Ford Expedition Max + Airstream = the Proper Tools for a Fantastic Family Vacation

By Randall Chase

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Planning a family trip is not nearly as fun as being on the trip; I think we all know that. But planning a trip is easier when you have the right tools. I learned that from my father, who often told me that a project is always easier when you use the proper tools. This view is as accurate for building a shed as it is for taking a trip. 

Growing up, I always heard stories about when my parents first got married they lived in an Airstream trailer in a field. The thought of what Airstream was had always been a part of my memories. It was the beginnings, security, and adventure. All of these ideas have been wrapped up in my memory and in my perception of what Airstream is all about. 

When I had the opportunity to take my family on an Airstream adventure, I thought about safety, security, proper tools, and (of course) adventures. So when I heard that we were towing the Tommy Bahama Edition Airstream with a 2018 Ford Expedition Max, I instantly knew that I had the proper tool for the job. The Expedition Max has a towing capacity (9000 LBS max) that far exceeds the weight of the trailer (5000 LBS). Plus, it has a fantastic backup camera and towing features, which deliver the peace of mind to take on the opportunity of creating a lifetime of family memories.

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I thought it would be a fun adventure opportunity to bring my dad along with me to pick up the Airstream and the Ford Expedition Max. We arrived at Vogt RV in Fort Worth to meet with the excellent staff and get the once over of our living quarters for the next few days. After their thorough walk around and assistance with understanding the trailer, we were ready to hook it up and be on our way. My dad was impressed with how the new Airstream utilized so many modern touches inside such a great timeless exterior. The image of a silver riveted Airstream is iconic and part of American history. Sharing this with my dad was fun. 

Hitching up the Airstream is more like art meets science than one might expect. But with the backup camera and trailer assist it was a breeze. I lined it up and got it on the first try, no joke. It even impressed my dad. 

Once the kids packed all of their bags in the back and loaded everything in their seats, they saw just how much room there was left over and wanted to get an Expedition Max to have all the time. I can’t say I blame them.

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Pulling out of the RV Center and onto the open road was quite an adrenaline rush of its own. For starters, it’s Dallas traffic, which is always a bit of a rush to drive in. But add on towing a 5000-lb trailer and you find out what kind of driver you really are. Honestly, though, it was much easier than I expected. From the passenger seat, my dad told me stories of what it was like to pull a trailer “back in the day” but this seemed nothing like that. I honestly was expecting some lag or drifting, or even some lack of visibility problems, but I really had none of those. Once I was on the road, it was old hat. I was humming Willie Nelson's “On The Road Again” in my head and had visions of me taking summer trips to the Redwood National Park driving this silver bullet through the tree-lined roads like I always remember seeing on postcards. 

One of the best things about going on a trip like this is the stories that you tell on the way to and from your adventures. These aren’t the kinds of stories you tell when you are running through the airport trying to catch a flight, or if you are strolling through a hotel lobby looking for the pool or the bar… or the pool bar. There is something different about vacationing with a trailer. You know, maybe it’s more innocent, harkening to a bygone time when families really wanted to spend all their time together without headphones or screens, and without distractions or wifi passwords. 

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While we were driving, my dad and I got to talk about some of our favorite subjects: Economic Development, Nonprofit Business management (I know -  riveting, isn’t it?), Scotch, classic cars (our 1973 MGB, to be specific), and other father-son topics that are often shared on trips. But the fact that he and I are now are in very similar fields, it was really nice to be able to just openly talk on the road. 

We stopped along the way for a bit of lunch and a much-needed ice cream break, which allowed me to practice my first chance at parking a trailer in a parking lot. I didn’t do half bad, if I do say so myself. I was able to park and get out without messing anything up after indulging in ice cream, which was fantastic on a day on which it reached 104 degrees. Soon, we were back on the road and back to more talking.

We arrived in Austin a few hours later and swung by to drop off my dad, show my mom the new wheels and the Airstream, and then pick up my wife. We were all once again united as a family, around the camper and shared a few more stories of the past and of what life in an Airstream was like (from my mom’s perspective this time). Needless to say, they both had fond memories of the silver streak, and seeing the level of luxury on the inside was quite a step up from what they remembered in their old Airstream. I don’t think theirs had a built-in bar complete with wine and scotch glasses… I could be wrong though. 

