Sunday morning I woke up ridiculously early so that I could get to the track in time to get a ride in the pace car with Brett Bodine. This was my second time getting to ride around the Sonoma Raceway track but it had been long enough since the first time I’d done it to not remember what it felt like. Let me tell you this, Brett Bodine doesn’t lay off the gas pedal just because you’re not a race car driver. That guy went flat out and it was insane.
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When I got to the Cup garage at Sonoma Raceway on Saturday the inspections process was in full-swing for qualifying.
Kristen attempted to explain to me how NASCAR started using lasers this year at one of the inspection stations to measure the car. It’s kinda neat how it’s able to find the center of the car. It’s all completely computerized.
First, I apologize for taking so long to write about Sonoma. Life, work, blah, blah, blah.
I was going to write a whole paragraph about how traveling sucked but I figured what’s the point. You guys have been there, you know what I was dealing with on my flights from San Francisco to Charlotte and then on to Miami. Although I have to say I have NEVER been on a flight so full of babies & toddlers as I did that Saturday. It was crazy and it made me vow that if I ever have kids I’m not flying anywhere with them until they’re adults.
First, let me apologize for my serious delay in writing about Sonoma. The Monday following the race I came down with a cold and subsequently felt like crap ever since and didn’t feel like doing anything at all except breathing.
I woke up early Sunday morning to clear skies and no rain. When rain is a possibility during a race weekend I’ve taken the stance of not talking about it. At least not in the negative. You don’t know for sure what the weather is going to do, so why stand on negative side of the fence and go on an on about how it’s going to rain and we’re not going to get the race in, blah, blah, blah. I’d just rather not and deal with what’s actually happening.
Before I get into Saturday at Fontana, I want to thank you for your well wishes. I’m totally fine and have removed a lot of stuff from my plate. It’s a lot easier to breathe now.
I’m all apologies lately. I feel like I’m continually apologizing to you guys about being late and I hate that. I can say, with complete confidence, that I’m not going to be late anymore and I’ll be back on track posting stuff from here on out.
This post is really about everything that I forgot. It wasn’t until I started unpacking that I realized I’d forgotten my evening bag/clutch. This was important because there was no way I could carry everything I’d need for the Awards Ceremony without a bag and taking my regular purse would have been ridiculous.
Thursday was decidedly less cab filled than Wednesday. I walked next door to the Bellagio for the NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon. My table, number 31 (my fave number because it’s my birthday), was the designated NASCAR Citizen Journalists Media Corps table. We were a couple tables behind the Joe Gibbs Racing table where JD Gibbs and Kyle Busch were seated.
I woke up ridiculously early Wednesday morning to catch my 6am flight to Las Vegas. I received media credentials to attend the 2011 Motorsports Marketing Forum presented by Sports Business Journal/Daily. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get see the entire program for that day, but I wanted to get in as much as possible.
2011 Champion’s Week in Las Vegas is next week (squee!!) and some of you have asked about what opportunities you have to interact and see drivers. So here’s a post about it, along with a few suggestions on how to maximize your time.
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”
When I sing that song I’m not thinking about Christmas. I don’t get nearly as excited about Christmas as I do about NASCAR’s Champion’s Week in Las Vegas. I enjoy Las Vegas. It’s got everything and you never have to leave your hotel to experience half of it.
Sunday morning I got up super early so that I could get to Starbucks (a ‘real’ one that I scouted the night before) and beat any race day traffic that might rear it’s ugly head. I was delighted to find that there was no such traffic to fight and I even had time to take a couple pictures of the road I was on so you guys could see what I saw every morning. I did see a dead dear on the side of the road but I didn’t take a picture of that because it was sad (and gross).
Saturday morning, with my iPod blasting The Civil Wars (don’t get me started, their song “To Whom It May Concern” perfectly explains the state of my love life right now), I headed to the track. Well, I should say that I was headed to Starbucks. Now here’s the weird thing about that area around Kansas Speedway which has everything from a full on mall to Target, Hooters, a movie theater, Chipotle, Red Lobster, the LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, a baseball field, and a bunch of other restaurants — there’s no standalone Starbucks. The only Starbucks is tucked inside Target and we all know that the Starbucks inside of any other store is not a REAL Starbucks. If I can’t use my Starbucks card there it’s not a real Starbucks.
I flew into Kansas City, Missouri on Friday in the middle of the day. I knew that I was going to miss out on all of the top-12 driver press conferences, as well as Clint Bowyer’s big, non-surprise announcement that he was going to Michael Waltrip Racing next year in the #15 5-Hour Energy car. I knew all of that going in and it wasn’t a problem seeing as how the fact that I was going to the race weekend at Kansas Speedway at all was a big deal.
I woke up at 6am Sunday morning in New Hampshire and willed myself to get up so that I wouldn’t get stuck in race day traffic. SYLVANIA gave us a tip that we (their invited media peeps) should get on the road by 7:15am at the latest in order to miss the traffic melee. It worked because the drive to the track only took 25 minutes. I have to say that NHMS is by far my favorite track to drive to because the scenery is beautiful, but more importantly it was (basically) a straight shot from the hotel to the track, with one left turn and one stop at the drive-thru Starbucks on Loudon Road.
On Saturday, my first order of business was to head over to SYLVANIA’s tent in the fan mid-way area for a demonstration on how to change out your headlights. I was particularly interested in this because I’m one of those people that will go to the dealership, or to whatever car repair place I’m going to these days, and have them do it because I’d rather it be done right for sure than by me.
“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.
So, I totally forgot to include these photos in my regular weekend write-ups. Luckily they work all by themselves.
I woke up at 5am in order to get to Infineon Raceway by 7am (with a quick stop at Starbucks along the way) at the latest. I wanted to make sure I got a ride around the track in the pace car with NASCAR’s Brett Bodine. You think because you’re going in the pace car it wouldn’t be intense, but you’re WRONG. I sat in the back seat and proceeded to be bounced around the my seat and fellow passenger next to me.
On Saturday I forgot my cell phone at home, and my camera’s battery died, like, 15 minutes after I arrived at Infineon Raceway.
It was really weird to not have my cell phone or camera on me all day. It was annoying that I couldn’t take any photos or tweet out updates on the fly. I realized that those devices also served as security blankets. They were these things that proved I had “something to do” while I was in the garage. I wasn’t just wandering. I had to take pictures and constantly check my phone for updates–that gave me purpose. So without a purpose I felt like a nerd, just standing around. And I was worried that without the photos that I usually snapped throughout the day I wouldn’t have anything to remind me of what happened.
When I arrived at Infineon Raceway on Friday I was late. It was only 9am but it was late. The garage opened at 7am and that’s when people showed up, so the media lot was full when I arrived. I was stuck in lot 1 which is next to the helipad. It’s not a big deal (there’s an awesome shuttle that takes you right to the media center no matter where you’re parked) but it’s funny to me how 9am can be considered late for anything. Anyway, Friday was the day of press conferences for the top-12 drivers.
It was sunny everywhere in the Bay Area EXCEPT at the Golden Gate Bridge on Wednesday. It was the San Francisco cliche: totally foggy. I arrived at the the north side of the bridge to take part in the Cheerios Walk for a Healthy Heart event with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Clint Bowyer (left). Over 100 fans showed up and received free commemorative t-shirts plus the opportunity to mingle with their fave driver.
Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California started out with the customary trip to THE Starbucks. I call it “THE Starbucks” because it’s the one everybody goes to during the race weekend, and by everybody I mean literally everybody. It could be groups of fans apart of some racing package deal or pit crew members, PR people, and NASCAR drivers. I always see someone. On Saturday morning it was Michael Waltrip and Michael Waltrip Racing general manager Ty Norris. Sunday I chatted about the weather with a pit crew guy that recognized me from the garage.
Saturday in Fontana started out with Nationwide Series qualifying. Heather and I hung out in the media bull pen area and watched as the cars came through. It was pretty routine so this is a good time to talk about the children I saw in the garage that weekend. There were TONS of them. The new NASCAR rule allowing kids in the garage has made a big impact because I’ve never seen so many little boys and girls getting photos and autographs.
Thursday evening in Fontana, after I checked into my hotel just down the street from the race track, I discovered I forgot my cell phone charger at home. So I went to a Best Buy down the street to get another one. Then in the morning I woke up and found that I had left the pouch that holds all of my cords, USB drives and–most importantly–my digital recorder that still had a bunch of interviews on it from Las Vegas that I had yet to transcribe. I made a silent prayer that it was somewhere safe and then headed back to Best Buy to buy another one ’cause I had interviews to do that day.
I woke up at 4:30am to the sounds of soft rock playing from my alarm clock. I marveled for a moment at the fact that I didn’t feel super horrible waking up that early in the morning. I usually feel terrible and have to think of a million things to psych myself up to get going but I didn’t have to that last Thursday morning.
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.
On Saturday morning in Las Vegas the first and only thing I scheduled to do that day was interview Jennifer Jo Cobb. She was great and it was awesome to find out that her favorite word is “Fabulous.” Smart lady!
