BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL) — Race weekend means “go-time” for hundreds of people whose job it is to welcome NASCAR fans to Bristol. One of them is a Tri-Cities Original who answered the call to help out at the track 15 years ago and unexpectedly found a new cross-country career.
During the week, Jose Castillo owns and operates Spark Plaza, a bustling co-working space in downtown Johnson City.
But when race weekend rolls around, Castillo packs his bags, hops on a plane (or in a car if the race track is nearby) and immerses himself into his one-of-a-kind cross-country side hustle.
“I hop into a phone booth, change into a crazy person in a cap and glasses, and I run out into the stands,” Castillo said. NASCAR stands, to be exact.
Jose’ Castillo may well be the most well-known man on the NASCAR circuit who isn’t a driver or team owner. That’s because he’s the guy revving up fans in the stands before the race. He’s also the on-stage host of NASCAR Trackside Live, a marquee pre-race event held in fan zones at tracks across the country.
“I love variety, I love people, and I love having fun,” Castillo said. “It’s the perfect job.”
That perfect job started with a proposition 15 years ago from management at Bristol Motor Speedway, a track about 20 minutes from his home in Johnson City, Tennessee.
“I’ve been a car guy all my life, but at that point, I’d only been to one race,” he admitted.
Castillo says BMS led the way in enhancing the fan experience on race weekend.
“Bristol was really the first NASCAR track to say ‘we’re going to put on a pre-race show for these fans that come weeks ahead of time and that come in hours before the race and sit in the grandstands,’” he said.
Castillo says it worked, and soon other tracks followed.
Fifteen later, he’s a fan fixture on the NASCAR circuit. Last season, Castillo planned to host the pre-race party at 15 tracks across the country, and he planned to host the NASCAR Trackside Live pre-race shows at as many as 20 tracks this season.
“It’s the opportunity to see a stage beside the track with drivers on the engaging with fans, playing games, and having fun,” he said. “And the push for that is to have that at every race that we can.”
Castillo says it may look like he’s just having fun, but he insists it’s a lot of work.
“Race weekend is 99% planning meetings, golf cart rides, sweat, blood, tears, and 1% putting on a show,” he said. And it’s clear that, for him, the show in front of the crowds is the easy and the fun part.
“My number one job as a host is to make sure that things start on time, that they end on time, and that everybody has a great time in the middle,” he said. “That’s it.”
That is easier said than done. But it’s hard work he’s been waiting years for, as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the fan-experience world, devastating the workforce that travels with and economically depends on the NASCAR circuit.
“To see that come back gives me a whole different perspective on how blessed I am to get to do what I do, how blessed we all should be in the event and experience business,” he said. “So I am thankful beyond words to be able to do what I do.”
You can see Jose Castillo in the stands this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway and in the fan zone for the NASCAR Trackside Live stage show Saturday at 3:30 pm.