Spending time reconnecting with my dad on the way down, reconnecting with the kids, and reconnecting with my wife on this trip was totally worth it. Restoring the classic idea of a family vacation with the modern luxury of the Expedition Max made this one of the best trips we’ve been on.

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Kristin Shaw
Mini Takes The States Sets Out To Feed 2 Million

by Alice Chase

Did you know hundreds of Mini Coopers are on a cross-country rally raising money for hungry families this week? We had a fabulous time meeting up with many of the Mini Takes The States 2018 participants, including Nik Miles of Our Auto Expert and Meagan Wristen of MommyTravels.net, at AT&T Stadium to get a firsthand update from the road before Day 5 began.

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We learned so much about this experience and it was an absolute pleasure to cheer them on as they made their transition from Dallas, Texas headed on to Oklahoma for the rest of the 2018 East Coast route. 

“Great things happen when the MINI community comes together, and this year is sure to be another unforgettable experience,” said Thomas Felbermair, Vice President MINI Americas Region. “MINI TAKES THE STATES is the ultimate opportunity for MINI owners to enjoy the famous go-kart handling and performance of their MINI as they travel through America’s scenic backroads and byways.”

Mini Takes The States is more than an epic enthusiast road trip - All this is for a truly wonderful purpose

Did you know that hunger exists in every county in every state in the U.S.? Often, it's a hidden issue that goes unnoticed in communities just like yours. But once we become aware of the struggle, we all want to do what we can to help.

The 2018 goal is to raise enough money to provide over 2 million meals nationwide

In 2016, MINI owners completed an epic 14-day, 4,397-mile adventure raising enough money to provide more than one million meals for families in need through Feeding America. This year’s goal is to raise enough money to provide more than 2 million meals.

A portion of each MTTS participant’s registration fee is donated to Feeding America®, and MINI will collect food donations onsite each morning. Every participant can also start an individual or team fundraising page. Once donation pages are set up, participants will automatically qualify for an exclusive badge decal they can proudly display on their MINI. As they continue to reach donation milestones, they’ll collect additional badges.

About MINI in the US

MINI is an independent brand of the BMW Group. In the United States, MINI USA operates as a business unit of BMW of North America, LLC, located in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey and includes the marketing and sales organizations for the MINI brand. The MINI USA sales organization is represented in the U.S. through a network of 125 MINI passenger car dealers in 39 states. MINI USA began selling vehicles in the U.S. in 2002 with the introduction of the MINI Cooper and MINI Cooper S Hardtops.

About Feeding America

Feeding America® is the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States. Through a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs, we provide meals to more than 46 million people each year. Feeding America also supports programs that prevent food waste and improve food security among the people we serve; educates the public about the problem of hunger; and advocates for legislation that protects people from going hungry. Individuals, charities, businesses, and government all have a role in ending hunger. Donate. Volunteer. Advocate. Educate. Together we can solve hunger. Visit www.feedingamerica.org, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

*$1 helps provide at least 10 meals secured by Feeding America® on behalf of local member food banks.

Jeep Wrangler 4 x 4: The Jeep Life

by Kristin Shaw

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The first Jeep was born in 1945, a military-grade vehicle that promised no extraneous frills and delivered solid, predictable performance. Jeep has always touted its off-road performance, and surely the first drivers of the Jeep got to experience the rugged ride of this unique vehicle. 

I have never owned a Jeep, myself, but I have watched the Jeep Life from afar, with a bit of a wistful envy.

That looks like fun.

The t-tops. The open doors. The wind brushing your body in the cab with the closest thing you can drive to a motorcycle in terms of open air, but with a steel cage surrounding your body. The cool factor is unmistakable.

Video courtesy of Jeep

 Photo credit: Leigh Anne Torres, in Sedona, AZ

Photo credit: Leigh Anne Torres, in Sedona, AZ

At one time, I thought the Jeep Life was for college kids or young people in their 20s who lived near terrain that required that kind of ruggedness. But then, a few years ago one of my best friends, at 45, bought herself a brand-new, bright-yellow Jeep Wrangler 4x4. In northern Indiana, on the flattest land the eye can see for miles. She’s a hairdresser with a husband and two grown boys, not a rock climber, wild-haired surfer, or any other stereotype I might have imagined a Jeep owner to be.