Friday morning in Las Vegas started with me arriving at the track just in time to interview J.J. Yeley at his hauler. But I found out that he had been asked to drive the No. 27 car for Baker Curb Racing in the Nationwide Series race. So he was participating in their practice session and wouldn’t be available till later in the day (We did end up connecting later in the day and I got some great answers from him).
When it was clear that Tony Stewart was the winner of the first annual Hottest Driver Tournament I was happy. Not because I’m a fan of his, or that I have some “thing” for him, which I don’t. Nope, it was purely for the fact that I knew I would definitely be able to present him with the award. If Dale Earnhardt Jr. had won this thing I doubt I would have had the opportunity to give him the award, let alone do it in person.
I set out for my Las Vegas adventure last Wednesday. I drove my VW Eos for 9 hours all the while listening to “The Howard Stern Show.” This was during the height of the Charlie Sheen craziness so the sound clip of Charlie uttering his trademark “Winning” catchphrase has been permanently emblazoned on my brain. It is the one word to describe my entire race weekend experience. But not in a “I’m losing so bad I’m winning” way, it’s more of an “I feel like I’m actually winning, doing good and making progress” kind of way.
Friday, December 3rd was the day of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony & Banquet at the Wynn Las Vegas.
NASCAR After The Lap started off mostly like last year, with hostess Jamie Little asking the drivers questions submitted by fans. There were a few new wrinkles like some of the fans asking the questions in person, and the drivers walking in through the crowd with Jimmie Johnson making his grand entrance in his No 48 Lowe’s Chevy.
Immediately following the press room session with the Chase drivers at the Bellagio, I got on the bus taking the media over to the starting line in front of Planet Hollywood for the Victory Lap down The Strip (aka Las Vegas Boulevard).
Thursday was filled with events including the NMPA Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon, the Victory Lap and After The Lap at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
I arrived in Las Vegas on Wednesday morning-ish. I checked in at my hotel, ARIA Hotel & Casino at CityCenter. I am giving this hotel two thumbs up because when I opened the door to my room (that unlocked after only having to wave my room key in front of the keypad above the door handle) music began to play and the curtains pulled back on their own revealing floor to ceiling windows facing a skyline of mountains.
It’s the most wonderful time of year. No, I’m not talking about the holidays. I’m referring to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Week in Las Vegas!
Sunday at Auto Club Speedway was a big day, not just for the Pepsi Max 400, but for all of the couples that were getting married and renewing their vows on the track. I was so excited about the whole thing and totally looking forward to seeing how it would all go down.
Saturday morning at Auto Club Speedway found me inside the Nationwide Series garage watching as drivers qualified for the CampingWorld.com 300. Driver after driver made their qualifying run and I stood by in the media bullpen area where they keep the top-3 cars. Cars shuffle in and out (and drive by) as the numbers on the pylon change order.
There weren’t a lot of fans milling around in the garage and only a handful actually stuck around to watch drivers get out of their cars and maybe ask them for an autograph. I noticed David Reutimann, in regular dude clothes, standing with the guys from Michael Waltrip Racing. He had on a hat and sunglasses but I still couldn’t get over the fact that people didn’t notice him. I guess it was good for him to not be bothered, seeing as how he’d just come off the weekend before and his infamous incident with Kyle Busch.
As qualifying progressed I watched as Carl Edwards got out of his car, spoke with various members of the media, signed autographs for fans, met with a large group of employees from his sponsor, Copart, took pictures with them, and then went off to the media center. All of that took place in the space of like 10 minutes. Now that’s multi-tasking.
Something I’ve noticed as I go to more races is that I take less pictures. In the beginning I was taking photos of everything; tires, cars, etc. But now that I know the pain of uploading those photos to Flickr and having to write a title for each one, I’m a lot more discerning when it comes to choosing a photo subject.
My Friday at Auto Club Speedway (ACS) began with me walking from my car to the garage and happening to see Travis Kvapil walking out of the drivers/owners motorcoach lot at the same time. I was set to interview Travis a little later on that morning, but he noticed me then. He must remembered me from when I interviewed him at ACS in 2008. This was, and still is, a big deal to me. He knew we had a scheduled interview for that day and he ended up having time right then so we went ahead and got the Inside the Actor’s Studio questioning out of the way.
Because I feel like the underdog pretty much all the time, it felt like a super cool “win” to walk through the garage, past crew members and whoever was around, with a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver who actually REMEMBERED ME. Which is why Travis Kvapil is a super cool guy in my book. He really is genuinely nice and I cannot wait for a Sprint Cup win to come his way. I’ll talk more about him when I post the interview. He was the first driver to answer a particular question a particular way. How’s that for cryptic?
I’m finally writing again! I have so much stuff to post for you guys, please bear with me while I get everything up. There are new Inside the Actor’s Studio interviews coming too. I’m in Las Vegas this weekend for Blog World & New Media Expo, but I’m planning on getting a lot of writing done as well. So stay tuned…
Last Thursday I drove seven and half hours down to Southern California for the start of my Auto Club Speedway/Pepsi Max 400 race weekend.
As I was driving I tried to think of new & interesting questions for Tony Stewart. Tony was having an autograph session at the Office Depot in Rancho Cucamonga that day and he had an open media session before he starting signing things for fans. Yet again I found myself having a hard time thinking of more questions for Tony. I really loved how well my first interview went with him that I didn’t want to ruin it by asking more questions and having it be lame.
It’s only Friday and I already have so much stuff to share with you guys! It’s awesome. Needless to say I’m really looking forward to tomorrow and Sunday. David Hasselhoff is singing the National Anthem and, like, 56 couples are renewing their vows along with 16 couples that are getting married on the start/finish line of Auto Club Speedway. Superfun! Oh and there’s a race or two happening. Jamie McMurray (seen at left post qualifying) is on the pole for one of them, the Pepsi Max 400.
Of course I’m not writing a full post because I’m tired and I have to get up early again tomorrow and I didn’t get a full night’s sleep yesterday (my room makes weird noises at night and trains pass by here). But I can tell you that I had fun watching people flip out when they caught sight of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and I interviewed Travis Kvapil, David Gilliland, Marcos Ambrose, Juan Pablo Montoya, Brad Keselowski and Brad Daugherty. Whew! There’s a lot of great content coming up for sure.
So here I was thinking that nothing that interesting was going to happen today while I was at Infineon Raceway for the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma weekend. Today was the Fluid Film Pole Day and oh what a pole day it was.
So I was sitting on the wall behind the pit stalls for Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick at the end of the IZOD IndyCar Series practice. Wheldon on my left, Patrick on my right. I stayed there through the Formula Car Challenge Race and then for the Firestone Indy Lights qualifying sessions. It was during the Indy Lights qualifying sessions that this young man suddenly appeared nearby.
He had a curious little box in his hand and he opened it. Inside of it was clearly a ring you’d give to a lady you want to marry. He opened it and closed it quickly. He seemed as if he was practicing his proposal. He was talking to himself out loud, like he was rehearsing what he was going to say. He was pacing.
At first, for like one minute, I thought that he might be some super sweet & romantic race fan that wanted to propose to his longtime girlfriend around the sport for which they shared a love.
But then I quickly started to think that that wasn’t the case at all. I believed that he wanted to propose to Danica Patrick despite the fact that she’s already married and that her husband was there today.
On the morning of the Toyota/SaveMart 350 I attended the NASCAR Tweetup held in front of Victory Lane. It was there that I met an awesome ‘Fabulous’ reader, Angela (aka @caligirl88 on Twitter). She was super nice and she totally surprised me because I wasn’t expecting to meet anyone that read my blog. Thanks again Angela for your kind words!
After checking in with Dawn, my fabulous friend who is the queen of efficient packing for NASCAR races (she also makes great cupcakes!), I headed over to the driver’s lounge for the driver’s meeting. For some reason my memory of that room was that it was much, much bigger than it actually is. Once the meeting started we were packed in there like sardines. Even some drivers and crew chiefs had to stand.
Nothing earth shattering happened in the driver’s meeting but I like being in there and knowing that I’m in there with ALL 43 drivers. It’s kinda neat. Matt Kenseth was the first driver in the room, showing up 30 minutes early, which is smart move if you want to get a seat. I find his punctuality refreshing.
Post-driver’s meeting I met up with Kristen (read her blog) and the No. 2 Miller Lite “Brew Crew” as they walked their Dodge through inspection. I don’t remember if I’ve ever talked about Kristen before, I apologize if I’m repeating myself. Anyway, back in 2007 she won the “Miller Lite Next Great Sportswriter” Contest and she got to spend a bunch of time and race weekends with Kurt Busch and the entire team doing interviews and writing. She’s been their “unofficial tool cart girl” ever since and she’s superfun to hang out with. We have an awesome time swapping gossip and chatting about this and that.
So Sunday was no different, we got to watch as some Cougar tried to hit on one of the Brew Crew dudes. This woman was a piece of work. I hope she doesn’t read blogs. Anyway, she seemed a little tipsy to me. A couple inspection stations later we saw the same woman touching a security guy. Hilarious.
