RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) -
The big race at Richmond International Raceway is still a few days away, but fans are already making themselves at home by the racetrack.
Officials at the track are hoping many of them make their way inside as RIR tries to get this event close to those sellouts they were known for just a few years ago.
From 1992 to 2008, Richmond International Raceway sold out 33 straight races. Since then, whether it's the economy or declining interest, RIR officials have had to find ways to get all the fans back.
According to RIR President Dennis Bickmeier, 2014 is off to a good start.
"I anticipate we're going to be up in attendance year over year, he says. "We were up in September as well. We're going in the right direction and that's great."
While the race may not sell out, ticket prices have been re-adjusted and the fan experience has changed too.
This year for the first time ever, any fan that purchases a ticket gets to go out on the track before the race starts to meet drivers and their crews and see the cars up close.
"You can't walk on the field before the coin flip in the NFL," Bickmeier says. "That's basically what we're doing here. We're inviting fans down to our playing field to have a good time."
Emporia native and Nationwide driver Elliot Sadler says he's not biased when he says Richmond has the best track in all of NASCAR and knows fans will have a good time if they come out to his home track.
"Whenever you're a fan first, and have all these memories of NASCAR as a kid, I'm still kind of a kid when I come here to race. Because I remember everything I did that I came here with my family when I was very young."
It's not just about hearing the roar engines or watching an exciting finish. For many NASCAR fans, race weekend in Richmond means fellowship.
"We've been to quite a few tracks over the years," says NASCAR fan Stephanie Batchelor. "And I'd have to say Richmond is my favorite. The hospitality and the fellowship here is just awesome."
Teddy Pitsillides has come to nearly every race at Richmond since 1987. He and his group got into town as soon as the campsites opened on Tuesday.
"Been going racing a long time," he says. "We got a lot of friends and people here and have a good time."
Near their campsite, Darlene Prevish is reunited with her dog "Junior," named for Dale Earnhardt Jr, as she meets up with others who've come from far and wide.
"It's the friends that you meet," she says. "We're here with people from Canada, New Jersey, Tennessee, Maryland that we don't get to see all the time but when we come to the race track we get the opportunity."
Many of the fans plan to take advantage of RIR's all new Fan Experience that allows fans to go down to the track before the race.
"Let's have the fans hang out on the race track. Let's just throw a big party for them. Whatever works for them."