When I had the opportunity to drive a Jeep Wrangler 4 x 4 for a week, I didn’t know how I was going to feel about it, but I was excited about the possibilities. When it arrived at my door, I slid into the driver’s seat and assessed the interior.

Crank windows… what?

As I ran my hand across the leather-wrapped steering wheel, the dash, and the gear shift, I felt a pang of disappointment that it wasn’t a manual. Even though I am admittedly quite rusty on the manual, the Wrangler feels like it should be old-school, in the manner of the Jeep’s humble beginnings. This is the reason Mercedes does not change the interior of the G-Wagon from year to year, opting to maintain the nostalgic feel of the analog dash.

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The Wrangler asked very little of me to drive it, and I found that it felt very much like home. I didn’t have to look far to figure out the controls, because they were intuitive and simple. What it may have lacked in whiz-bang it made up in familiar, and I never felt for a second that I was unsure about how to utilize any of the features.

Upon inspecting the T-tops, it was a fun thrill to find that even my 2nd grader could figure out how to unlatch the lightweight panels, and pulling them off and replacing them posed no challenges. Driving through Austin in the heat of June, the air conditioner continued to blast cool air as the summer air breezed across the top of my head.

 See the little Jeep "Easter Egg" near my thumb? They are hidden all over Jeep vehicles.    

See the little Jeep "Easter Egg" near my thumb? They are hidden all over Jeep vehicles. 

 

What you might not know about Jeep as a company, however, is that they also care about people. For instance, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US recognizes technical business leaders for their career achievements at an annual Women of Color STEM Conference in Detroit. According to the company, the Women of Color Conference honors the achievements of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) professions, and ensures that the accomplishments of outstanding women in technical fields are elevated and visible to all. 

Additionally, the FCA US actively supports initiatives to increase the number of college-bound minority students in the STEM pipeline. FCA US partnered with Florida International University (FIU) to sponsor a STEM education initiative called “Engineers on Wheels.” Per their site, the program features mobile classrooms, bringing hands-on engineering and science experiments and experiences to South Florida K-12 schools, and to the community at large. FIU annually graduates the largest number of Hispanic engineers in the U.S., and is one of the country’s top institutions for graduating African-American engineers.

FACTS: We've Got 'Em

  • The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited sport starts at $31,445
  • 3.6L engine; uses regular unleaded fuel
  • Two 12V power outlets up front
  • Six-way driver's seat controls
  • 285 horsepower
  • Combined fuel economy: 20 mpg (the vehicle weighs over 2 tons, so that's about right)
  • Can tow 3500 pounds (enough for a pontoon boat and trailer, water people!)
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Article by: Kristin

 

Kristin ShawJeep, Wrangler, STEM
The 2019 Honda Insight : Back with a Brand New Edition

by Alice Chase

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The Honda Insight is back with a brand new edition for 2019. It seems that the third time is not only the charm but has come forward incredibly charming in many ways. We will share a few of the reasons why we're all in on this model in just a minute. It's important to note that one thing that  wasn't new is the name. Keeping the Insight name with the introduction of this third generation feels intentional.

The 2019 Honda Insight brings the trusted quality you've known from Honda in hybrid that you can easily see yourself in today. For those that have been wondering if hybrid life could be for them, the Honda Insight is the ideal vehicle to transition with. You won't need to prep yourself for a learning curve here. In fact, you'll probably have to keep reminding yourself you are driving a hybrid because it just feels that intuitive. 

There is a good deal that makes you feel good when choosing to drive a hybrid, most certainly the amount you are saving in traditional fuel economy.  Most of us want to make choices that make us feel good and have a positive impact for the world at large. If we're honest, we also don't want to compromise our comfort either. After spending a few days driving the 2019 Honda Insight around Minneapolis, Minnesota I'm happy to report this is one choice where you won't have to choose one over the other.  It's possible you really can have it all. 