Oh! So this is good, remember how I said Ron Malec probably thinks I’m some crazy person following him around? Well the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy & crew were in front of the No. 2 in line for inspection. So the entire time I’m standing with Kristen, Ron Malec is in front of us pushing the 48. I’m dead serious when I say that it was purely a coincidence and the last thing I want to be thought of is as a pit lizard. I have no desire to lick anyone’s helmet (although I’m sure that Cougar did!). I’m just an appreciator of good lookin’ dudes, so of course I took yet another photo of him (see right).
For driver intros I didn’t go behind the stage, thought it better to stay out on pit road. There cars were lined up one-by-one side by side faced out instead of in the usual two-by-two. It looked good and was a better use of space, in my opinion. I walked down to Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Office Depot Chevrolet because I know Lisa, who is a PR person on behalf of Office Depot. I never know where to stand on pit road for the Anthem and all that, so it’s nice to know someone and have a place to stand where you don’t feel like people are looking at you like “What is she doing here??” I don’t know that people actually think that but it’s what I think they’re thinking and it weirds me out.
Anyway, Tony’s dad, Nelson Stewart, was on hand for the day, he even walked out with Tony during driver introductions. He was at the car when Kevin Harvick stopped by specifically to talk to Nelson and give him a hug. It was a cute moment, photos of which you can see below.
After all the invocation, National Anthem and the command to start engines I walked pit road to get a spot behind the pits to watch the start of the race. Luckily, there was a spot right where I wanted to be, right behind the start/finish line. I stood on top of the little wall that sits at the back of the pits, right in front of the grandstands and got the best view of the green flag to start the race.
I hung around down there for a little bit and then headed to the media lounge tent to hang out away from the sun. I ended up meeting a French guy named Mat who was attending a NASCAR race for the first time. He was stranded outside of the garage because he lost his Hot Pass and his roommate that he came to the race with was nowhere to be found. We had an interesting time trying to talk in between the roar of the engines and me trying to understand his accent. It was fun though.
With about ten laps left I went down to Turn 11 to see what I could see and got a front row seat to Clint Bowyer’s caution-less spin out. I asked one of the photographers standing next to me if they could send me the photo and Tyler Takeda of The Madera Tribune obliged (see below). I was too busy screaming, “Ahh! Whoaaaaa!” to take a picture myself.
Clint Bowyer (33) gets turned around into the side of Elliot Sadler’s car Sunday during the Toyota Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma. (photo credit: Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune)
Instead of rushing over to Victory Lane to take my usual picture of the winner driving his car in, I decided to pass through the garage. It’s an interesting place to be post-race since cars are coming in smashed up and crew members are rushing around trying to be the first team out of the track. Those guys are super fast, it’s amazing how quickly they can pack up. Maybe they can help me out the next time I have to move?
I was there when Boris Said’s crew chief Frank Stoddard yelled at Tony Stewart — as Tony was climbing out of his car — to “Come on! You fat fuck!” Tony just sort of waved him off and went into his hauler. I wasn’t quite sure I had heard him right until I locked eyes with a smiling GoDaddy.com crew member walking toward me. It was then that I knew I had heard him perfectly and rushed off to the press conference room where my cell phone was charging to send out a tweet about it. Funny stuff. (If you want the full story on what went down and caused that outburst check out the article over at SBNation.com)
Although now that I look at the photo I took in the garage just before Stoddard make his comment, I think Tony might have said something first (see below).
That’s Tony on the far right getting out of the car and that’s Frank Stoddard in front wearing the #26 Air Guard uniform.
And so that was my day at the Toyota/SaveMart 350. Photo fun time below!
Cars lined up and ready to go on pit road for the Toyota/SaveMart 350 on Sunday, June 20, 2010 at Infineon Raceway.
Eva Busch, wife of Kurt Busch, walks down pit road to her hubby’s car. If I ever reach a point where I can have an assistant at the track their entire job would be to take pictures of WAGs. Between making sure I got pictures with my cell phone for tweeting and my regular camera, I missed stuff! Grr!
In the second photo here, of Kevin Harvick greeting Tony Stewart’s dad Nelson, you can see the top of Tony’s head. He was kneeling to do something with his shoes.
The pit crew for the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevy lined up for the National Anthem.
The green flag drops for the Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Infineon Raceway. My view! So cool.
Kevin Harvick. Yet another one of my “I don’t know how I got that photo” photos.
Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson
Dale Earnhardt Jr. pulls into the garage after the race. So glad he finished 11th! Now he’s 13th in points! Yay!
Saturday is always my favorite day in the garage because it’s all about practice and we haven’t reached the max level of wandering people that will be around come Sunday.
Something I hadn’t realized about the garage at Infineon is how perfect it is before the cars roll out for the first practice session of the day. Infineon’s garage stalls are all in one long row. You walk a straight line and you get to see everyone. This is especially eerie when all the drivers are sitting in their cars with their visors up just waiting for the call to drive out to the track.
It’s the only time when they’re basically a captive audience. You could jump out in front of their cars and do a little dance or hold up a big sign saying whatever you want and they have to watch because they can’t go anywhere. I didn’t do a little dance, I just tried to take pictures but I recommend that if you’re going to get a garage pass make sure it’s on a day when the guys are practicing. It’s the best time.
I know I’ve used that title before but I love it.
Friday at Infineon Raceway was day one of the Toyota/SaveMart 350 festivities. It was a pretty big day for me because it held actual things for me to do. My usual shtick is to just show up and let things happen but this time I setup interviews with drivers. Since things went so well with Tony Stewart and the Inside The Actor’s Studio questions I decided to make it my “thing” for now and to get as many drivers to answer the same questions.
On my schedule for the day were one-on-one’s with David Reutimann, Regan Smith, AJ Allmendinger and Elliott Sadler. I’ll write about each of those experiences in separate posts. Stay tuned for those.
Back in the media center I sat in on press conferences for Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, and a little bit of Denny Hamlin.
Tony Stewart’s presser was, of course, by far the most entertaining of the bunch. His session was after practice and he wasn’t very happy with his car. I think that Southwest airlines should use his press conferences as the basis for one of their “Wanna Get Away???” commercials. I had this uncontrollable urge, every time someone asked something cringe-worthy to look down and start playing with my cell phone. There are always a few questions that bug Tony and after sitting in on a few of his pressers I’ve learned that Tony is a lot better when you ask him questions that are very real to him. He laid it out pretty plainly that he only cares about racing. He wasn’t in the mood to get all theoretical or philosophical about racing after having a crappy practice session. It wasn’t helping that people were asking the same questions they’ve asked year after year, my favorite being “Should there be a road course race in The Chase?” That was the one that really bugged him and got him to eventually say that he had no interest in giving his opinion on such things, he just wanted to race.
The facts as I knew them before I arrived at AT&T Park last night:
1.) There was to be a group media session with Kurt Busch and David Ragan an hour before the game started.
2.) Kurt and David were going to take a lap around the field at some point in between innings with the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota showcar rumbling behind them.
3.) David and Kurt were going to lead the crowd in “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch.
4.) It was NASCAR Night at the San Francisco Giants vs Baltimore Orioles game
I parked at one of the piers just down from the ballpark and walked superfast to the place where my credentials were waiting. This was my first time attending a Major League Baseball game as a credentialed member of the media. I got to go because of Infineon Raceway and the fact that it was “NASCAR Night.”
To answer Melody’s question from my previous post, I was in Tony Stewart’s hauler for all of 5 minutes. It was luxuriously air conditioned and I didn’t see the back lounge area. Plus Tony wasn’t there he was out practicing but it was very cool to be inside a hauler for any reason and any amount of time.
Sunday was of course the Coca-Cola 600 and on my drive in to the track I couldn’t get over the amount of tailgating that was going on seemingly EVERYWHERE. Every blade of grass surrounding the track was filled with trucks, tents and people with barbecues. Even the parking lots of commercial office buildings had groups of people crowded together. It was so neat to see. There’s tailgating at the California races but nothing to the degree of what I saw outside of Charlotte Motor Speedway. It’s something that you have to witness for yourself.
I got to the track in time to attend a tweetup organized by SBNation’s Jeff Gluck. I went to meet up with ‘Fabulous’ readers Tara S. and Penni. It was really cool finally getting to meet them in person. I seriously adore the women that read my blog, you guys are the bestest! This is the perfect time to thank you all for the sweet comments about my interview with Tony Stewart. I really appreciate the encouragement.
As I alluded to in the title of this post, the Coca-Cola 600 was really all about Bradley Cooper and his hotness visiting a NASCAR race for the first time. He was there with three of his other cast-mates to promote their new movie “The A-Team.” I thought Brendan Fraser’s presence at Chicagoland a couple of years ago was a big deal but Bradley really brought out the ladies. Media and PR people alike make it a point to be in the media center for the cast’s press conference. As soon as Bradley walked into the media center people were requesting to have their photo taken with him (as you can see at right, that’s not me, unfortunately), which he happily obliged.
Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway was the day of the Nationwide Series race, the TECH-NET Auto Service 300 powered by CARQUEST. It was also the day that I forgot to put my sunscreen on and got a nice little tan.
