Race Week: Love, NASCAR and an RV

Each year around this time, John Richert and his wife, Sue, set up shop in their well-equipped RV for Charlotte Motor Speedway's May race events.

More than 30,000 people are expected to camp on the speedway's property during the Sprint All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600, according to speedway officials. About 90 percent to 95 percent of campers use motorhomes - others use tent sites - and less than 10 percent are considered local like the Richerts.

These longtime NASCAR fans live just minutes away from the track on a 100-acre farm in Cabarrus County between Concord and Mount Pleasant. For the last decade, they have toured and camped at big-name speedways - Atlanta, Bristol, Darlington, Daytona - and they always camp during the spring and fall race events in Concord. They travel with their 5-year-old lab/beagle mixes, Holly and Misty.

They recently upgraded to a 2011, 42-foot American Coach Revolution. The posh 500-square-foot vehicle is an added bonus for John, 60, who joined his wife in retirement in March 2010, after nearly three years of commuting to the Research Triangle Park area for work in the biotechnology field.

The two met in New Jersey while working for a pharmaceutical company. They had worked together since 1980, but in January 1985, at a business meeting in Texas, their relationship evolved after a slow dance to "Careless Whisper" by WHAM! They got married two years later, but both of them admitted to putting off acting on the mutual sparks they felt that night for at least six months.

"I think it really just set us both aback so much," Sue said.

But eventually, "It just clicked," John added.

The couple moved to Durham in 1990, and three years ago they built a house on Sue's family's land, where they and her relatives operate the third-generation farm.

Sue, 58, retired almost 20 years ago. The Mount Pleasant High School graduate earned a master's from UNC Chapel Hill and was a family nurse practitioner. She said being a race fan was part of growing up in Cabarrus County.

John, a New Jersey boy from Long Island, New York, became a NASCAR fan in the late 1980s but said he remembers watching the Indy 500 with his dad before that. The precision driving and the technical aspects of racing still intrigue him.

"I know I can drive a car, but I know I can't drive a car with 42 other cars around me doing 200 miles per hour, going into Turn One in Charlotte and making it through there," said John, who drove a NASCAR car at speeds up to 140 mph with the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

Sue said her nerves got the best of her when she tried.

"Driving that car was a dumb thing for me to do," she said. "I was scared to death. But on my ride-along, he took me at about 160 (mph) and I loved it."

John's most memorable race was in 2000, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the All-Star Race. The victory for his favorite driver was overshadowed by the collapse of the pedestrian overpass on U.S. 29 later that night, he said.

Sue's most memorable moment involved five U.S. Navy jet pilots who swooped by during the opening ceremonies of a recent Coca-Cola 600. They met at The Speedway Club, a bar and restaurant that sits six floors above the track.

"John, our two friends and I were there, and they kept giving me grief because I was drooling over these guys," Sue said. "But they were just gorgeous, nice men."

While her husband and friends were in the restroom, Sue told the pilots how they were making fun of her.

"And they said, 'We can handle that. Just let me know when you see them coming back,'" Sue said. "I said, 'Well, here they come,' and one of them grabbed me and just pushed me backwards and was kissing all over me.

"The look on the three of their faces when they saw this was the funniest thing I had ever seen. That was really one of the best times we ever had."

Both are fans of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and members of the Hendrick Motorsports team, but Sue enjoys the drivers' personalities, their tempers and the drama more than John.

"I like the nastier drivers," Sue said. "I like it when they get ugly. I liked when Tony Stewart was always getting in fights in parking lots, I thought that was terrific. I do love that."

The All-Star race is their favorite.

"There are no points on the line, it's for a million dollars, it's just like, let's get out there and see who's going to win," John said.

They agree the Coca-Cola 600 is most grueling race for drivers, and for fans.

"Six-hundred miles is a long, long race," Sue said. "But we stay for the whole thing. We have one rule: We do not leave a race early."

Their advice for fans? Bring patience, especially if you're driving. And use the headsets to protect your ears and listen to behind-the-scenes action.

"It doesn't matter who you pull for as long as you're a NASCAR fan," John said.