All in on the 2019 Honda Insight

In full disclosure, there are three things that will personally favor me toward any vehicle: a uniqueness that still feels classy, luxury and safety features, and being environmentally thoughtful. I get that this is a complex set of standards to achieve. I'll be the first to confess, I really do want it all.  With 55 city/49 hwy/52 combined mpg, the 2019 Insight immediately checked the box of environmental thoughtfulness and fuel efficiency. 

Up next: features. The Insight isn't going pretend it's something it isn't, but the Touring model brings a good number of features I would request, adding larger 17-inch wheels, navigation, a power moonroof, dual-zone climate controls, leather-trimmed and heated power front seats and a large 8-inch HondaLink infotainment system all at an affordable $28,985.

Behind the wheel, I didn't feel like I was sacrificing anything. In addition to features of comfort, you will also find the full range of safety and driver-assistive technology. Honda Sensing is standard on all Insight trims. It fully met my requirement of non-negotiable features at an incredibly reasonable price point. (For full details on the LX/ EX/Touring trim levels and pricing click here)

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Last but not least, uniqueness. If you've been around the hybrid space for awhile, you've come to recognize a hybrid before anyone tells you it's a hybrid. The color, design, nothing is subtle.  The uniqueness factor here is that the Insight is a hybrid that doesn't have anything to prove. With the exception of a hybrid badge blending in nicely to the exterior, anyone else would likely mistake it for a typical sedan. I like to think of it as the Clark Kent version of hybrids, unsuspectingly saving the day with every commute. For these reasons, I'm all in on the 2019 Honda Insight.

2019 Honda Insight Production and Commitment to Electric Vehicles 

Honda Motor Co. is proving that it is invested in America and their commitment to the Honda Electrification Initiative. Honda Motor Co. invested another $29 million into its Ohio operations with mass production of the 2019 Honda Insight hybrid at its Greensburg, Indiana, assembly plant. The Greensburg, Indiana plant alone provides over 2500 associate jobs in America with production of the Insight, Civic Sedan, and the CR-V at this facility. 

The 2019 Honda Insight is part of an ongoing commitment to electric vehicles. It is the fifth electrified Honda model launched in the past 18 months, following the new Clarity Series — Clarity Fuel Cell, Clarity Electric and Clarity Plug-In Hybrid — and the just-launched 2019 Accord Hybrid.

The company has set a goal of two-thirds of global sales from electrified vehicles by 2030 and has plans to have electrified powertrains for almost all of its core models in future years. "The investment in Honda Transmission Mfg. of America, Inc. to support the all-new 2019 Honda Insight is an example of Honda’s Electrification Initiative, which will introduce electrified powertrains to virtually all of its core models in the years ahead,” said Tom Shoupe, executive vice president, Honda of America Mfg. Inc.,. “The investment at HTM demonstrates Honda’s confidence in its Ohio associates and its commitment to building electrified vehicles in America.”

Let us know your thoughts and questions on the 2019 Honda Insight. For more stories on what Honda has been doing across the country check out the latest on Thrills and Wheels here :ThrillsandWheels.com/honda

ARTICLE BY: Alice

The Updated and Restyled Lexus ES Is Even Better than Expected

by Kristin Shaw

 2019 Lexus ES. Photo courtesy of Lexus. 

2019 Lexus ES. Photo courtesy of Lexus. 

If you don't know Lexus, you might not know about the donation match up to $10,000 for each of their 200+ dealerships across the country. Or about their Eco Challenge, a nationwide STEM contest for students in grades 6-12. Or their devotion to quality materials and Takumi master certification. 

You might not know the vision of their design, based on Japanese iconic elements like a samurai sword, or a traditional tea whisk, or origami folds. Or that the engine designers might dream of the faces of every person who contributed to the process over a six-year time period. 

You would be surprised to discover how much of the Lexus process involves individual people doing very precise, challenging jobs that require perfection, like logo placement and ensuring the surface is absolutely smooth. 

When you sit inside the new restyled Lexus ES, the 7th generation of this vehicle, you may not think of these things. But you'll know it feels like luxury. And you might feel a little closer to the brand. It's about much more than the new paint colors or even the styling alone. It's all of the little touches together. 