The two days that hold the Sprint Cup Series qualifying and Nationwide Series races are always my favorite days during any race weekend. It’s because there’s always, like, 50% less people running around the garage. I know it’s silly but I love feeling like I have the garage all to myself. And practice is always the best time to get pictures of the cars as they exit and enter the track.
On this particular day I witnessed something that has been going on forever but I only discovered it last weekend. I’m not sure what the process is but some cars come off the track and before going to their garage stall to make adjustments they stop at some designated area near or in the garage and the guys from Goodyear check out their tires. There’s also a crew member from their team checking stuff and taking notes.
On Thursday night in Charlotte I was laying in my bed at the hotel willing my body to heal itself while at the same time wracking my brain trying to think of questions to ask Tony Stewart.
I was set to interview Tony the next day at the Office Depot in Pineville, a small suburb just south of Charlotte, before he signed autographs for his fans.
I didn’t want to ask Tony the usual questions about his car for the race that weekend, or how he felt about Charlotte Motor Speedway or anything about his team and the usual competition-related questions. I only want to ask people things that I’m curious about. Of course what I really wanted to ask him about was his love life, but since this was my first time meeting him EVER I figured that wouldn’t be the way to go.
Plus, this is Tony Stewart. He’s the most intimidating person, at least to me, to interview. I’ve been at press conferences where he’s cut people down with like two words. I’ve seen people live that Southwest commercial where they ask “Wanna get away???” because they asked Tony something he felt wasn’t worthy of an answer.
On Wednesday my only goal for the day was to visit race shops. My first stop was JR Motorsports in Mooresville, NC. On my half-hour drive up to Mooresville I got to see the famous Lake Norman that numerous NASCAR drivers call home. It is absolutely gorgeous and now I totally understand why you’d want to find a house that sits next to it. I can extend the whole ‘gorgeous’ statement to the whole Charlotte area. It’s really flat, especially to someone like me who has grown up around mount this and mount that, but it’s also really, really green. I thought we had a lot of trees in Northern California but North Carolina has got a lock on ‘em too.
When I arrived at JR Motorsports, passing by Braun Racing in the process, I had another one of those “this is so coooooool” moments. I’m such a geek, but it was really fun to get to be there even though I knew I was only going into the JR Nation store to buy stuff and take a peek inside the actual race shop. I think, as a fan, it’s just as much fun to express your affinity for your favorite driver by buying a mug. I really did buy a JR Motorsports mug, and this cute Dale Jr. magnet notepad. There were a billion more things I could have purchased but I held back because I figured I might need some money to get back home and, ya know, to live.
The Monday after attending the inaugural induction ceremony at the NASCAR Hall of Fame I had already earmarked as being a “day off” meaning that I wasn’t going to do anything except watch daytime television and go to the mall. This made sense because when I arrived I had two straight days of events to attend. I deserved it, plus I actually needed stuff from the mall.
Oh! I forgot to say that on Sunday night I had dinner with Jessica, Kells and Margaret. Margaret & Jessica I knew because they read this blog and are super active on Twitter, it was an absolute no-brainer that I was going to meet them while I was out in Charlotte. They’re awesome women and we had a fun time laughing it up at The Cheesecake Factory.
Anyway, back to Monday. I went to the mall with no expectations of any NASCAR related sightings but ending up spying Joey Logano shopping with his girlfriend. They were really cute. And no, I didn’t follow them. It was an interesting moment because I realized that if I lived in Charlotte moments like that would probably happen more often. Just something to think about.
On Tuesday my plan for the day was to check out the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I had taken a cursory walkthrough before the induction ceremony on Sunday and I really wanted to take some time to really experience everything it had to offer.
Today is my last full day in Charlotte and it’s also, of course, the day of the Coca-Cola 600. I have so much to show and tell from this trip. There’s no way I’ll be able to get it out today, but I’m planning on writing stuff up as I travel back home to California tomorrow.
If you follow me on Twitter then you already know that I interviewed Tony Stewart on Friday and he said that my time with him was the most fun he’d had in an interview in a really long time. He said that in front of a lot of other people, so I have witnesses to back me up, and as we all know he didn’t have to say that. He made my life with that comment. It was exactly the reaction I was going for. I can’t wait to write out the whole experience for you! Totally made this trip even MORE memorable. It’ll all be posted this week for sure.
The inaugural induction ceremony for the NASCAR Hall of Fame was held on Sunday. I was excited that I got to attend and be there for the induction of the very first class. While the ceremony itself wasn’t nearly as emotional as I had hoped, I basically wanted everyone to break down in tears, it still delivered on some great moments.
My number one favorite moment was when Junior Johnson’s son, Robert, introduced him and used words like “heart” and “love.” It was so sincere and just really sweet. When he said, “I love you, Dad.” I was telling myself not to cry, don’t friggin cry!
I guess my bone of contention with the whole ceremony was that I didn’t understand why more NASCAR drivers weren’t in attendance. This seemed like a no-brainer event that shouldn’t have been missed.
Out on the red carpet, which was actually blue, I was positioned behind the crew from SPEED. It was the perfect spot to snap photos of the drivers that did attend this super historic event.
Jimmie and Chandra Johnson were there but they showed up before I got to the blue carpet. In all I witnessed the arrivals of Kasey Kahne, Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, Ned Jarrett, Rick Hendrick, Junior Johnson, Darrell Waltrip, Michael Waltrip, Richard Petty, Felix Sabates, Jack Roush, Carl Edwards, Teresa Earnhardt, Taylor Earnhardt, Kerry Earnhardt, Kyle Petty and Joe Gibbs.
My favorite result of that day are the photos that I took which you can see below. I spent some time looking around the Hall of Fame but I’m going to save all of that for another post, plus I’m planning on checking it out again this week.
My best Kasey Kahne photo to date. For the record, I wasn’t making any wild or large movements. It helped that I was standing behind the SPEED reporter who was asking him questions.
I arrived at the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race to find a bajillion freaking people in the infield. Okay, maybe not a bajillion but it was a whole hell of a lot of people. Walking through the garage, okay, only one side of it (The Dale Earnhardt Jr. side, of course) was packed with fans and people that were clearly only on hand because some companies were doing some serious entertaining. Women in heels so high it was obvious they’d never been to a race before and men pointing to cars to tell those women who the drivers were but got the names wrong. Men, if you don’t know who someone is just say that you don’t know. It’s okay. The garage was filled with all kinds of people and it was seriously hard to walk like two feet.
The whole day felt weird for me because 1) I hadn’t been to a race since last year’s Pepsi 500 in So. Cal. and 2) my first day ever at Charlotte Motor Speedway was also race day and I’d never done that before. Usually things ramp up, ya know, qualifying then practice then racing. I had missed stuff. But whatever, it was still great to be there.
On my flight into Charlotte the guy sitting next me was watching the first season of “Lost” on his DVD player. He had never seen the series before and decided to get started on it on the plane. So while our plane was experiencing some serious turbulence I saw the plane in the very first episode of “Lost” go DOWN. Why of all the TV series you could choose to watch on a plane would you pick the one about a plane that CRASHES?
Yeah, I don’t know either. Anyway, my flight was happily uneventful because I made it to Charlotte safe and sound. Guess what the first thing I did was, after calling my mom to tell her I made it in ok and that I hadn’t been kidnapped like that girl in the Liam Neeson movie “Taken,” I picked up a Cinnamon Dolce Latte from Starbucks.
When I got to Hertz to pick up my rental car I was super excited to find that I got to drive a Volkswagen Jetta. My car at home is a VW too, so it was nice to drive something familiar. Oh, and here’s a tip from your friend Valli: If your rental car service has a self-service kiosk you should use it. I ended up getting out faster than the people who decided to stand in line. I was in my car and driving out while the people who had gotten to the counter well before me were still waiting.
I opted out of getting a navigation system from Hertz and instead used my cell phone and Sprint Navigation. I didn’t have to pay extra for it and it worked just as well as any in-car navigation system.
Driving through the streets of Charlotte, on my way to my hotel, I marveled at the fact that I put myself here. It’s one of those moments where you say to yourself “Holy crap, I’m actually doing this.” I must be serious about this whole NASCAR thing if I chose to fly across the country to attend a race.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter this weekend, today is the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and tomorrow the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.
This entire post is dedicated to the photo below of me with Carl Edwards. It is quite possibly the greatest photo ever taken in the history of photography. I’m probably a wee bit biased but it was seriously THE highlight of my trip to Vegas for Champion’s Week and it happened on my first night in town.
I arrived on Wednesday in the afternoon which meant that I missed the charity roast of Jimmie Johnson that took place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. I got a cab from the airport and went straight over to the Wynn to pick up my media credentials and then over to Harrah’s to check-in.
Thursday night was the Sports Illustrated party at Pure nightclub inside of Caesars Palace. Let me do a little foreshadowing of how this evening turned out. I walked to Pure from my hotel which is right next door to Caesars, but when I returned I took a cab.
