LOUDON, N.H. – Noel Acciari and Frank Vatrano both grew up in New England. They were raised as members of the region’s rabid sports fan base, which never fails to deliver passion for its favorite teams.
Now, as members of the Boston Bruins, they get to experience that devotion from the other side.
They witness it firsthand every day, both on and off the ice.
So it really wasn’t much of a surprise for Acciari and Vatrano to see the passion of New England’s NASCAR fans when the duo arrived at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway Sunday morning for the New Hampshire 301.
“Driving up to the speedway I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Vatrano, a native of East Longmeadow, Mass. “It’s crazy to see everyone tailgating at 8 in the morning and having a good time. It’s cool to see that kind of support for NASCAR, especially in the New England area.
“I didn’t really know how big of fans the people are of NASCAR. But you can see the huge support that they have here in New Hampshire. It’s awesome.”
Acciari and Vatrano – guests of Roush Fenway Racing – were both attending their first NASCAR event. Roush Fenway driver Greg Biffle, who finished fifth in the race won by Matt Kenseth, was driving a special NESN Fuel-themed car, which was emblazoned with the logos of the Bruins and Red Sox.
The young Bruins forwards met with Biffle before the race and were treated to a tour of the track's infield, as well as Biffle’s hauler, which transports his No. 16 car and houses his crew during race day. They were also recognized at the morning driver’s meeting and on stage during driver introductions.
The duo then watched the race from atop Biffle’s pit box.
“People that don’t really watch NASCAR, you usually just see the car going around the track a million times,” said Vatrano, who compared the atmosphere at the race to the 2016 Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium.
“But [Biffle] kind of told us what goes on behind the scenes and how the car gets prepared and how they test it. It was cool to learn about that stuff.”
Acciari, a native a Johnston, R.I., has friends that have attended the race for years, but had never made it to the track himself before Sunday.
“It’s unbelievable how much fun they have and I’m glad I’m here to experience what they experience and see it full throttle,” said Acciari.
The race also acted as a unique bonding opportunity for Vatrano and Acciari, who have appeared at a number of events together this summer. The two will also skate together on Monday.
“Events like these definitely bring us closer,” said Acciari. “This is probably our third event together and we’re just having a lot of fun with everything we’ve done.
“We’re very lucky and grateful we can do all of this.”