Inside the Crown Royal Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400

crown mainLast weekend I was so lucky to attend The Crown Royal “Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400″ Race at Richmond International Speedway. I went to represent The Smoking Jacket in a scavenger hunt composed of 3 teams of bloggers from different websites.

When I first heard I was being sent, I was filled with excitement for the competition itself. But after an amazing day of patriotism, Crown Royal, country music and NASCAR — winning a prize just didn’t seem important.

The race was in honor of twin brothers and US Marines Matthew and Daniel Hansen who have both served us proudly in Iraq. Sadly, Daniel was not at the race because in 2009 he gave the ultimate sacrifice to our country, losing his life while serving overseas. I was honored to interview American hero Matthew Hansen as well as Crown Royal driver Matt Kenseth and country music star Rodney Atkins.

What I found most admirable about the whole experience was that an event sponsored by Crown Royal was not about Crown Royal at all. You didn’t see people posing with cocktails or giving endless plugs. This was really about honoring our military.

I can honestly say that after this weekend I am a NASCAR fan for life, and I never thought I would say that! Here are my favorite moments from the weekend:

The Fans!

fansLet me just be frank. The people watching at NASCAR is fantastic! This is not the US Open folks! No need to worry about looking perfect. At NASCAR it’s all about wearing whatever the hell you want or close to nothing at all and having fun! I would say it’s the interpretive dance of sports fans. You just have to express yourself! Tailgating starts at 9am for the late night race, and throughout the day I met some of the most interesting people in the world!

Meeting Matthew Hansen

Matthew Hansen (From left to right, Jonathan Washburn, Tracy Pendergast, Matthew Hansen and Stefanie Hansen, Rodney Atkins and Brett Singer)

It goes without saying that shaking Matthew’s hand and thanking him for his service was a huge honor. I think it’s easy to forget how many service members have given their lives to fight for our country and how many families are affected by the loss of loved ones. Him and his wife Stefanie, who is also a Marine, were truly beautiful people.

Talking to Crown Royal Driver Matt Kenseth

kenseth(From left: Teamate Brett Singer, Tracy Pendergast, Matt Kenseth and Jonathan Washburn)

Matt was amazing to chat with and super down to earth. Being the seasoned reporter that I am, I got right to the hard hitting question. How do these guys go to the bathroom? And what do they eat before a race to insure they don’t have stomach trouble?

Matt told me he eats whatever his wife makes him and that he doesn’t have a strict eating schedule, but he does try to keep in great physical shape.

I didn’t want to push the bathroom question on him, so I dug deeper with other sources and found out the truth. Most NASCAR drivers don’t have to pee while driving, mostly because they are sweating throughout the whole race. The inside of the car can get very hot — 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more. If it is an issue though, the driver will just go in their suit or wear adult diapers. Awesome.

The Rodney Atkins Concert

rodney atkinsI was lucky enough to get to chat with Rodney before the concert, but interviewing him couldn’t compare to watching him perform live. The highlight of the concert was when he pulled Matthew Hansen and his wife on stage and they danced as he sang the final song. A lot of people had “exhaust in their eye” at that moment.

The Pits!

pit crewI have to admit I used to always flip through NASCAR on TV and say, “Who would watch cars drive in circles for 3 hours?” The biggest misconception about NASCAR is that it’s just about the driver. I had the opportunity to watch the whole race from the pits and realized that NASCAR is a team sport! Matt Kenseth described himself as being the quarterback of the team, and it’s so true. The skill level and focus of everyone involved is absolutely incredible. In NASCAR you are only as good as your team.

Miss Sprint Cup

miss sprint cupIf you don’t know who Miss Sprint Cup is, that’s ok, neither did I! Kim Coon is one of the three ladies who hold that title and is as sweet as can be. You might recognize the Orlando native from the last season of The Bachelor or for her high kicks as an NFL cheerleader.

The Patriotism

fly overI can’t say I’ve ever been at a sporting event that felt so all-American. From the national anthem to the fly over, this was a day filled with love for the military and the USA!

This High Five

high fiveNever has a high five been so awkward, and I made them do it. I will be blowing this up poster size and hanging it in the garage of my first home.

Riding in a Pace Car

pace carBefore the race started I was driven around the track in a pace car at 90mph. That might not seem that fast, considering what the real racecar drivers do, but what I didn’t realize is that you literally get a half inch from the wall. I was terrified. Note taken on the aforementioned adult diapers.

A Date with the Whisky Master!

crown royalI got to attend a Crown Royal tasting with the Master of Whisky himself, Steve Wilson. He is literally one of the most knowledgeable guys I have ever met, and after a long day at the races it was a pleasure to sit with him and sip through the selection of Crown Royal. I used to always think of whisky as an alcohol best used with mixers, but after learning about every distinct flavor that makes up their whisky…I might have become an on the rocks girl. My favorite was definitely the Crown Royal XR. It had that beautiful, rich vanilla smell and was super creamy and full bodied. It was so smooth!

I would like to thank everyone who made this weekend possible. It was truly an amazing experience that I will never forget.

For the full photo album from the Crown Royal event, click here.