Yea, it was that kind of night. When I arrived at the party I picked up my first of what would be at least 5 Cosmopolitans. I hung out and chatted with the people I knew, various PR people for sponsors and racetracks. It was after my second drink that I spotted ESPNs Marty Smith.
Now, if you’re starting to think that I’m a lush, you would be wrong. I don’t drink that often. There is no alcohol in my apartment, save for a couple bottles of wine that I’ve had for years, one of which I only have because it was given to me and it was free. I only drink in social situations, and if it’s free even better. And like I said before, I am shy, so what would take me like 20 minutes of talking up to do sober, took only 5 seconds with a little vodka in my bloodstream. And really, really, when am I going to get an opportunity like this to talk to people just as people and not when they’re technically “working.”
After the Myers Brothers Awards Ceremony, I left the Venetian and headed back to my room so that I could change out of my “business casual” dress and into clothes that were much warmer. It was so cold in Vegas. I wished it would get into the 70s but it never got close. Friday night, the night of the awards ceremony it was in the low 50s with freeze warnings in effect.
So I changed my clothes and tried to walk quickly to the monorail at Harrah’s/Imperial Palace station so that I could get to the MGM Grand as fast as possible because that’s where the start/finish line was for the Victory Lap. I wanted to see the top-12 drivers doing burnouts, but it wasn’t to be. I missed the whole thing. What I did see, from the windows of the monorail, was the traffic that was backed up for at least a mile next to the Strip. That was kinda neat.
Thursday, December 3rd was a big day full of events. However, my first event of the day had nothing to do with NASCAR but everything to do with moving from my $40 room at Harrah’s to my awesome not that much more expensive room at the Mirage. I loved my room at the Mirage so much that I took pictures of it. Which, I think, is saying something. For one, it had an iPod docking station & player so I could listen to my playlists while I got ready. The overall room design was modern & contemporary cool, complete with large flat screen TV with HD channels.
Anyway, after I got all checked in at the Mirage and waded through all of the authentic cowboys in town for the 2009 Wrangler National Rodeo Finals, I made my way over to the Venetian across the street for the NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Awards Ceremony.
Before the ceremony the top-12 drivers were available in an adjacent ballroom for Q&A sessions with media. I only had one question that I had any interest in asking any of the drivers and that was “Do you have any big plans for the off-season?”
Everyone was already engaged with media from various outlets: print, online, and TV. So I did a quick lap around taking pictures, and then chatted with ESPN PR.
Instead of starting from the beginning, I’m going to start with the end and work my way backwards.
Friday was of course the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Awards Ceremony at the Wynn in Las Vegas. I woke up that morning with a slight hangover from the previous night’s festivities. I spent the majority of the morning willing myself to feel normal and to not vomit even though vomiting probably would have made me feel better, but whatever. I went down to Carnegie Deli and got their chicken soup, which helped tremendously.
That morning I had to go over to the Wynn (I stayed at the Mirage Thursday and Friday, and Harrah’s on Wednesday) to pick up my ticket to the banquet. Passing through the lobby I caught sight of Ron Malec, car chief of the no. 48 Lowe’s team, taking pictures with his girlfriend.
Along with the ticket to the event that told me my table number for the night, I also got to pick up the wristband to get me into the after party and a mini replica of the Sprint Cup Championship trophy. It’s as cute and cool as you’d expect, and it also doubles as a paper weight.
I’m becoming such a grown-up. Ever since I found out that I was able to attend the Sprint Cup Awards Ceremony I’ve been all over the place. I’ve been excited, anxious, giggly, nervous, and geeked out. But then last week I told myself to just calm the eff down because before I knew it it would all be over and I’d be going home, and I don’t want to rush the whole going home part. So I’m learning to be all relaxed and chill about the upcoming events, but it’s really hard.
I leave for Vegas tomorrow afternoon, but as far as I’m concerned the trip starts early in the morning when I get my hair done. I’m one of those people that enjoys making the details of getting things together for the trip apart of the trip itself. So getting to find a “black tie” appropriate dress, scheduling my makeup session, finding the right accessories for the dress, and figuring out some questions I might want to ask drivers should I dare ask them, has been so much fun. The fact that just thinking about this stuff makes me happy is awesome.
So here’s the schedule of stuff that I’ll be attending while in Vegas for Champion’s Week. Be sure to follow me on Twitter, or just check back here and read my Tweets to the right in my sidebar for my updates. I’m not bringing my laptop ’cause I’m having enough anxiety about transporting my dress and I don’t need anything else to worry about.
Jimmie Johnson continued his Miss America-like tour of the country on Monday by visiting his hometown and handing over money to his alma mater, Crest Elementary School in El Cajon, California on behalf of his foundation.
The Jimmie Johnson Foundation has given almost $1 million in grants to schools in California, North Carolina and Oklahoma, which is very, very cool. Our schools can definitely use the help. So even if you’re not a fan of Jimmie for what he does on the track, you should love him for what he does off of it.
Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet, and his wife Chandra meet with students at his alma mater, Crest Elementary School on Monday in El Cajon, Calif. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Sunday’s Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil at Phoenix International Raceway was boring and I’m not saying that because Jimmie Johnson won. I’m saying it because it was boring, and the drama that involved Dale Earnhardt Jr. did not help things, like, at all.
Or maybe I thought it was boring because I was too caught up in trying on the dress I bought for the Sprint Cup Awards Ceremony. On Saturday, I went dress shopping with my mom and missed all of the Denny Hamlin/Brad Keselowski hullabaloo from the Nationwide race. On Sunday, I bought my dress, after starting with 10 contenders I found “the one” half an hour before the race started, and I really, really like it. I have to be honest, until I leave for Vegas this is all I’m going to be thinking about. I’m over Jimmie, and I’ve made peace with Dale’s season (Is it 2010 yet??!). I’m all about Champion’s Week; I’m counting down the days!
In other news…
– It’s safe to search the site again. There were issues with the Google Custom Search getting hijacked, but I’ve updated the code and the coast is clear.
And now, Phoenix photo fun time after the jump!
I’ve been invited to the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas!!!!!
Yes! I’m beyond excited about going to the Awards Ceremony (on December 4th) and a bunch of the other events leading up to it (on December 3rd).
I’m sure I’ll have a ton of stuff to tell you about, and photos to share, when it’s all said and done. The banquet is a formal “black-tie” affair so I’m betting on at least one post just about what I’m going to be wearing that night. I have to find a dress, and shoes, and a purse, and accessories! This is serious business.
I’m going to be geeking out on this one for a while.
Is everybody done talking about Talladega yet? Let’s move on to talking about more important things like “What will Chandra Johnson be wearing during Champion’s Week?” and “Who will be Chad Knaus’ date?” or “Can I be Ron Malec’s date?” (I’m kidding, okay, sorta, no really I’m kidding, maybe.)
That’s way more fun isn’t it? And speaking of the Championship festivities there are a number of ways for fans to get tickets to attend the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony that is being held for the first time in Las Vegas on December 4, 2009 (my mom’s birthday!).
Here’s a handy-dandy rundown of all of the opportunities:
- Bristol Motor Speedway will give four awards ceremony tickets to a selected fan who has attended every NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol since the track’s 1961 opening (open to current ticket-holders).
- Daytona International Speedway is using two different promotions involving two sets of two tickets. Fans should visit www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com/awardsceremony to register for both random drawings.
- Indianapolis Motor Speedway also is using two promotions involving two sets of two tickets. One is well on its way; interested fans were to visit IMS’s administrative lobby on Oct. 14 to register to win. For the second promotion, fans should visit the track’s web site, www.brickyard.com, to complete an online registration form. Note: You can’t win both promotions.
- Infineon Raceway is hosting a sealed bid auction for two awards ceremony tickets. The auction will benefit Speedway Children’s Charities. Visit www.infineonraceway.com for more information.
- Kansas Speedway will use four tickets as part of an enter-to-win contest. Each fan winner will receive two tickets, plus spending money, airfare and hotel. Click here for more information.
- Las Vegas Motor Speedway will use four tickets for its promotion. Visit www.lvms.com for more information.
- Lowe’s Motor Speedway will use four tickets as a Speedway Club Members auction item, with proceeds benefiting Speedway Children’s Charities. Visit www.lowesmotorspeedway.com for more information.
- Michigan International Speedway’s two tickets will be distributed via a drawing. Included is a trip to Las Vegas. Season-ticket-holders who renew are automatically entered in the drawing. Visit www.mispeedway.com for more information.
- New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s promotion was a part of its ongoing “FansFirst” initiative. Anyone who purchased tickets for the Sylvania 300 on Sept. 20 was eligible to win a trip to Las Vegas – airfare, lodging, $1,000 in spending money and two tickets to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony.
- Phoenix International Raceway is using two fan tickets as part of a ticket-purchase promotion. Visit www.phoenixraceway.com for more information.
- Richmond International Raceway will reward one fan with two tickets, but if you want their seats, be prepared to do a little work. Fans must submit a video describing why they should be selected as Richmond’s Fan Reporter in Las Vegas, plus include their most memorable moment at the track. Visit www.rir.com for more information.
