Gasoline fumes rose with the roar of starting engines, pit crews strained across the line to catch a glimpse their drivers as they rolled up for the green flag and the two-man staff of Military Vehicles Magazine and Military Trader were just outside the Bristol Motor Speedway stadium handing out magazines. Sunburn nor rain showers deterred our efforts to connect our hobby with the tens of thousands who enjoy nothing more than the gritty, car-to-car action of NASCAR.
The idea to deliver our magazines to NASCAR fans came about in an innocent sort of way. A publicist from Bristol Motor Speedway contacted us with a simple question: Could we supply some historic military vehicles (HMVs) for a display? As he explained, NASCAR’s research revealed their average attendee is patriotic, supports the military and isn’t afraid of getting their hands dirty pulling wrenches. The combination appeared to him as a natural place to showcase some HMVs.
After discussing the possibility with Bristol, we decided to contact our counterparts at the Military Vehicle Preservation Association to ask if they would like to join us. You see, as Nick (our advertising “Man on Point”) and I discussed the possibility, we concluded handing out magazines at a NASCAR event would be good, not only for MVM, but for the hobby. To that end, we wanted the MVPA to join us in the attempt to recruit new enthusiasts for HMVs.
IS IT A GOOD MATCH?
Following several conversations with MVPA Board Member, David Cadorette, and fellow editor, David Doyle, we decided Military Vehicles Magazine and the Military Preservation Association—in perhaps an unprecedented level of cooperation—would share an exhibitor’s booth at the March NASCAR race weekend. David C. made contact with some great MVPA members who lived in close proximity to the track while we made travel arrangements and press run increases.
Very early on Saturday morning, Nick and I arrived at the Speedway. Driving through the Tennessee mountains, we were not prepared for what we saw. Passing the community of Bristol, we started wondering, “Where the heck is the track.” Then, like a neon-lit phoenix rising from the valley, there it was: A huge gladiatorial-like arena nestled between the ample bosom of the Smokey Mountains. We arrived early—I don’t like to be late for anything. So early, in fact, that hardly anyone was moving! I had been very concerned about congestion and security, but allow me to say: If you show up at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday, there is neither congestion nor too much security!
Nick drove right in, acting like he belonged. We had an inkling of where our booth was supposed to be located, but we needed to wait until 8AM until someone could officially place us. Until then, Nick and I wandered about, taking photos and marveling at the pageantry. It is hard to describe to someone who hasn’t attended a race, but the painted semi-trailers, rows of vendors and thousands of tents and campers surrounding the track quickly make the uninitiated realize, “This is something BIG.”
After taking turns posing for photos with the larger-than-life portraits of Danica Patrick and Ryan Newman (driver of the U.S. Army Chevrolet), Nick and I figured it was time to see if the rest of our crew arrived. As we approached our booth space, the cell rang: David Cadorette had arrived from New Hampshire.
We showed our spot to David. Located right between the massive displays of the Speed Network and Nextel Sprint, our 100’x100’ booth space looked rather intimidating. Though we had firm commitment from a couple of HMV owners to display, we weren’t sure what vehicles they would bring. Given the large area we had to fill (and the fact Nick just doesn’t look that good in a racing jump suit), we began to get just a little bit concerned.
I dealt with the pressure by strolling over to the Nextel Sprint booth and in no time, was dancing with the booth babes. I hadn’t realized it before then, but I had crossed a line: I was now perceived as a “harmless grandpa type.” While I did enjoy the frolic (apart from my profuse sweating and breathlessness), this was a horrible eye opener with which I haven’t really dealt yet.
With a big smile and a bag full of handouts, I returned to our booth space just to hear the rumble of a 6×6 coming down the hill. Our trucks had arrived! Local MVPA member Donna Gotz recruited a crew of friends and relatives to bring her M35A2 with trailer, M725 Ambulance and an M1031 Contact Maintenance Truck. Coming in behind this small convoy was Dr. Grat Correll in his 1942 GPW. It looked as though we would have a display!
With a few adjustments, the deuce, ambulance, jeep and CUCV were all positioned. David set up a table to distribute free copies of the MVPA’s magazines, Army Motors and Supply Line. Nick and I finalized the arrangement of MVM’s display. In very little time, we were ready for NASCAR’s fans!
In the weeks leading up to the event, our conversations with Bristol revealed that nearly 150,000 people attend the event. Whereas only a fraction would be coming through the exhibitor area where we displayed our vehicles and handed out magazines, the prospect of “new blood” was staggering.
Through the hours leading up to the 2 p.m. race time on Saturday, we handed out magazines and talked to those who stopped to learn more about the vehicles and the hobby. The overwhelming response was, “Gee, I didn’t know that I could buy old Army trucks!” Addressing that one reaction was probably the most important achievement of the weekend. It is far too easy to think everyone understands that when they see an old Army truck or Jeep drive through town, that the person behind the wheel is a civilian–just like them–who happens to like historic vehicles. It is very easy for people to assume we are just “war mongers” or “gun nuts.” Displaying at events like a NASCAR race or other celebrations outside our usual comfort zone is an effective way to educate a new audience. Maybe, we will also recruit a few new enthusiasts.
Once the green flag dropped on the Speedway, the event was over for us. It was amazing how fast 100,000 people can funnel into a stadium and leave the exhibit areas a veritable ghost town!
Though Sunday began with heavy rain showers, by noon, the scene was repeating itself. We continued to hand out magazines and talk to the public. When the race began an hour later, we were all hoarse, tired and ready to assess the weekend’s effort.
WAS IT SUCCESSFUL?
The terms of our agreement with Bristol Motor Speedway did not permit us to sell anything—subscriptions, books or anything else. So, in that respect, it is hard to measure any tangible “success.” What I can report, however, is the fact we handed out hundreds of magazines and talked to thousands of people about the joys of collecting, preserving, restoring and driving historic military vehicles. The public’s response was one of admiration, intrigue and inquiry. Many asked how they could get started in the hobby or where they could go to see more military vehicles. Whereas we won’t be able to measure whether any of those folks will follow through with their interest, it was obvious we had projected a positive image of the hobby.
Will “Team MV” continue on the NASCAR circuit? Nick and I will continue to work with the MVPA to have a presence at subsequent races, but in all honesty, “Nickie Bobby” and “JAG Naughton Jr.” probably will hang up their racing suits. Rather, we are continuing our exploration of new venues and gatherings of like-minded folks who we can recruit into our hobbies of collecting militaria and historic military vehicles. Our commitment is to our readers and advertisers and we will continue to explore ways to grow and strengthen our hobby.
This strategy will carry us to VFW and American Legion events, tractor shows, car shows, gun shows and air shows, in addition to some militaria and military vehicle shows in 2012 and 2013. And should we find ourselves with the invitation to display at another NASCAR event, I think it is safe to say, Nickie Bobbie and JAG are ready to go the track again to spread the word about the thrill of restoring and driving historic military vehicles.
Shake N Bake!
Editor, Military Vehicles Magazine and Military Trader