Our interview with Lexus Vice President of Marketing Cooper Eriksen. 

 One of the elements of the interior design is based on the metal cross-patterns of a traditional samurai sword.  Photo: Thrills and Wheels. 

One of the elements of the interior design is based on the metal cross-patterns of a traditional samurai sword.  Photo: Thrills and Wheels. 

The knife's edge of luxury sedans: the F SPORT

The F SPORT model is geared toward buyers who are ten years younger than the typical buyer of the ES. Lexus shows off its sporty side with aluminum pedals on the F SPORT that make the driver feel like mashing them to the floor. (We didn't, but it was tempting.)  

Lexus continues to impress with their innovation in interior design. The ES model offers three choices of wood trim: Linear Dark Mocha, Linear Espresso, and Matte Bamboo. They now offer a metallic trim that is standard on the F SPORT model called Hadori Aluminum, which is inspired by the Samurai sword-polishing process. The Hadori Aluminum trim has a 3D appearance, and the effect is indicative of the level of detail and craftsmanship that Lexus seems to display at every turn.

 Apple Car Play will be available in the Lexus ES on October 1, 2018. Photo courtesy of Lexus. 

Apple Car Play will be available in the Lexus ES on October 1, 2018. Photo courtesy of Lexus. 

New Technology in the ES

The new ES is the first Lexus to offer in-car integration of Amazon Alexa, called Lexus Plus Alexa. Much like someone might use it at home, drivers may use voice commands to direct Alexa, including Alexa Home Automation, which guides tasks such as turning on lights, setting a thermostat in the house, and, of course, even ordering Amazon purchases.

The ES is the first Lexus to offer Apple CarPlay, which will be available October 1. At this juncture, Lexus does not offer Android Auto, which may be disappointing to some (we're iPhone people, so we're good to go).

For music fanatics, the 10-speaker Pioneer system can be upgraded to the 17-speaker Mark Levinson audio system. We had a chance to listen to the Mark Levinson system in Nashville, and the quality was unreal. Whether you go for hip-hop, rock, pop, or classical, it's going to sound fantastic in this vehicle. 

The Sounds of Silence

Chief Engineer Yasuhiro Sakakibara and his team were tasked with improving the performance of the ES.

According to Sakakibara-san, “We knew that this ES had to feel responsive and easy to drive, no matter what kind of road it was on and that can only be achieved with a solid foundation." 

Part of that foundation on the inside of the car is the extraordinary attention paid to noise. More accurately stated, the vast reduction of noise. 

The new ES features absorbing materials that covers 93% of the interior, and incorporates a silencer pad that muffles unwanted engine noise. Noise-reduction wheels on the available 18-inch version have hollow sections and a "resonator hole", which directs the air through the tire to helps to reduce road noise, too. And under the floor, performance dampers have been added improve handling stability and ride comfort. 

 The Lexus ES 300h.  Photo courtesy of Lexus. 

The Lexus ES 300h.  Photo courtesy of Lexus. 

Our pick: the 300h

Of the three trims available - the ES 350, ES 350 F SPORT, and the ES 300h - the 300h was our favorite. The zippy hybrid engine puts up an impressive 44 mpg, which is stunning. And the 2019 model adds 15 to the total horsepower, and it feels evident from the first acceleration. Built exclusively at the Kyushu plant in Japan, the 300h is something special; the rest of the ES trim levels for North America will be built in Georgetown, Kentucky.

FACTS: We've got 'em

  • The ES 300h is the most fuel-efficient luxury vehicle without a plug on the market

  • This is first Lexus to offer Apple CarPlay

  • Largest in class 10.2 inch head up display as an option

  • The new model offers increase of 34 horsepower and 0-60 MPH in half a second faster

  • Overall greater fuel efficiency then the previous model

  • Updated battery placement gives the vehicle an additional four and a half cubic feet of cargo storage area in the 300h

  • Plenty of new technology and features in all models to reduce road noise

 Photo: Thrills and Wheels.

Photo: Thrills and Wheels.

