Fans enjoy opportunity to meet drivers

Keeping the fans in touch with the drivers is a key element in the growth of the sport of auto racing and the on-track meet-and-greets are a big part of that.

Watching the kids interact with the drivers last week at Fonda Speedway’s meet-and-greet was reminiscent of the nights when, after the races were complete, fans filled the walk area in front of the grandstand before funneling through the small gate opening in the fence and ran anxiously to the infield pits in search of their favorite drivers.

Kids had pictures in hand seeking out that valued autograph, or just to shake the hand of their heroes and say “good job” or “you’ll get him next time.”

The sight of fans flocking to see the cars and drivers at last Saturday’s meet-and-greet at Fonda Speedway brought back a flood of memories and a lot of smiles.

The drivers had pictures available to hand out to the younger (and older) fans. Some had candy or other trinkets on hand or even T-shirts available with the driver ready, Sharpie in hand, to make it one of a kind as he autographed it if they wanted.

You just know that after meeting the drivers the cheering in the stands was a little bit louder for a driver as he ran door-to-door on the track and Monday morning at school the race chatter was a little more enthusiastic.

No doubt, Stewart Friesen had a larger group of fans Saturday.

Imagine a young fan looking up in awe at Stewie and asking for his autograph and instead having the defending track champion handing you a pen and asking you to write your name on the number of his car.

Then, to top it off, Friesen made the most of a late-race restart to shoot to the front of the pack and claim his third win of the year.

Although Justin Boehler and Alton Palmer are two fan-friendly drivers who make the time for their fans, the edge had to go to Friesen in the category of cheers.

Friesen then did a little thing to some, but a big thing in the eyes of the young fans.

Instead of driving the car into Victory Lane with the nose pointing toward the first turn, he turned it around and put the nose point toward the pit, leaving the autographed number exposed to the fans so every “sponsor” had their name in the celebration photos.

One fan, Darryn Fallis, was invited onto Victory Lane to join Friesen and had his picture taken pointing to his name on the car.

And Friesen made the night a little more special by handing Fallis the trophy to take home.

I know tracks have kiddie rides and it is special to take a couple of laps with a driver (I rode with Pete Corey when I was a kid) but the meet and greets seem to be the way to go.

You meet everyone who comes out, and there’s no loading and unloading kids and let’s face it, the modifieds and sportsman are not passenger cars.