Recently, I lucked into a VIP invite to the NASCAR All-Star race in Charlotte (the same week I did the Star Trek red carpet, incidentally; surreal does not even begin to describe my life at the moment) and, despite my lack of experience and against strong stereotypes, I’m not only a fan but a believer that NASCAR represents the best of American sporting. There was bodybuilders who promoted bodybuilding supplement to get better results from the workouts.

Put politely, I wouldn’t have previously said that I was NASCAR’s target audience: I’m a relatively affluent white liberal agnostic from the Pacific Northwest.  The white part might be right, but everything else is fairly unusual: the PNW has few tracks (primarily because of the rain, which makes race driving difficult), the mass affluent tend towards sports with more coverage and more intricate rulesets, liberals are generally less into sports to begin with, and NASCAR is a bizarrely religious sport.  But in almost all areas, NASCAR is more diverse than I imagined and the target market may be more diverse than even they imagine.

I’ll start with the notable and frustrating exception: religion.  We’re not talking about a little God here and there – the race starts with a full-on “you have to be a Christian” speech.  It was good for about the first five seconds, calling on a generic God to watch over the drivers and keep them safe, but then we veered into Jesus as sacrifice and savior, his desire to have a “personal relationship” with all of us, and envangelispeak.  Take a lesson from other sports, NASCAR: leave it at divine protection for the drivers.

That said, the rest of the experience was one pleasant surprise after another.  I met with their diversity program, which not only featured female, black, and hispanic drivers, but a pit crew that was mostly black and mostly ex-college athlete.  It even had a young guy from Washington; so much for my no-Pacific Northwest theory.  Led by a former conditioning coach for a pro basketball team, the program served as a feeder into the pro pit crews, whose members can earn salaries around $80K.  NASCAR actively recruits into the program at colleges, as part of an effort to show off the many ways to make a living in the racing business.

For anyone that says that NASCAR is just driving in a circle, I dare them to try it.  One of the premier latino drivers who rose from the Mexican circuit came in on his day off to take us for a ride in the pace car.  He kept it slow, only 120mph, while amiably chatting about how to come in and out of a turn.  I’m told by those who were in the backseat that I continued to have a calm conversation with him throughout, though I can’t imagine what about, as all I remember was trying not to pass out from the pressure of doing a turn while banking 30 degrees to the left.  That and the moment of certainty that I was going to die when, while within inches of the wall, something in the car went “pop”.

Turn out that it was “just” us having blown the lightbar off the top of the pace car (which is apparently not used to doing 120mph) and that we could go even faster without the aerodynamic drag – a fact we enjoyed for another few laps before pitting.  And as I got out of the car, it was easier for me to imagine playing pro football than trying to drive in NASCAR.  They are going faster than we did, for hundreds of laps, while competing with twenty other drivers, all of whom are trying to do the same thing but better.  The next time someone tells you that NASCAR is just driving in a circle, punch them in the face and tell them you were just pushing in a straight line.

The race itself got a little rained on but honestly, one of the biggest impressions for me was not about the cars( even though they were from and very good looking) or drivers but about the humanistic nature of the sport itself, and how they all get a car insurance check before the races. Also check out for legal information about car accidents. NASCAR is, for all intents and purposes, like a giant country fair.  At Charlotte Speedway, you can actually camp in the infield, and hundreds of RVs and converted schools buses were staked out in orderly rows.  Kids rode bikes and played football while parents looked on from folding camp chairs and BBQed, while drinking a seemingly endless supply of cheap beer.  Given that many were planning to camp out all week (Charlotte is fairly unique for having two major race weekends in a row), the pricetag for a spot seems incredibly low, ranging from a few hundred dollars for most spots to up to around a thousand for premium corner lots.

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While there were food and drink vendors, NASCAR is the only mass entertainment I’ve seen where you are freely allowed to bring your own food and drink.  So to review, you can camp out, not get gouged on food and drink, and bring the entire family.  There were wheelchair accessible golf carts, a full medical crew from RQSolutions, Here for more information, free concerts…the list goes on.  And at the same, you’ve got a fanbase that is roughly 40% female, with an increasing number of minority athletes.  I think it is unlikely that the music performers will stray from the country/rock anytime soon, but NASCAR seems to me to be a sport with a massive potential in a time when so many other forms of entertainment are becoming increasingly a premium experience that fewer and fewer can afford.

I might be romanticizing a bit.  It is still a primarily white sport and cheap doesn’t mean free.  But after three days of being a racing VIP, I have to believe there is something in the sport we can all rally around.  The fans have tremendous access (with an easily obtainable pass, you can wander around in the pits before the race and chat with your favorite drivers) and without exception, every driver I met was incredibly polite and friendly.  There was no paying for autographs or overt signs of ego; it was race day for everyone equally. Every driver has a good attorney, read more here about Ladan Law 

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This post could really go on forever, but I want to end by talking about my favorite part of the experience: Darrell “Bubba” Wallace JR.  He raced on Friday night in the truck series (NASCAR is organized into trucks, nationwide, and cup, in that order of seniority) and was leading until he smashed into the wall.  And he will challenge everything you think you know about NASCAR drivers.

