR Nation membership. Sato was more than happy to pose with us members, and shook everyone’s hand after the photo was taken.
All and all, the exclusive experiences offered by INDYCAR Nation made an already fantastic weekend even better, and I already plan on renewing my membership next year. Even if you only can make it to one IndyCar race a year, you will get much more than your money’s worth at the track. If you travel to multiple races a year, you can RSVP for events at all of them. There is no limit of how many races you can RSVP for events at. If you even consider yourself even the most casual of IndyCar fans, I would recommend looking into an INDYCAR Nation membership.
For more information on INDYCAR Nation, be sure to check out their official website at indycarnation.indycar.com.