“Who’s That Girl?,” starring one of my heroes, Madonna, stuck in their brain. Louden was the uptight husband, that needed to loosen up, of the insanely rich chick in the movie that Madonna’s bad girl, Nikki, (but she’s really nice) character ends up with. Anyway, they said his name about a million times, so I guess it makes sense that I’d remember it. Loudon, New Hampshire is where New Hampshire Motor Speedway is located and it was the home of the 2nd race in the The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the Sylvania 300, on Sunday.
I’m not even kidding. I’m sure I’m the ONLY person who has the name of a character from the 80s movie, I was invited to attend by Sylvania and, for the sake of full disclosure, they’re the sole reason I got to attend the race weekend in New Hampshire (or, New Hampsha as I like to call it in my fake New England accent). Sylvania invited other media from various websites that mostly focused on either cars and/or men’s interests. Although, I did meet Patty herself from AskPatty.com, a site that answers women’s questions about cars & auto repairs.
Anyway, I arrived in Manchester, New Hampshire after traveling across the country from California for over 7 hours, and over 2600 miles. It’s insane to think that I woke up on one side of the country and then went to bed on the other. I drove to my hotel in Concord, which was only 25 minutes away from the track in Loudon. I checked-in at the same time as some of the crew members for Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush Fenway and Goodyear were arriving, but not before I got lost for a minute because my cell phone’s GPS messed up (Note to self: Always use Google’s map application, it’s better) and sent me off track and into a neighborhood north of the hotel. On the bright side I did get to see more of the town and it was cute. New Hampshire is basically a giant forest where people carved out cities, towns and roads, without messing up the landscape too much. I wanted to take pictures of it all but I was always driving to or from the track and couldn’t get it done. Just imagine, lush, green towering trees EVERYWHERE.
On Friday, I didn’t get up as early as I wanted to mostly because I as very tired from getting in the night before and I hadn’t quite adjusted to the time change. I don’t think I ever really did. I kept looking at the time and then counting 3 hours back and going “It’s only 6pm in California, I can’t go to bed NOW!”
So when I got to the track I missed a few of the top-12 drivers press conferences. I got there in time to sit in on Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s sessions. Nothing very interesting happened there, except Dale Jr. sounded like he’d JUST woken up (it was around 10 or 11-something in the morning at that point). He was slow to start-up but eventually sounded normal by the end of it.
Then it was time for the one & only Sprint Cup Series practice session of the day. I went into the garage where the Chase drivers were grouped together at the end of the garage closest to the start/finish (or front) of the track and the non-chasers were on the other side closer to the back of the track. I noticed that the majority of the people in the small garage space were clustered around the Chase drivers and it was pretty empty when walked down into the non-Chaser territory.
I stood in front of the No. 48 hauler because it was the first one lined up at the garage entrance next to the media center and got the shot below of Tony Stewart chatting with his driver Ryan Newman. I swear that I wasn’t intentionally trying to take a picture of his butt, it just happened that way.
Most of the time when I’m taking pictures I’m trying to decided whether I should take it with my cell phone or my camera. Plus, I’m trying to make that decision in less than a second because you have no idea how long they’re going to be around, so you have to be fast on the draw. I really wish someone would make a regular camera that can post things to the internet, it would make my life a MILLION TIMES easier.
As practice started I eventually migrated down the row of haulers in the garage and ended up at the end of garage closest to turn 3 where Goodyear had their setup and all of the team’s tires. There was a convenient little wall there where some of the crew guys were come from time to time to stand on and look at their car on the track. It was also a great spot to take a load off and take pictures of the cars as they entered the garage and made their way to their stalls.
After practice I went back to the media center for the rest of the media availability sessions. For the first guy, Carl Edwards, I sat with everyone directly in front of him. However, I needed to charge my cell phone and so I picked the plug next to the back door, that would make me sit facing the side of the drivers at the table. It was the only one that wouldn’t have the possibility of tripping the people ferrying the microphone around the room. Once I was in my new seat I heard someone try and fail to open the back door and then I saw Denny Hamlin’s friend (Business Assistant Manager Person?? I have no idea), Austin, peaking through the window. I went and opened the door for them and immediately noticed that Denny didn’t seem to be in a good mood. I had no idea what had happened in his practice run but I assumed it wasn’t anything good considering his demeanor. He wasn’t overtly pissy or anything, it was just a vibe. So once he got started I stared at the side of his face the entire time but it was cool because I could see what he was doing behind the table.