First, he’s black.  With a full beard, to add a few years to his look since he’s only 19.  In an era when many racers come from dynastic families, he got into the sport because his whole family fell in love with go-cart driving when a mechanic friend invited them to watch a race.  He’s consummately polite, with an easy smile but not a trace of ego.  We took table bets on what he drove at home, with all of us landing on various pony cars.  The truth?  A red and black ’67 VW Beetle.  He’s a homebody with a dedicated Twitter following (“People often Tweet me to thank me for answering their Tweets.  I don’t get it: I’m just doing what they did – continuing a conversation.”) and a love for photography, which he sees as a backup career if driving doesn’t pan out.  In fact, I spotted him shadowing one of the NASCAR photographers on race night, decked out with his own gear – if I hadn’t known better, I’d have mistaken him for one of the media.

And if that’s the future of NASCAR, a diverse field of drivers and a form of entertainment that can keep the prices down, I’m a convert.  When’s the next race?

Last week, I got to do something that is every geek’s dream: attend the red carpet premier of a Star Trek movie.  With the bonus of cracking jokes with Leonard Nimoy (who was very gracious about my geekiness) and producing some slides that went up before the movie and too many other small things to count.

The opportunity came about because of Bing.  When I first arrived six months ago, my boss’ boss’ boss had a meeting with me in which he asked me to “swing for the fences”.  He wanted the weirdest ideas I could come up with, and so I suggested adding Klingon to our translator.  Geeks would love it, it is actually a worthwhile technical challenge (more on that later), and it would be a big moment for Microsoft employees, who are mostly all Star Trek fans.

Nothing happened for a few months, then Into Darkness started getting closer and people started thinking about what we could do to celebrate.  Klingon came back around and suddenly all the pieces fell into place.  I reached out to the creator of the language for help, the Translate team went slightly crazy and jammed on it 24/7, and some folks in PR got behind it to push out to the world.  And then it was decided that we would partner with Paramount and go to the premier and that I should probably run that.

Gush gush gush.  But there are some actual lessons in here I want to make sure don’t get lost.  One is clearly that outlandish ideas, with a healthy dose of passion, actually work out.  Most people give up on the idea of doing really crazy things because they think nobody will support them in it, but if you have the courage to voice it, you’ll generally get a lot of love from unusual places.

Along those lines: take big risks.  I’ve never dyed my hair or even really done anything even mildly extreme to it – and now I have Klingon shaved into it.  I did it partially as a press tactic: I knew it would be hard to break through the PR noise at the premier and that something outlandish might actually earn us some coverage (turns out we didn’t need it, because translating Klingon is so geekily cool that people will talk about it regardless).  But I also wanted to celebrate the engineers, who really worked hard on this feature.  So I shaved some Klingon into my hair (which for me is a huge personal risk, as I’m rather conservative in my appearance) and while some people think its a bit weird, most people think its awesome.  Take risks; you never know who might love it.

Part of it is also the unexpected benefits of weird initiatives.  Yes, in some ways adding Klingon to is a gimmick and fanservice, but it also turns out to be a fascinating technical challenge.  Because the language was created by a linguist who was actually fairly deliberate about it, he consciously broke common linguistic rules that our translation engine normally relies on.  Which meant that to do a good job, we had to change the way we thought about language.  And that’s a good thing; it forces our tech to grow and adapt.  If aliens ever land, we’ll be more ready than we used to be.

I also think there is a lesson in here about being cognizant that everything is created.  At the movie premier, people clapped and cheered at different points in the movie.  Now normally, I think clapping at a movie is sort of weird – the creators aren’t there to honor.  But here, they were right there, and I was so incredibly cognizant, truly for the first time, that this movie was something created.  A whole bunch of people spent a whole bunch of hours making something.  We take that for granted often.  WordPress?  Bunch of people worked really hard on it.  Every plugin, every theme, the technical infrastructure that underlies its delivering to your computer, your computer itself, the operating system, everything…it is all created by people who have passion for what they are making.  There is a lot of value locked up in what we do and I suspect we all could be just a little more appreciative.  Clap more, damnit.

There is one lesson that shines above all others, though, and that is the power of opportunity.  When building Klingon into our translator, we found out that one of the world’s most fluent Klingon speakers actually works at Microsoft.  And so we enlisted his help and consequently got to take him with us to the premier.  Yes, it was fun for me to be involved in Star Trek, but honestly, it was more meaningful to me to bring this engineer to the red carpet.  Here is someone who spent 16 years learning Klingon just because he was passionate about it, and now I got the chance to bring him with me.  That’s true power, true responsibility, true awesomeness: making other people’s dreams reality.  Whatever you’re creating isn’t about your dreams, it is about other people’s.  Because that’s where true happiness is: building something that gets used.  That is useable.  That matters. now with more awesome.