It’s 10:30 on Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, and I’m sitting in a luxury RV in the Medallion campground on a hill overlooking Thunder Valley. The track lights and campgrounds are all glowing, a reminder that it’s race weekend in Bristol and in less than 24 hours, the best stock car racers in the world will be doing battle on the track’s infamous high banks.
But there’s important business to be handled this Saturday night: J.J. Yeley needs an entrance song. Fortunately for the former USAC standout, he’s got help from an unusual cast; three fans from north of the border, all of whom flew down from Minneapolis to take part in Star Coach Race Tours’ “Stay with J.J.” program. And though they all knew full well when they made the trip they’d be experiencing a full race weekend with access to a Sprint Cup driver, a special experience few fans have ever enjoyed – none of them had any idea they’d be contributing to a decision that would introduce Yeley to 100,000 fans.
Yeley’s wielding his iPod, Star Coach owner Joel another. For the past 20 minutes, song clips ranging from Def Leppard to Dr. Dre have been tearing throughout the motorcoach, Yeley and his fans clapping for some, cutting down others. After a laundry list of hundreds, J.J.‘s finally got it knocked down to two: Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky.”
“I dunno J.J., ‘Billie Jean’ was really popular,” quips Joel. Minutes earlier, Michael Jackson had the “Stay with J.J.” participants enthralled with that possible selection.
“Maybe with a certain demographic,” Yeley fires back, paired with a sarcastic eye roll at his three Canadian fans. Spending time with J.J. is an all-access pass to constant one-liners and snippets, and the entire crowd on the RV can’t get enough of it.
Another ten minutes goes by, and there’s still two songs dominating the conversation. A tiebreaker is needed, and that means it’s time for the crew on board the bus to make their way over to the campground next door. There’s two more Star Coach buses located there, and hey, their party’s been raging for hours. After all, they didn’t have an intro song to pick…
“Ring of Fire” makes waves, but as Joel cranks “Tricky” on the stereo, the crowd goes wild. “You’ve got to dance when you go out tomorrow,” they tell Yeley. Predictably, they’re met with more sarcasm. But most importantly, a song has been chosen… the business for the night has been completed.
That selection doesn’t stop the music, though; it keeps playing loud while the night? It just gets crazier. The beer bong surfaces, while random passersby start handing out checkered-flag patterned thongs to both guys and girls alike. In the background, on every single one of the armada of flat screen TVs found on Star Coach’s buses, Joel has ordered the UFC fight… but not a single person is watching it. They’re too busy having fun around him, attending the type of party NASCAR fans flock to race tracks around the country to take part in; and for these lucky few fans, they’re getting to enjoy it side by side with one of the 43 competitors himself.
Unfortunately, the one downside to Bristol’s scenic Medallion campground is that the cops are strict. Not ten seconds after the clock strikes midnight, they roll up to the RV spot and demand that the music be shut off.
Last call for the evening is White Snake’s “Here I Go Again.”
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It’s a fitting track to describe Star Coach Race Tours, an emerging company that’s been on the NASCAR circuit since last year. Armed with a fleet of luxury RVs, their business is simple; race weekends with no hassles. Offering fans a package that is all-inclusive of race tickets, meals and beverages, weekends like this one at Bristol aren’t just a memorable occasion; they’re what they do.
Star Coach’s fleet is a story in itself, with a list of previous owners that include Tom Petty, Lenny Kravitz, Bonnie Raitt and Toby Keith. With leather sofas, flat screen TVs, and plenty of sound system power to go around the coaches offer all the perks of the racetrack’s best box suite. The same can be said for the meals cooked up by Joel and the rest of the Star Coach crew, which just happen to be his mom, dad and cousin Chad. From hearty bacon and eggs in the morning to thick fillets at night, it’s absolutely impossible to go hungry being at the track with this bunch. Said one of their guests this Bristol weekend, “It got to the point that we were asking [the Star Coach crew] if we could help them with anything. They’ve treated us like royalty.”
Being at the track is key for Star Coach, who have made it both a source of pride and a business model to focus their efforts and packages around the NASCAR experience. Being a family-owned and operated business, this sport’s a natural fit. The only professional sport in the country that can boast of tailgate parties that go for days instead of hours, stock car racing has always been the ultimate fan experience. And with their “Stay with J.J.” program, Star Coach has taken that fan experience to a whole new level.
Pat, Tami and Allana were three of the race fans lucky enough to take part in the first “Stay with J.J.” program at Bristol, meaning that in addition to the accommodations of a Star Coach race weekend they also had the opportunity to dine, tour, and yes, party with Sprint Cup regular J.J. Yeley. In addition to staying in the same RV camp throughout the weekend, Yeley also took the program participants on a private tour of the Sprint Cup garage, providing a firsthand glimpse of stock car racing and the life of a race car driver that few have ever had the opportunity to observe. Plus, how many race fans out there can say they helped a Sprint Cup driver pick his intro song for Bristol race weekend?
The experience proved to be a positive for all, with Yeley agreeing to do the program again over the course of the 2011 season and Star Coach customers having already sold out the program’s next iteration. What’s more, the company even donated a portion of the proceeds from “Stay with J.J.” to the Bristol chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities over the weekend.
As for the rest of 2011, Star Coach will be criss-crossing the country with the Sprint Cup Series, offering their one-of-a-kind race weekends to fans everywhere from the notorious infield of Talladega to Atlanta’s electric Labor Day weekend to the season finale in Homestead. For those race fans out there looking to experience the spectacle that is NASCAR while relaxing in style and comfort be sure to check out starcoachracetours.com and tell Joel Frontstretch sent you.
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J.J. Yeley’s weekend ended quickly that Sunday, with his No. 46 entry succumbing to mechanical woes early in the running at Bristol. But for some Yeley fans, the weekend was nothing short of a victory.
Be it exchanging gunfire in a ferocious NERF war that encompassed three RV spots in the Medallion campground, or being visited in the infield care center by Yeley himself, a pleasant surprise when one of them had to pause from festivities with an eye irritation, these fans enjoyed an experience that went beyond seeing the thrill of NASCAR and Bristol firsthand. In one weekend with J.J. Yeley, they got to experience NASCAR side by side with one of the drivers, the competitors, the characters that make the sport of stock car racing one of a kind.
“J.J.’s been great, Star Coach has been great,” one of the ladies said of her experience at breakfast that Sunday morning. “We’ll definitely be doing this again.”
So will Star Coach, and Yeley, for hopefully a long time to come.