The Knoxville Nationals are “Magical”

(T.J. Buffenbarger photo)

By T.J. Buffenbarger

(August 7, 2019) — This past April I was exploring the expanses of Disney World for the first time with my family. I went into the trip with anticipation, but skeptical that such a trip could never live up to the hype that the Disney brand presents. It turned out to be the most “magical” vacation we ever took as a family. When I returned home, I discussed my visit to Disney with Knoxville Raceway’s Director of Marketing and huge Disney parks fan Kendra Jacobs. One comment I had for her was the Knoxville Nationals experience was the closest thing we have to that level of entertainment in our sport.

David Gravel playing basketball with children in the Kid Zone. (T.J. Buffenbarger photo)

There are some interesting parallels to draw between the Magic Kingdom and the biggest event in all of sprint car racing. If you look at the daily event schedule for the Nationals there are things going on from sunrise and well into the night. Before going to Disney we sat down as a family and tried to map out a few things so we could maximize our experience in the time allotted. I do the same thing at the Nationals looking at a schedule and a map and seeing what I can realistically get to throughout the day to give the readers the experience of being right over my shoulder throughout the Knoxville experience.

This thought was furthered when having a similar conversation with Southern Ontario Sprints president and friend Mike Ferrell. Ferrell and I both agree that the eating experience at Knoxville is very similar to Disney with the crazy variety of things there are to consume in a short period of time. From the track concessions, various street food located throughout the grounds and the surrounding area, and some of the great local restaurants in the area eating your way through the Nationals is really a thing. Ferrell joked that the only thing we need at Knoxville is our magic bands to work at the food stands and Dingus Lounge.

Both venues offer a variety of ways to tailor your experience based on your lifestyle. You can get up early for Yoga and great breakfasts throughout Knoxville. On the flip side you can party the night away at Dingus, behind the grandstands, or throughout the grounds. There are activities for children in the Kid Zone and throughout the grounds to the oldest adult.

One thing I managed to accomplish at both Knoxville and Disney is being immersed in the experience that little to nothing in the outside world enters my consciousness. Other than keeping in touch with family only a Michigan State defeat of Duke in basketball (which we watched on my phone in a dining hall at Disney) managed to cross my radar during my Disney adventure. The Knoxville Nationals has the same effect. Other than the occasional text and Facetime with family I am completely locked into the Nationals experience. Little to nothing of the outside world crosses my eyes for the next four days.

Autograph session at the Trostle Garage at the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Museum. (T.J. Buffenbarger photo)

If you want to meet the “cast” at both locations, there are a multitude of opportunities. Between the fan forums, autograph sessions, kid zone, and the pit area after the races you realistically have the chance to meet every driver participating at the Nationals. If the heroes of the past are your thing there are plenty of opportunities to see them at the Hall of Fame and just wandering the grounds.

Both venues also offer a mind-numbing number of souvenirs for purchase so you can remember your experience. Having a Knoxville Nationals t-shirt is the equivalent of getting your Mouse Ears at the magic kingdom. Between Nationals apparel and a wide variety of driver merchandise from all over the globe you can outfit yourself in racing gear for years. Throw in the unique gifts over at the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and you should have plenty to choose from.

The unfortunate similarity both Disney and Knoxville have is the sadness of leaving. Departing such a Utopian experience is bittersweet. Unless you are from the immediate area you have a flight or drive to ponder the entire experience and start thinking about what you want to do the next time you visit, hoping to have another “magical” experience.