My friend Heather came up from Southern California for the race weekend at Sonoma Raceway. It was her first time to the track and we were super excited for the race. It was great to have Heather there especially since Kristen, the person I usually hung out with at Sonoma, moved to North Carolina last year. She also served in a professional capacity as my photographer. So anyway, we arrived at the track bright and early on Friday morning. I hadn’t been to a race in a year which feels really wrong to me. I have to go to more races this year, you guys.
Because of the new knockout qualifying deal this year, Friday was dedicated to practice. One of my favorite things about Sonoma Raceway is the way the garage is setup, it’s just one long row of garage stalls with all of the haulers lined up across from them. So it’s easy to walk it, but then again you have crew dudes staring at you the entire time. I don’t say that as if I’m some hot stuff, those guys stare at everyone, ESPECIALLY women. It can definitely make you self-conscious.
Anyway, so when practice starts I love to watch the cars roll out of their garage stalls and down to the track. In years past they’ve had to stop in a line in the garage which would usually make for better photos but this year they all went out with no stopping involved.
Another thing I love is when you go out to the pits in front of Turn 11 and you turn around you can see all of the crew chiefs and crew guys looking out the windows from the garage. I can’t explain to you in real words why I love that so much but I just think it’s cool.
We attended some of the driver press conferences where nothing earth shattering was said. I guess the thing I’ve noticed over the years is that the conversation around “road course ringers” has gone away and now it’s about how aggressive you have to be at Sonoma to succeed, and about how you have to manage other people who become TOO aggressive.
The best thing I saw in the garage on Friday was a woman who brought her cat with her in a stroller. I wish I was kidding. The cat and the woman were Jeff Gordon fans. They received a lot of perplexed, whaaaa? looks, ok, that might have just been me. The cat seemed fine, I guess, even though it was hot out. That’s one way to get attention in the garage. Who knew you could bring in animals?? Can you? What is happening??
In between the two practices we ran into Kasey Kahne. He spoke to us, and I reintroduced myself the way I always do because I always assume NASCAR people, especially a NASCAR driver, aren’t going to remember me because I’m not at all the races, but Heather was like “he knew who you were.” And while I was explaining that I’d met him before, I told him it was because I’d told him about winning the Hottest Driver Tournament two years in a row last year, I might have embarrassed him? But how could he not know that he’s cute? I mean, c’mon. Own it, Kasey.
Spotted Melissa Rivers, Joan Rivers’ daughter, hanging out with Karsyn Elledge, Kelley Earnhardt Miller’s daughter and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s niece, with a camera crew in tow. We passed by as Melissa was interviewing a crew member about Karsyn. I have no idea what that was for, but I’m sure we’ll find out soon.
So after practice was over we went to downtown Napa for dinner at Bounty Hunter. If you’re ever in the Napa Valley, check that place out for great BBQ but don’t get the potato salad, it’s terrible. They have a full bar but don’t make mixed drinks, so it’s only liquor straight up or wine or beer.
A crew guy that Heather knew met up with us there for drinks and brought along a car chief for a very well known driver. I had a great time talking to them but I promised not to reveal their names or their teams. At one point I just started saying names of different drivers to find out what guys in the garage thought about them. Kurt Busch doesn’t have many (any?) fans, not like that should be a shocker to anyone. Chad Knaus is supposedly dating former Miss Sprint Cup Brooke Werner. Ryan Newman is a cheapskate and Denny Hamlin & Jordan Fish have (allegedly) broken up.
We were talking about the race schedule which is especially hard on crew guys. They don’t get passes to bring their families to the races and they only get 2 weeks off a year. That’s rough. I mentioned Brad Keselowski’s dream Cup Series schedule, which would allow for more time off for everyone, and neither of the guys had heard of it. So I pulled it up on my cell phone and they both loved it. Which just goes to show that crew dudes aren’t reading all the media surrounding NASCAR. I’m sure some of them do but it’s clearly not the majority because you’d think they would have at least heard something about Brad’s ideas.
It was a really fun night, and great to get another perspective on the sport from the inside.