- Texas Motor Speedway is using two pairs of two tickets in separate promotions. One pair will be part of a live auction with proceeds benefiting the Texas Chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities. Fans must register for a chance to win the other pair of tickets. Visit www.texasmotorspeedway.com for more information.
- Watkins Glen International is using a pair of tickets to reward a longtime fan of the track. Along with tickets to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony, the winner will receive a trip to Las Vegas, which includes airfare, lodging and rental car expenses. Visit www.theglen.com for more information.
- Kurt Busch will auction off two fan packages during his charity golf tournament on Dec. 1 in Las Vegas. Both packages include two tickets to the awards ceremony and a meet-and-greet with Kurt. Visit www.kurtbusch.com/foundation for more information.
- Greg Biffle is giving away a total of four fan tickets to the awards ceremony. He’ll give away two tickets during his weekly internet radio show, “Straight Talk With The Biff.” Fans are encouraged to call and tell Greg why they’re his biggest supporters. He’ll use the other two awards ceremony tickets as part of an auction to raise funds for the Greg Biffle Foundation. Visit www.gregbiffle.com for more information on both contests.
- Ford “I’m Driving One” Online Sweepstakes — One grand-prize winner (and one guest) receives a 2010 Ford Taurus, plus an Ultimate NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion’s Week Experience, including an all-expense-paid trip to Las Vegas, two tickets to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony, and special recognition during the NASCAR After the Lap presented by Tissot program. Visit www.imdrivingone.com for more information.
- Bank of America (NASCAR RacePoints®) — Two Champion’s Week VIP packages were made available for redemption that included tickets and access to the awards ceremony. Visit www.nascarracepoints.com for more information on the NASCAR RacePoints program.
- The NASCAR Foundation — Ten tickets will be auctioned as part of the Foundation’s Champion’s Week package fundraiser. The auction is from Nov. 9-23 and will be hosted on NASCAR.COM. Visit www.NASCAR.COM/foundation for more information.
And now my final, FINAL, post about the Pepsi 500 weekend at Auto Club Speedway!
Before driver introductions got started I met Heather, who is a friend of David Gilliland and his family, she’s also a Kasey Kahne fan. She reads my blog and we tweeted our locations and met up in the garage. We had a grrreat time hanging around, waiting to see which garage exit Kasey would use to go out to the driver intros stage. Because, really, you can never have enough Kasey Kahne photos.
There was no way I was going out to driver intros; it was a packed madhouse out there. I waited and then went out to pit road for the National Anthem. And I just so happened to stand near Kasey Kahne’s car ’cause it was near the exit I like.
So I’m finally wrapping up my posts about the Pepsi 500. It’s only a week overdue, but whatever.
Sunday was of course the Pepsi 500 and the morning was left open to do whatever made my little heart happy.
That weekend had been a celebration of Dale Earnhardt Jr’s birthday, which was October 10th, and Hendrick Motorsports 25th Anniversary. So it was only fitting that there was a Hendrick Motorsports hospitality tent, dubbed the “Party Zone,” where fans who bought tickets could eat, drink, be merry and ask Hendrick drivers, Dale Jr. and Jeff Gordon, questions before the start of the day’s race.
Auto Club Speedway picked one fan that purchased one of the special Dale Jr. Birthday ticket packages to meet Dale himself on Sunday morning. The Speedway let me go along for the ride. Well, sorta. I met Stan (photographed at right), the lucky fan who was going to meet Dale and present him with special No. 88 cupcakes from Sprinkles. Stan was a very nice guy, who had been a fan of Dale Earnhardt Sr. and transferred his loyalty over to Dale Jr.
I rode with Stan over to the hospitality tent where we parted ways and I went inside to wait for the Q&A session to begin, and Stan went on to meet Dale just before he took the stage.
I don’t know how their meeting went down, but I’m sure it was cool.
It was while I was standing around watching some country music cover band perform that Erin, a very cool woman who reads this very blog, came up and introduced herself. It was soo nice of her to say hello. Even though I have traffic numbers from Google that tell me people come to my site everyday it still amazes me when I meet a real person who reads my blog and likes it.
I stuck around long enough to watch Dale take to the stage and watch people lose their minds over his very presence. He seemed kinda groggy. It was like 9am PST but back east that’s 6am, so I could understand why he might not be all bright and shiny.
After all that I went back over to the infield to go to the Drivers Meeting. I decided I was going to take pictures of drivers but that devolved into just standing outside of the meeting room and not taking pictures. At that point it just seemed like I’d taken pictures before and what was the point?
It was there that I met Shari and Steve (photographed at left), a couple from Phelan, California who were on the lookout for Tony Stewart. I let them know that Tony was in the driver’s meeting room already and that he had to come out on our side of the building (there are two exits) because his PR guy was standing nearby. They had a Home Depot jacket that they wanted to get Tony to sign, they’d gotten Greg Zipadelli to sign it the day before. As the drivers meeting let out they were able to get Tony’s autograph.
Shari & Steve were super nice people and I was totally glad I could help them out in a little way. It’s actually my favorite thing to do at a track, help people stalk their fave drivers. Ok, not “stalk” but get their autograph or a photo, especially kids. At Infineon this year there was a group of little boys who were waiting near the garage with their mother to get autographs. Security had moved them behind a fence but next to the bathrooms. I saw Kyle Busch sprint to the men’s room just behind them but the kids hadn’t noticed. So of course I took it upon myself to tell them Kyle was nearby and to be on the lookout when he left the bathroom. It’s fun to help people check something off their list, or finish a really cool story they’ll tell their friends later.
So if you see me at a track and you wanna know where so and so driver is I might be able to help you out!
I swear you guys, I’m trying to write-up my weekend at the Pepsi 500 as fast as possible, but between flying to Vegas and feeling sickly, I’m going as fast as I can. So bear with me, ’cause I want you to read this stuff!
Saturday at Auto Club Speedway was qualifying for the Nationwide Series race the Copart 300 that was taking place in the afternoon.
For qualifying I took the same tack I used for the Pepsi 500 quals and stood in the garage in the area where the top 3 cars would park. I used the opportunity to take a bunch of photos.
A lot of attention that Auto Club Speedway gets is usually about their attendance numbers. Sometimes people call into question whether or not they should have two races since they never can seem to sell out the place.
I think everybody should get over it and move on. I think it would be an absolute shame to take their races away. Maybe they don’t need two, but you have to stay in the Southern California market. You just have to. Nobody else, except maybe the Daytona 500, gets the amount of celebrities out to their races the way Auto Club Speedway does. Of course it’d be really sad if they didn’t considering their proximity to Hollywood and all.
Finally, I’m sitting down to write the first of many posts about my weekend at the Auto Club Speedway for the Pepsi 500.
Friday was the usual routine of top-12 drivers press conferences. I was in a majority of them and some seriously interesting stuff went down. Okay, so it was only during Juan Pablo Montoya’s session that I had one of those Southwest commercial “Wanna Get Away??” moments. And I wasn’t even the one who caused the weirdness.
On Sunday, last weekend, at the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma when I arrived at the track, again at 8am, I realized quickly that there wasn’t much to do. I sat on pit road and watched as fans and VIPs took spins around the track with professional drivers from the Jim Russell Racing School. The whole thing made me wish I owned an Audi, the car of choice for the day’s hot laps.
Eventually, I ducked into Jennifer Azzi’s press conference. As I wrote a few days before the weekend started Azzi was on hand as the race’s Grand Marshal. It was cool to see her and I must admit that I totally missed my opportunity to introduce myself and tell her what an inspiration she’d been to me as a kid. I’m shy, OK. And I have to work up what I’m going to say in my mind before I actually do it and make sure it’s not lame. There never was a perfect time, but whatever, she’s on Twitter and I plan on saying something to her at some point over there.
Last Saturday I arrived at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma bright and early (8am to be exact) for the start of my Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma weekend.
Not long after I picked up my credentials, got to the media center, picked up the necessary schedules and general information I’d need for the day I had my first driver sighting.
Graham Rahal was in Victory Lane with his No. 02 McDonald’s Racing Team car for an interview with a local television station.
In the months and weeks leading up to the Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Infineon Raceway I spoke to my co-worker/friend Dawn about the big event. This was the third year in a row that she’d attended the NASCAR race weekend in Sonoma with a super large group of people, about 20-30 (although this year the group dwindled to 10 because of the race falling on Father’s Day). They start tailgating at 6am and don’t stop until well after the race is over, usually around 8pm.
Okay, so finally I’m telling you about my Sunday at last weekend’s Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Infineon Raceway.
Saturday night I came home with a mighty impressive suntan/sunburn and you would think that would lead me to make sure I bring a hat and a put sunscreen on the next day, but that didn’t happen. I honestly don’t know why I didn’t think to do either of those things. I’ve been to many races and I’ve never had a sunburn like the one I’m still dealing with to this day. I’ve been wearing a hat for the majority of the week to cover up my peeling forehead. Was that TMI (too much information)?
Sometimes I think the only reason I write blog entries is to use the subject lines I come up with. Often I come up with the headline before I think of the actual content. hehe.