At one point he started shaking his leg his up and down, ya know how you do when you have to go to the bathroom really badly? Like that. It’s what I do when I’m in serious pain. Don’t know why Denny does it.
After Denny was Jeff Gordon who stayed pretty still throughout his time with the media. Then it was Brad Keselowski’s turn at the head table. First, he was presented with an award for something that I can’t remember the name, it was some sort of media driver of the year award they give out every quarter. Then he took a seat. After a while he pulled a tissue from his pocket to wipe his nose and then instead of putting it back in his pocket he put it under his thigh the site. See the photo below.
Kinda funny. After his session was over Brad stopped by the iRacing setup in the media center and took a crack at putting down the fastest lap on the virtual version of New Hampshire Motor Speedway. iRacing was hosting a daily fastest lap competition amongst the media in attendance, whoever had the fastest lap at the end of the day would win a hat. I meant to try it out but I never got around to it. Anyway, Brad succeeded at beating everyone who’d tried it that day by like 2 seconds. That is, until Dale Jr.’s spotter TJ Majors came in later that day and beat him. I wasn’t there for that but I saw his time on the scoreboard.
Then it was time for qualifying and I grabbed one of the Wicked Whoopie Pie’s that NHMS had left out for everyone in the media center. They’re basically two pieces of round chocolate cake with buttercream frosting sandwiched in the middle. They’re DELICIOUS, but really sweet and there was no way I was going to be able to finish even half of it. They’re a little bit larger in circumference than a Burger King Whopper. BIG! I sat on the wall on pit road and attempted to eat it as daintily as possible which is hard to do.
I walked down pit road for a bit and then went into the garage to find the media bullpen area once cars started putting down laps. I hung out there until the “rain” started. It wasn’t consistently heavy, it was somewhere in between sprinkles and a mist. There were people around with short sleeves on that never quite needed to put a jacket on, put it like that. I stayed on the track until it was time for me to mosey on over to the Sylvania hospitality tent for their annual lobster bake event.
I was SO looking forward to the lobster bake because I’d never been given an entire lobster to eat all by myself before and I LOVE seafood. This was a huge treat. After finding a seat close to the stage, so I’d be in a good position to take pictures of Carl Edwards, I checked out the swag Sylvania placed at each seat. I have two Sylvania 300 hats and a t-shirt that I’m giving away to one of you readers in the very near future, by the way. There was a blanket, some indoor LED lighting products and a bright orange SYLVANIA t-shirt that is my new pajama shirt. Shortly after I sat down they released everyone to get in line for dinner. I was one of the first to put together their plates and I grabbed a bowl of New England-style Clam Chowder, a baked potato, skipped the fried chicken and clams and went straight for my lobster, cup of melted butter (for dipping!) and an apple crumble dessert. So much food!
I cracked open the claws and at the super yummy meat from each one and then attempted to crack open the tail. The tail wasn’t near as easy to disassemble as the claws, but I still got some good stuff out of it. And then I caught sight of the lobster’s eyes and I was done. Ha! Next time someone has to cover the eyes for me. I can’t take it. All of the food was wonderful and then in short order the presentation began. In attendance at the event were fans as well as members of the media who couldn’t pass up a free meal (seriously, why would you??). There was a silent auction to raise money for the New Hampshire chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities and then a presentation of the latest automotive and entertainment products from Sylvania.
During this trip I learned a lot about headlights. Did you know that your headlight light bulbs dim 40% after 2 years? But I’ll tell you more about that when I talk about Saturday. Anyway, eventually Carl showed up and took the stage and started to talk to us about his journey from being a guy that dreamed of racing in NASCAR’s top level while he was living with his mom, ten years ago to the top-tier driver he is today. His speech sort of rambled (not nearly as smooth as he is when he’s on ESPN) but he mentioned some fun things, like how his first girlfriend’s parents looked at him like he was nuts when he showed them his new race car he was so proud of, and how he once dated his college Spanish professor but he doesn’t remember any Spanish. He eventually took questions from the audience and then was on his way.
After the lobster bake we, the invited media guests and VIPs, were supposed to go for a “night drive” on the track but that got rained out. It would have been sooooo cool. We were going to get to drive around the track using standard halogen light bulbs and then using the better Sylvania SilverStar® zXe Zenon fueled bulbs. It would have been amazing to be on the track at night, in the middle of the dark.
So that was Friday. Next up, Saturday!
(all photos credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)