Code Of Conduct

After I wrote an article on Racing One last weekend suggesting a written set of rules for fans being issued garage passes, a few curious readers wrote to ask me what sort of rules I had in mind. Typically NASCAR would have some PR type to prepare this, but since they’re all busy this week, I’ll do it for them and agree to let them use it. Just send the check to the regular address, guys. I don’t leave for the islands until November.

Dress Code- This is mandatory and applies even when it’s hot, so if you have a garage pass for an upcoming event listen up. NASCAR does not allow open toed shoes, shorts, or sleeveless T-shirts or blouses in the garage area. There’s a less defined rule that says females may not wear attire that would be "distracting" so leave you Britney Collection for Fall garb at home. Long pants are required. At most tracks you’ll get in in blue jeans and a T-shirt, but long timers will know you’re a newbie. Black denim (redneck formal) and a polo short will make you less conspicuous.

While the topic is open do you really want to ask for Rusty Wallace’s autograph wearing a Johnny Benson T-shirt or cap right now? Non-sectarian gear is preferred unless someone is paying you to wear it, or a particular sponsor got you the garage pass in the first place. And leave the coolers at home. You may not bring beer into the garage area.

You are now entering the garage area. You’re going to see the drivers, crew chiefs, crew people etc. you normally only see on TV. Hey, you’ll see the TV people too if that sort of thing appeals to you. You are also entering an area with some inherent dangers. Keep aware of your surroundings. Cars enter and exit the garage area sometimes at immoderate speeds (Which NASCAR needs to address). You won’t always hear them coming. Drivers do "plug checks" to gauge how well a carb is jetted. They’ll run a lap at speed and coast into the garage area with the engine off trying to glide back to their garage stall. They can’t refire the engine or it negates the plug readings, so don’t be the person that gets in their way.

Crewmen have to roll heavy pit boxes to pit road. Watch out for them too. Once they get a head of steam those toolboxes are hard to stop. Yes, you’re excited, but you need to keep your wits about you too.

Most tracks will use stanchions, chains, and yellow police tape to cordone off avenues that are only for the racecars. Do not cross those lines, even to get to the other side. Find the long way around. Do not step into the forbidden zone even if you are in a hurry to get somewhere and just want to get around a huge pack of fans behind the 8 or 24 transporter.

The cars are worked on in garage stalls located in the garage area. Don’t go in there. The guys are working. The drivers are talking with their crew chiefs. Sometimes parts and tools get slung around. Don’t go in there, all right? It’s off limits.

You can normally tell if you’ve chosen to approach a driver at a bad time. If he catches sight of you and smiles or acknowledges you with a nod, it’s OK to approach him or her. If they frown, look away or start muttering, go no closer. If they attempt to flee do not chase them screaming their name. You will look like an idiot doing so.

There’s usually an open air MRO chapel service Sunday morning in the garage area. You can get close enough to listen, but leave the seats for the regulars. And don’t go taking pictures during the chapel service. That’s just rude. How would you like someone to come into your House of Worship and start snapping photos during services?

Another bit of advice that ought not to need saying but does, don’t smoke or discard your cigarette around the Unocal 76 pumps. And for goodness sakes don’t ask for autographs in the bathrooms!

Don’t be lugging a great big knapsack full of stuff you want autographed into the garage area. Truth be told the garage area is a pretty poor place to collect autographs unless you’re invited to a hospitality session featuring a driver or he does an appearance at his souvenir rig. If you must have some drivers’ autograph to validate your existence, in almost all instances you can mail the item you wish autographed to the team’s shop (along with self-addressed return packaging and postage of course) and you’ll get your autograph. It may take awhile so be patient.

Since you can’t run around getting 43 autographs, why not just document your experience unobtrusively with a camera? After all when your friends who have never had this unique privilege ask what it was like to be in the garage area do you want to show them a couple signatures or share the sights you saw? I’d be more impressed by the latter. Keep your eyes open. You’ll see some neat stuff. For instance a lot of fans thought the late Dale Earnhardt and Bill Elliott had a lifelong grudge match going on, and their fans were constantly fighting. I can’t tell you how many times before a race I’d see Dale and Bill leaning against some track vehicle obviously enjoying a pleasant conversation and laughing with one another. There’s a picture I wish I’d taken in retrospect.

Even while you have the viewfinder to your face you must be aware of your surroundings. Don’t take a step forward to get a better camera angle without looking where you’re stepping. If you’re with someone have them watch over you while you photograph.

Some more autograph etiquette- Never thrust anything within a foot of someone’s face trying to get their attention and an autograph. You never know when that person might be about to lean over and greet a child. And even if you’ve waited patiently and the driver walks off without autographing something for you, it’s pretty senseless to launch into a foul-mouthed tirade. It’s not going to get you your autograph and it might just get you chucked out of the garage area. Either way it’s sure to convince everyone within earshot you’re a boorish moron. If you must, walk away muttering under your breath. That way others will just think you’re a sidewalk schizophrenic looking for his misplaced shopping cart.

Never wear earphones in the garage area. You’re eliminating your sense of hearing, which is essential to keep you safe. If you want to hear what’s going on drape your headphones around your neck and you should be able to hear most of it. If you really must wear the headphones (Like to listen to the MRN broadcast during the Busch race) stake out a spot where you are absolutely sure you are not in danger or in the way and stay put.

All those shiny transporters have signs on the rear door that say things like "No admittance" or "Team Members Only." That means you’re not allowed in there either. Nor can you knock on the door and ask to speak to the driver. Nor should you position yourself in such a manner you are blocking people who need to enter and exit the truck. Most trucks have little stands with autograph cards (a picture of the driver and his car) behind them. You’re allowed to take one. You are not allowed to take a handful and sell them. There are big vats with cold drinks beside the trailers too. No, you can not have one even though they seem to have plenty. If you’re thirsty go to a concession stand.

There is one excuse to run in the garage area. That’s if the gas pumps blow up and you are on fire. Otherwise, if you are running you are in the wrong. Stop. Take a deep breath. Slow down.
Never step directly into the path in which a driver or other person is walking in an attempt to stop them.

NASCAR may find it necessary to clear the garage area of non-essential people time to time. No, you’re probably going not going to be happy about it, but either you’re going to leave on your own or be escorted. Why make a scene? You can’t fight City Hall and City Hall is a pillow fight compared to NASCAR.

While the phrases, "Please", "Thank you" and "Excuse me" don’t sponsor race cars, unlike the Muppets they are welcome in the garage area. No one ever made a bad impression with good manners.

If you see someone who seems to be taking themselves entirely too seriously that’s a member of the mainstream media. Best to leave them alone as well, as they have absolutely no sense of humor. Never get between a media person and free food or beer. It’s a sure way to get trampled.

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2002

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