I had to get up really, really early on Sunday morning in order to get to Las Vegas Motor Speedway in time to take a ride in the pace car with NASCAR’s Director of Competition, Research & Development Brett Bodine.
I’d never been driven around an oval race track, so I was really looking forward to the opportunity. We started out on pit road, going pit road speed of 45 mph, then we hit the banking and then up onto the race track with a serious jolt. The difference between the bottom of the rack track and the banking is ridiculous. We got up to 105 mph or something in the hundreds. Why can’t I remember exactly? Because while Brett Bodine was talking about explaining everything I was too busy trying to not say “Omigosh, omigosh, ohhh, myyyy, gooooooddddd!” out loud. Seriously, it was that insane. I was in the front passenger seat so I had a clear view of the track and the wall that we were inches away from. For two laps, I felt scared but excited at the same time as my body pressed against the door handle.
At the end of the ride we pulled down pit road and went from 100-something miles per hour to only 45 in a few seconds. I vowed out loud that I would never give a driver any crap over speeding on pit road because I honestly don’t know how they do it. They have, like, no time to get down to pit road speed. It was insane. When I got out of the car I felt dizzy. I’m not kidding. I really felt dizzy and it felt like my stomach had switched places with my other organs. I’ve never experienced anything like that before, and I really want to do it again.
After getting my stomach back to normal I wandered around the garage, noting the tons of people in and around the garage and the presence of Carrot Top who looks like he’s wearing a permanent mask. What happened to that guy? I spied Jamie McMurray eating a lollipop, in regular clothes, chatting with a crew member from Greg Biffle’s team. I don’t think people noticed him until I started taking a picture of him. You’d be surprised at how many people don’t notice drivers if they’re not in their firesuit. I like to call it Clark Kent Syndrome.
Anywhoo, not much was going down that day because it was race day. All the cars in the garage were going through inspection and then it was time for the drivers meeting. The driver’s & crew chief meeting lasts for maybe 5 minutes if you only include the racing-related stuff. The introductions of the special guests, honorary people and the prayer at the end lasts longer. They open it up for questions from the drivers & crew chiefs but no one had one, which sucked. I would love it if they’d ask something.
The best part though is when everybody walks out. It’s always my intention to get photos of the guys as they’re leaving but I end up just walking behind them and not taking any shots because do you guys really want a picture of the back of (insert driver’s name here)’s head?
For driver introductions I got out to the start/finish line area early, and got a great spot next to the stage where I met the Elvis impersonator, who I will refer to as Fake Elvis for the rest of this post. Fake Elvis was set to introduce the drivers. I have to admit that for some strange reason that I cannot fully explain I had sort of a crush on Fake Elvis. I know, I’m weird, but I like the real Elvis. It’s a toss up between “Girl Happy” and “Viva Las Vegas” for my favorite Elvis flick (maybe it’s “Viva” ’cause I love when Ann Margaret sings “My Rival”). So I think I might have transferred my reverence for Elvis to Fake Elvis. He had confidence and the necessary swagger to be Fake Elvis. But you could tell he was out of his element though, this wasn’t the “Legends in Concert” show at Harrah’s where he performs sometimes.
He asked me if I had any tips for introducing the drivers. I told him to not pronounce Jeff Gordon’s hometown of Vallejo wrong and he already had a note scribbled down for it. I told him he should “really sell it” when introducing Dale Earnhardt Jr. since he’s a fan favorite. The awesome part was that he did! In general he introduced everyone really fast, much faster than I’d ever heard anyone do it before, which I chalked up to nerves. When he got to Dale Jr. he drew his name out. It was funny.
But before all that I got to watch as he said chatted with the showgirls on hand that he knew, and as he took photos with Miss Sprint Cup Monica Palumbo and Miss Coors Light, Rachel Rupert. John Force stopped by to say hello. Everybody loves a Fake Elvis. At one point I noticed Kasey Kahne standing backstage just above us and I asked Fake Elvis to get his attention and wave at him but someone started interviewing Kasey so he never saw Fake Elvis. That sucked, it would have been a fun moment.
And then there was Paris Hilton and her entourage which consisted of her boyfriend Cy Waits, some other dudes and IndyCar driver Marco Andretti. I thought it was sad that people were fawning over Paris when Marco, who actually does something (ya know, a JOB) and has been very good at it, is chop liver. It’s weird.
I had to point him out to the police officer standing near me and Fake Elvis. I also had to point out Pete Rose, whom everybody saw but was all “Who is that???” As soon as I’d tell them they’d always go, “Ooooooh.” So funny.
Before the drivers walked the stage there was a performance from Matt Goss and the seven-piece band that performs with him in his live show at Caesar’s Palace. His performance was awesome. His voice is perfect and he sings covers of classic Rat Pack era songs like “Feeling Good” along with newer hits like “Hotel California” by The Eagles. Think of him as edgier version of Michael Buble. In addition to the band he’s supported by a group of dancers called The Dirty Virgins who are choreographed by Robin Antin who created The Pussycat Dolls.
It wasn’t until later, after the race started when I was back in the first floor of the media center that I met him. I felt compelled to tell him that I loved his performance. I had no idea that he was A.) British and B.) a serious cutie-puhtootie (I only saw him from the side and the back when he was performing). And then… he hugged me! I went in for a hand shake and he went in for hug because as he told me, and the other women chatting with him, he’s “a hugger.” I have absolutely no problem with that policy. I need to see this man’s show for sure!
As the last drivers were announced I headed down to pit road and I found Tony Stewart’s car. I know a couple of the people that work for Office Depot and I stopped by to thank them again for the awesome photos from my presentation of the Hottest Driver award. That’s how I ended up standing next to Tony’s car for the National Anthem and Invocation. I didn’t realize it until during the Anthem I was taking pictures and I turned to my right and snapped a picture of Tony with his crew chief Darian Grubb (see below). And for those of you wondering I didn’t see Tony’s girlfriend Jessica Zemken. She wasn’t at the race as far as I could tell. She’s definitely not in the picture I took.
While I watched the start of the race from the pits I noticed women wearing the shortest shorts they could find. Sunday was the warmest day of the weekend and daring women were taking full advantage of it and the new NASCAR dress code policy. I’m all about looking cute and whatever, but when your shorts look like underwear that’s a bit much.
I watched the middle of the race from the media center and the ending from the pits. I needed to see Carl Edwards do his famous backflip in person and not on a TV screen. I couldn’t decide where I wanted to go after that. I went into the garage and snapped a bad picture of Carl as he drove into the garage. He stopped his car near the haulers to shake hands with fans wearing his gear, then rolled into Victory Lane.
I caught the elevator up to the media center for the post-race press conference with the top-3 finishers. Juan Pablo Montoya got on right after me and was asking the people with him, NASCAR PR and his own PR people, where he was in the points. He seemed pleased, way more pleased than Tony Stewart who was already in the media center when we walked in.
We all know how upset Tony was at losing the race, but big picture he’s doing great in the points standings. Juan & Tony’s session was relatively short and then there was awhile to wait for Carl Edwards to come in. After Carl was done I went into the Neon Garage to kill time in an effort to avoid traffic but I didn’t last long. I bought a pretzel and watched a bit of Carl’s continuation of the hat dance but it wasn’t very long before I decided to just bite the bullet and deal with whatever traffic was waiting for me. It wasn’t as horrible as it had been for me before so that was a good thing.
This concludes my 2011 Las Vegas race weekend! I can’t wait for Fontana/Auto Club Speedway next week. I will be there for sure, since I just booked my hotel today. I’ll be posting the interviews I did at Vegas in the coming days.
(all photos credit The Fast and the Fabulous)