Anyway, this is the story of Saturday at Infineon Raceway during the NASCAR Toyota/Save Mart 350 weekend.
So the big thing for me was watching the Camping World Series West race in which David Gilliland, Boris Said and Joey Logano were participants. I’ve never witnessed a Camping World Series race before (East or West) so it was a new thing for me.
I found a choice spot behind the pits next to the start/finish line. For a good portion of the race I was sitting indian-style on the second wall beneath the grandstands. It was the best place to watch the race from because I was directly in front of one of the Sprint Vision screens. I didn’t miss a thing. When the action wasn’t in front of me it was on the screen.
Here’s a little known fact about me. I get seriously nervous driving to the racetrack on the first day of a NASCAR race weekend. I mean, I get butterflies and super anxious. I’ve learned that this is a good thing, because if I wasn’t worried about it then it means it’s no big deal and it doesn’t mean anything to me. If I’m nervous about it I’m doing something right.
So that was me on Friday morning driving the super short 30 minutes to Infineon Raceway from my new home in Sonoma County. I moved to the city of Cotati just to be closer to my day job and cut down on my commute expenses but in the process I received the huge bonus of saving my sanity by not having to sit in excruciating traffic leaving the track each day. It’s a beautiful thing.
When I arrived at the track I picked up my credentials and then headed straight to the media center to grab the necessary schedules. I had to park up top next to the helipad and I made the wrong decision to just walk down the hills to the garage instead of waiting for the shuttle. Luckily for me this super nice man offered me a ride in his golf cart. It was great to not have to walk the whole way, but that ride down the hill in a super open vehicle was frightening. The entire time I was mentally and physically bracing myself for the possibility of being catapulted out of it at any moment. Super fun.
After one day of NASCAR fun at Infineon I already have new tan lines and am seriously tired. I’m not sure when my next post will be so if you wanna know what’s going on with me as it’s happening be sure to follow me on Twitter. You can also subscribe to my Twitter RSS feed of updates if you don’t wanna join in on the Twitter fun yourself.
A couple things you should know:
– The movie “Fast & Furious,” starring Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, opens in theaters on Friday, April 3rd, 2009. I have to mention this ’cause it’s just the thing to do when your blog is titled The Fast and The Fabulous. Visit the movie’s official website. The truth is that everytime I see the commercial for this film I giggle to myself ’cause I think of this blog and then I wonder if I could of interviewed Paul Walker even though there’s no other connection between me and the film other than the whole naming thing. Eh, whateva.
– The following photos were taken by Jameela Washington at the Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway this past February. I’ve been meaning to post these for, like, ever but I’m a nerd. I met Jameela last year at the Pepsi 500 and the lady takes some great pictures:
Clint Bowyer at the Auto Club Speedway on Sunday, February 22, 2009 (photo credit: Jameela Washington)
Casey Mears carries his daughter Samantha at the Auto Club Speedway on Sunday, February 22, 2009 (photo credit: Jameela Washington)
Note the heels.
Jeff Gordon’s wife Ingrid Vandebosch carries their daughter Ella at the Auto Club Speedway on Sunday, February 22, 2009 (photo credit: Jameela Washington)
I knew that my
harrowing story of searching for Sprinkles Cupcakes at Auto Club Speedway would touch a nerve amongst the cupcake aficionados out there and might get people talking.
However, I did not know that it would get the officials from the speedway itself talking. I received not one, but two emails from Auto Club Speedway personnel letting me know that the cupcakes were in fact being sold at two locations at the track during the Auto Club 500 race weekend — at Tailgaters in the FanZone and at the Pit Road Cafe in the infield.
Lenny Santiago, Director of Marketing Communications for International Speedway Corporation (the company that owns Auto Club Speedway), read my story and let me know that he wanted to make up for the fact that I wasn’t able to find Sprinkles in my many treks to the FanZone.
On Wednesday I received a dozen freshly baked Sprinkles Cupcakes hand delivered from their store location in Palo Alto, California! How cool is that?
I am amazed by this entire experience. I am so thankful to Lenny and the folks at ISC for wanting to make things right and for taking the time to read my blog post in the first place.
Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was unlike any other Sprint Cup race day I’d experienced before. Why? Because I got to attend the drivers meeting.
Shut up! I know! Yea, I was kind of psyched about the whole thing. Standing in the back of the room with various media and PR people it was definitely a moment where I said to myself “Am I really standing here right now? This is happening? Yes, it is.” At the same time though the whole reality of situation revealed itself and it turned out to be really boring.
It went by in a flash, and while I did see a lot of drivers it was pretty mundane. Maybe I’m getting used to seeing drivers walking around in regular clothes, and being in the same room as them? I know, I can’t believe I just wrote that either. I think there’s something to that though. The meeting itself consisted of a PowerPoint presentation that takes the drivers and their crew chiefs through the specified pit road speed for the day, the entrances and exits for pit road and various rules and regulations.
I found it funny that there were typos in said presentation and that if someone didn’t remember turn off their cell phone they were ushered out of the room as if they’d just tried to throw their shoe at the President.
The meeting ends with a prayer and then everyone is on their way. It was a cool thing to experience and I will no longer have to wonder what the atmosphere is like in those meetings.
After the drivers meeting I headed straight into the lunch room for uh, lunch, and sat at a table with Travis, a member of the Nellis Air Force base honor guard. Travis volunteered to attend the event and present the American flag before the start of the race. We chatted for a little bit before he had to run to get ready. Our conversation consisted of me explaining why NASCAR was indeed a sport. I found it hilarious that I had to defend NASCAR while at a NASCAR race. Classic.
Let’s skip ahead to after driver introductions and imagine me walking from the general area of the stage set-up on the start/finish line over to the race cars parked on the edge of the grass in front of the grandstands.
If you’re by yourself and have no affiliation to a race team it is incredibly nerve wracking to walk around and try to just “blend in” with the crowd, when everybody is just standing around looking at everybody else. I always feel like I stick out like a sore thumb, but I want to stand out there with everybody else ’cause a.) I can and b.) because I can. If you have that access of course you’re going to use it and I’m one of those people who like to extinguish all available options. It’s so cool to be there, but at the same time I feel like people are looking at me wondering why I’m standing next to their car in particular. I dunno. It’s the weirdest thing and it’s hard to explain.
So after what was the coolest fly over ever, I headed to pit road to get a spot to watch the race start. I ended up behind Kurt Busch’s pit box where I saw his wife Eva and her insanely large wedding ring. I want to give you a more realistic example of how large the diamond on her hand was, instead of just saying “It’s a rock alright!” So I’ll say that it looked to be the same size as a peanut M&M.
I watched the vast majority of the race from the media center and then with about 20-30 laps left to go I decided to leave. Yea, I just couldn’t stomach the idea of having to stay at the track until 8pm in order to have the possibility of missing traffic. I couldn’t take it. So I left, missing all traffic and went to Panda Express.
On my way back to my hotel, whilst on I-15, I could see the helicopters from the track making their way to McCarran Airport. It was fun to see them all in a row, it looked like a constellation.
Monday morning I was in the lobby of South Point Hotel & Casino waiting to check-out, and I noticed that Fox Sports NASCAR analyst Larry McReynolds was in front of me doing the same.
All in all it was a great weekend; I learned a lot and met some great people. It seems crazy to say that I’m going to highly enjoy watching this weekend’s race at Atlanta from the comfort of my own couch, but I really, really will. At this point in time my next in-person race will probably be Infineon in June. That gives me plenty of time to recover from two-straight weekends of NASCAR craziness.
This photo ranks right up there with my shot of Clint Bowyer at Chicagoland from last year.
Reed Sorenson and Casey Mears make their way to the stage for driver introductions before the start of the Shelby 527 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, March 1, 2009 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Can you spot Sam Hornish Jr. and his baby daughter, Addison, in this photo?
Cars and drivers line up before the start of the Shelby 527 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, March 1, 2009 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Members of the Flying Elvi skydiving team touched down before the start of the Shelby 527 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, March 1, 2009 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
I like to talk about things in chronological order but somehow I went a little out of order in my account of my Las Vegas weekend.
For example I have yet to talk about sitting on pit road during qualifying. I’ve been to a lot of races but I’ve never stayed out on pit road for qualifying. I usually hang out in the garage and try to snap photos of drivers jumping out of their car after they’ve finished their laps.
It’s just as good trackside, if not better, because the drivers are just sitting on the wall waiting for their turn to come around. If they’re not sitting, they’re standing next to their car just a few feet away from people like me.
When I think of that I can’t help but marvel at all of the access NASCAR fans have to their favorite drivers. I’ve always told people that it’s not a matter of if, it’s just a matter of when and where you’ll run into your guy. I think it’s crazy to ask these guys to do more in terms of reaching out to the fans. I mean, Sam Hornish Jr. was standing on pit road for like an hour all by himself, not many people were talking to him. Some fans eventually went up to him to take a photo with him, but for the most part he was just there completely available. That just doesn’t happen in the NFL, NBA or in MLB. If I could walk out on to the field at AT&T Park during practice Barry Zito would be mine, or at the very least I’d have enough photos with him to use for my Christmas card for the next 5 years. The San Francisco Giants should make that happen. Think about it Giants, just think about it.