Kristin Shaw
Give NASCAR a Chance... it May Surprise You

by Kristin Shaw

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When you hear the word NASCAR, what comes to mind? Depending on where you grew up, you might have vastly different ideas of what it means to be a NASCAR fan. There are hundreds of NASCAR jokes and memes and even movies that spoof the stereotype of the sport as a Southern/ Middle America pastime. The European class of automobile racing, like Formula One or Le Mans, attracts the upper-class fans wearing Michael Kors and Tory Burch. NASCAR is portrayed with t-shirts festooned with red, white, and blue flags and other symbols associated with patriotism; jeans; and trucker hats.

At my first NASCAR race at Sonoma Raceway in northern California, there were plenty of souvenirs for sale decorated with that motif. However, the fans – and the sport itself- are much more complex than I had ever imagined. The raceway and the crowd was reminiscent of my hometown 4H fair: funnel cakes and corn dog stands, ice cream carts, grandstands, and families having fun together. It has that feeling of relaxed fun, with no pretense and no stress. 

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“NASCAR is an experience; it’s not just a sport,” says NASCAR Chief Marketing Officer Jill Gregory. “There is strategy… and conflict… and personality. And there is a huge sense of community. Each event is sensory overload, but it evokes a strong feeling of belonging.”

In today’s highly-charged political culture, it’s not a stretch to imagine that the country is divided into NASCAR fans and non-NASCAR fans, if we were to buy into the stereotype. The number of bumper stickers proclaiming “I STAND” next to a photo of a flag were omnipresent, and the display of patriotism with a full fighter jet squadron, oversized flag dropped in with paratroopers, and a strong military personnel presence proclaimed a fierce love of the culture.

Look a little deeper into the NASCAR inner circle, and you may find that the organization is more complex under the surface.

Gregory says the organization is always looking to expand its fan base, and it’s looking in new directions. While perhaps not inmediately apparent on the surface, there are gears working behind the scenes to create opportunities both inside and outside of NASCAR to grow its footprint in America.

“We’re committed to diversity on the leadership team, the pit crews, and staff,” she says. “We have stories to tell and we want more people to hear them and be part of them.”

I was surprised to find that the league had developed NASCAR Diversity more than ten years ago to attract women and men of color to the team. This year is their largest recruitment class yet, and Gregory is proud of that. It’s important to her to keep the fans they have but to grow into new communities too. Every time a new intern joins the Diversity program, they are building a new story.

“Unexpected stories bring in new fans,” she says.

Read more about NASCAR Diversity

The teams corroborate Gregory’s vision, and David Wilson, President and General Manager - TRD, U.S.A. (Toyota Racing Development), believes there is a great deal of collaboration the public doesn’t see. He was the first engineer at TRD, and has logged 29 years of experience on the Toyota team. He’s on the road more than 200 days a year, and the teams become like family.

David’s focus at TRD reflects his engineering background, and he has an ardent love of science versus intuition to help the teams make microsecond decisions. You might not think of technology when you think of NASCAR, but it’s woven throughout the industry, from the trailers to the garages to the track, even in surprising places. Technology brings parity to the teams, and they share information with each other to keep the sport even and fair.

When David introduced me to John Probst, Managing Director, Competition and Innovation for NASCAR, the connection became even more clear.

John’s job is to oversee the pre-race inspection process, which until last year meant that a team of 6-7 inspectors would comb each racecar carefully, looking for irregularities. Tempers might flare if a team felt that an inspector was being too tough on them or if another team appeared to have an advantage.

This year, John and his team brought a new inspection system to the edge of the garage, and it’s a camera-driven light sensor system that maps out each car in 3D, showing the inspection team the position of the A-pillar, the offset of the tail, the inflation of the tires, and more. The system creates a grid with over 130,000 green dots that objectively highlights any unusual tweaks on the car.

Read more about the new inspection process at NASCAR.com. 

From the tour of the garage as the cars were rolling out, to the shower of red, white, and blue confetti, the race captivated me. If you like excitement, family, community, and fun, NASCAR just might be for you, too. It might be more much than you expected.  

Profile: Read about Teen Driver Hailie Deegan at A Girls Guide to Cars

Article by: KRISTIN

Disclosure: Toyota Racing paid for my travel and experiences; all opinions are mine. 

 

Kristin Shaw