Crossing the Pond
There's more than 3,700 miles of land and water separating Switzerland and New Hampshire. But a nine-hour flight across the vast Atlantic Ocean has done little to deter a pair of diehard fans from northern Switzerland from taking in their first NASCAR race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
"This is an amazing story," said David McGrath, the speedway's executive vice president and general manager. "Franziska (Waser) and Roger (Wenger) are genuine NASCAR fans - on a truly global scale. We look forward to having them with us in the stands this summer, joining the greatest group of fans in the business for what is sure to be another epic weekend of racing in the Granite State."
The story will culminate with Waser and Wenger in the grandstands on Sunday, July 17. The road to the July 2016 New Hampshire 301, however, began two years earlier …
Waser, an arts and crafts teacher, and Wenger, a company driver for a fashion store in Zurich, fell in love with NASCAR while watching races from their living room on Lake Greifensee in Riedikon, Switzerland. It's a section of the globe that is more famous for the international flair of its open-wheel racing.
"A Formula 1 race like the one in Monza, Italy is okay," Waser said, "but it's not the same as a NASCAR race."
It wasn't until the duo made their way to the United States in July of 2014 that they truly fell in love with the sport. The two made the trek across the pond to Boston, where they planned to spend a week of vacation. A day trip to Cannon Mountain, Laconia Harley Davidson and New Hampshire Motor Speedway were on the agenda.
"I wanted to see the mountains, Roger owns a '94 Harley Davidson Dina Wide Glide, and a final stop at NHMS was a must for our trip," Waser said. "We could have never imagined that the day would turn out to be so great."
Much like many first-time visitors to the speedway, the sheer size of the facility blew the Swiss couple away.
"It was a nice drive through the woods and back roads of New Hampshire," Waser said. "Then suddenly a huge stadium appears in the middle of all the trees. It was fantastic."
It was a Wednesday, three days after NASCAR weekend. Steve Fay, the speedway's director of maintenance, was busy going about cleaning up the 1,200-acre facility when he spotted the European duo while walking through the souvenir store.
"I had actually seen them up at the Harley dealership earlier in the day," Fay said. "They were very nice people and very excited to be at the speedway."
"Steve was so nice. He asked if we were interested to have a look at it all," Waser said. "There was no question; we were so excited."
Stops in the infield media center, Sunoco Victory Lane, Bruton Smith's executive suite and race control were guided by Fay. It was during this tour that Waser and Wenger met McGrath and John Zudell, the speedway's vice president of operations & development, for the first time.
"Super nice people, that's what I remember most," said Zudell. "They were just a genuine, happy couple that were so excited to have the opportunity to be at the speedway, never mind take a look around."
Back in their home country, it didn't take long for Waser and Wenger to book their next trip to the Boston area. Excited about the opportunity to watch their first race during New Hampshire Motor Speedway's 25th anniversary season, the two booked their flight and hotel for July 2015 with the intention of attending the 5-hour ENERGY 301. Unfortunately, they were so excited that they made reservations that had them departing the United States four days before the drop of the green flag.
"You can't imagine how disappointed we were when we noticed it," said Waser, noting last year's schedule change, which pushed the race back one week. "Unfortunately, we couldn't change the flight, so we made the best of it."
Set to leave on that Thursday of race week, the two made the one-hour drive from Beantown back to Loudon, where they hoped to catch some practice laps. After the shock and awe of the amount of people and RVs wore off, the two made their way through the souvenir store and toward the grandstands. By chance, the two ran into McGrath and Zudell - who after taking them to visit with Fay, drove the two Swiss around the property, into the infield, and up to the newly engraved Earnhardt Rock.
"I was surprised they even remembered us, never mind take us on a tour during race weekend," Waser said. "What a wonderful surprise that was for us. Roger got goosebumps and we had the real feeling of a VIP. It was such a perfect afternoon."
After two trips to the Magic Mile, Waser and Wenger will finally take in their first Sprint Cup Series as the two have been invited by McGrath to attend the July 17 New Hampshire 301 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
"There's nothing like experiencing a NASCAR weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway," McGrath said. "The globe in our Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI) is there for a reason. We are a global company that welcomes every fan of every nationality and country to experience the best sports and entertainment facility in the world right here in New England."
Come July, it will be experienced by two diehard fans from Switzerland, amidst a vast sea of 100,000 race fans from around the globe.