Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – PHILADELPHIA, PA – When Brandon Jones, Ryan Reed and Daniel Hemric signed up for NASCAR racing, running laps and doing burnouts around City Hall in Philadelphia wasn’t part of the job description.
But that’s exactly what those three NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers were doing on Tuesday during the Xfinity Philadelphia Takeover as part of an outreach event that has become an annual occurrence in the City of Brotherly Love.
More than a takeover, this was an invasion. All told, 23 Xfinity Series drivers took part in an array of activities designed to heighten awareness of NASCAR racing in general and the Xfinity Series in particular. And Philadelphia certainly knew NASCAR was there.
Starting the parade in the shadow of the towering Comcast Center—headquarters of Xfinity’s parent company—Hemric, Reed and Jones drove down Market Street toward City Hall. Crowds of spectators lined the barricades on either side of the street, cell phones in hand, shooting photos and videos of the brightly colored cars.
Halfway around City Hall, under the watchful eye of the William Penn statue on top, Hemric took a slight detour into a side street and spun his No. 21 Chevrolet in a wild burnout that covered the block with a wall of smoke and shredded his left rear tire.
The drivers completed two laps around the iconic building and returned to the Comcast Center, where a Richard Childress Racing pit crew changed the flat tire on Hemric’s car.
The parade was the flashy centerpiece of a day that started at 6 a.m., when the drivers boarded a chartered jet at Statesville Regional Airport in North Carolina, and ended with a flight home Tuesday night, after Hemric threw out the first pitch at a Phillies home game against the San Francisco Giants.
For the drivers, giving up a day during an off week for the Xfinity Series was a small price to pay for the exposure they gained. Integral to the Takeover were Dover International Speedway, which hosted races in all three national touring series the previous weekend, and Pocono Raceway, the venue for a NASCAR weekend June 2-3.
“It was definitely a show, for sure, down on the street,” Jones said of the parade. “Phenomenal for the fans, phenomenal for the two race tracks that support it—Pocono and Dover—and a great way for us to show our appreciation for Comcast.
As the third driver in the parade line, Jones got a kick out of Hemric’s smoke show.
“I was so far behind there I couldn’t see what was going on,” said Jones, who drives the No. 19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. “I could see the smoke and everything, and I was saying, ‘Oh, man. It’s got to be a good one.’
“He came back out, and I saw the wheel wobbling around and saw where the quarter panel was blown out, so that was funny to see. But it made a good show for the fans.”
For Reed, the parade was one of several unexpected experiences.
“I didn’t think I’d do a lot of the stuff I’ve done today,” said the Roush Fenway Racing driver, a two-time winner of the Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona. “We were in out firesuits literally running, jogging up the ‘Rocky’ steps at the Art Museum. …
“Today, driving around downtown Philly was really, really cool, to see all the fans. Some of them, you could tell they didn’t know what they were looking at, but I think that’s perfect. I think that’s what’s going to drive attention to our sport. Daniel did a great job with the burnout. I was impressed—he lit it up.”
Each of the 23 drivers got a stack of 100 Pocono tickets to distribute to Philadelphians as an introduction to the sport.
“I think this whole day is what we need to do more of, basically,” Reed said. “I think Xfinity Day is so cool. There are so many questions asked about our sport. People are coming up and asking about what we do and what the Xfinity Series is.
“We’re putting it right in their face. And not only that, we’re handing out tickets. We’re saying, ‘Come to Pocono,’ and we’re developing a connection right away: ‘Oh, I met Ryan Reed, I met Ryan Truex, I met Daniel Hemric.’ So they can show up at the race track and pull for whomever they want because they have that personal connection.”
The drivers took that personal connection to the Franklin Institute and a high school in Voorhees, New Jersey, where they interacted with STEM students. One group of drivers made the obligatory Philly cheese steak run to Geno’s and met the namesake of the famous eatery.
Another group clad in firesuits paid a visit to the One Liberty Observation Deck, which provides a panorama of the entire city. Fans queued up for autographs during a session in the plaza outside the Comcast Center.
The pit crew took part in a skills and obstacle course challenge featuring teams from the U.S. Armed Services.
Then it was off to Citizens Bank Park for the Phillies game. Hemric’s first pitch didn’t have the same smoke that characterized his burnout. He short-hopped the toss to the Phillie Phanatic squatting behind home plate and took a good-natured ribbing from his fellow drivers when he returned to the party suite.
But it was all in good fun—and a successful conclusion to a day that brought NASCAR to Philadelphia in a way that those who witnessed the Takeover aren’t likely to forget.