So that was Friday. On Saturday I staked out the garage for photos like wrote about in my last post. For the Nationwide race I went out on to the track for driver introductions and then down to pit road for the anthem. I stood in between David Ragan and Brendan Gaughan’s cars. During the race I watched it from my seat in the media center.
At one point, I went out to the Neon Garage to get something to eat. I sat out there and watched the race on one of the two big screens that sit opposite each other inside the huge courtyard-like area. I ordered the yummiest $9 BBQ pulled pork nachos I’d ever tasted. They could easily cut that portion in half and sell it for $4 and it’d be just as good. Overall though, I highly recommend them!
At the end of the Sam’s Town 300, the top-3 finishers were brought into the media center to field questions, as per usual. Pit road speed seemed to be a problem for a lot of drivers that day and Brian Vickers and Carl Edwards seemed to think that the pace car hadn’t set the right speed before the race start, and that is what caused a lot of drivers to speed on pit road.
And that was Friday and Saturday. Next up: Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!
Tony Stewart prepares to qualify for the Shelby 527 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Friday, February 27, 2009 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
(from left to right) Jason Keller, Mike Bliss and Steve Wallace chat before driver introductions for the Sam’s Town 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Saturday, February 28, 2009 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Scott Speed chat before driver introductions for the Sam’s Town 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Saturday, February 28, 2009 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
The No. 62 South Point Hotel & Casino team lineup for the National Anthem Dale before the start of the Sam’s Town 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Saturday, February 28, 2009 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
I think I’ve twittered about being tired a lot in the very recent past. I’m sure people are wondering why I’ve been so tired considering the fact that all I’ve been doing is going to work as usual and attending NASCAR races in between.
Going to a NASCAR race is not like going to the movies or playing mini golf. It’s an all day thing and it involves a lot of walking, standing, and more walking. Plus I tend to get to the track early because I’m paranoid about missing out on something. Take Friday (qualifying day) for example, I got up at like 7am, to get to the track by 8. I was there until 6 and then I had to sit in ridiculous traffic for another hour and a half. I got back to Starbucks (my home away from home) at like 7:30pm.
So I’m still catching up on regular sleep and my normal schedule. It’s weird. I have a bunch of stuff to talk about so let me start with Saturday.
I walked the Sprint Cup garage to find the best place to stand to take photos of the cars as they exited the track during both practice sessions. I found the best spot across from Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s hauler. Cars passed by right in front of me, so close that it seemed like they were going run right over my toes. It was perfect.
Now I know that the type of race fans that read blogs like this one aren’t the fans that need to know the tiny piece of information I’m about to share with you. It’s really the casual fans that come to like one race a year that need to heed the advice I am giving. Look around you!!! I cannot tell you how many people I saw just walking around, lolly gagging, in a “hot” garage. Cars are constantly coming in and out, and these people have no idea where they’re walking.
To illustrate my point perfectly there was a woman who walked right in front of Michael Waltrip and his #55 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota as he entered the garage. She was so freaked out that she tried to run out of the way but her fright got the best of her and she fell right in front of his car. Michael stopped of course, not close to her at all, and the security guy that had been directing traffic helped her out of the way. I know she was embarrassed. I felt bad for her but at the same time it was pretty comical.
In other news…
– Las Vegas Motor Speedway has a spa. Yes, my friends, a spa. It’s not for you and me, it’s for the drivers and their families. While the guys are out on the track their wives can relax and get manicures, pedicures, facials and massages. So you’re telling me that these people get to bypass the insane traffic in their helicopters and then once they’re here they get to have a mani/pedi too?! So not fair.
Bobby Labonte helps to push his car back to the garage during Sprint Cup Series practice at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Saturday, February 28, 2009. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Elliott Sadler navigates his way through the garage during Sprint Cup Series practice at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Saturday, February 28, 2009. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Martin Truex Jr. navigates his way through the garage during Sprint Cup Series practice at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Saturday, February 28, 2009. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
I drove 8 hours to get to Las Vegas, so I think that solidfies me as a true blue NASCAR fan. I’ve done the drive to Vegas from the Bay Area 2 times before, and I think it feels longer after you’ve done it the first time.
I arrived in Vegas yesterday and checked into my hotel, South Point Hotel Casino & Spa, where I found that many other NASCAR fans and teams were also staying. It’s a nice place but the fact that the casino is full of smokers pretty much solidfies the fact that I will not be indulging my passion for penny slots.
This morning I got up early to get to the credentials trailer. When I walked in the door I immediately identified David Ragan standing at the counter. I wondered why he was there and cursed the fact that I didn’t have my camera on me, not that I could have taken a photo because it would have been super obvious. Anyway, I stepped up to the open window next to him and handed over my ID to pick up my stuff.
It was then that the woman across from David asked how she could help him. He said that he needed his parking sticker for his RV. The woman told him that they should have given it to him when he drove in, there’s a little booth there. Well, David, who was obviously irritated by the whole thing, said that the guy manning the booth told him to come to the credentials trailer. He said that he would go back but asked if there was a specific person he could talk to about it because he thought this wasn’t a very organized way to handle things.
Two things I found interesting:
1.) He had to handle this whole thing himself. You think that all drivers have someone to drive their RV in for them, or pick up the necessary stickers. I guess it just isn’t like that for everyone.
2.) His accent becomes extra thick when he’s annoyed.
Here’s another totally random thought about David Ragan. He looks better in his street clothes than he does in that UPS firesuit. I really don’t think they should have used so much yellow. It’s not a good look.
It seriously hurts my heart when I write something and then in a moment of complete insanity I lose everything I’ve just written because my computer crashes. That’s just what happened to me, so I apologize if this post sucks.
I finally have some time to write up my thoughts from last weekend’s races at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
Saturday was pretty uneventful, so I’m skipping that and getting into Sunday.
I hovered outside the drivers meeting room to get photos. While doing that I spotted Cody, the PR guy for Kyle Busch. I introduced myself to him not to ask him if I could interview Kyle, but to ask him if he knew that he had fans. Now you’re probably wondering how a PR guy can have his own set of fans but it’s totally possible. Anytime you see Kyle on TV walking through the garage to things like driver intros or to his appearances Cody is always by his side. Plus he’s a young guy who happens to be pretty good looking. So it’s understandable that there would be people out there, people who asked me to ask him if he has a Twitter page. Cody said that he didn’t know that he had fans and that he doesn’t have an account with Twitter (at least as of Sunday).
Later on I headed out to the grass area for driver introductions. The red carpet was rolled out once again for all of the drivers and it was a complete mob scene with fans jockeying for position along the roped off area. At that point I realized that trying to get any kind of photo would be futile so I stood back from it all.
Earlier in the day during one of my cupcake trips over to the FanZone I caught a portion of a performance by the hard rock band Rev Theory. I watched them do a couple songs and I thought they were great. While I was waiting for driver introductions to begin I spied the guys from Rev Theory walking through the grass. I told them that I’d seen them earlier and that they were really good. Introductions were made and I chatted with the drummer Dave and their personal assistant/handler guy Nice (that’s his nickname) about the virtues of Twitter. They were really nice guys and were super fun to talk to. I love band dudes.
After driver intros I played the pit road version of musical chairs. What you do is you start walking and then stop when you hear the PA announcer say “Ladies and Gentlemen, please rise…” I ended up standing behind the pit crew for the #88.
When I turned around after the flyover, which I love to death by the way, I realized I had been standing in front and to the left of Carl Edwards, his wife Kate and all of the guys from Band From TV.
My race day ritual, which I don’t think I’ve ever talked about before, is to stand behind the pits with a perfect view of the start/finish line for the race start, and
then at the end of the race with about 10 laps to go. It’s a compromise between actuallyseeing the race right in front of me and then going back to the media center to watch it through a TV screen.
So the sweetest, most adorable moment of the day was during the post-race press conference with the top-3 race finishers. Before Jeff Gordon arrived (he finished second) his wife Ingrid walked in carrying their daughter Ella. I think I’ve said it like a million times but I’ll say it again she is so freaking cute! When Jeff walked in he went over to Ella, picked her up and gave her a kiss. So cute! Then when Jeff went up to the stage and sat down Ella kept saying “da da” and pointed at him. Cute overload!
I was sad that Jeff didn’t win the race; he was so close to ending his losing streak. But I believe he will be in victory lane very soon because in that press conference he exuded passion, excitement and positivity about his race team. He said that they were head and shoulders above where they were last year. I truly hope that all of that optimism will pay off for him.
I love this photo.
Kasey Kahne’s #9 Budweiser Dodge on pit road before the start of the Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA on Sunday, February 22, 2009. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Brian Vickers waits to be interviewed by SPEED at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA on Sunday, February 22, 2009. (Photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Billy Ray Cyrus at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA on Saturday, February 21, 2009. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
OK, this is Michael Waltrip. I took this photo because I saw the big purple stain on his back pocket and thought it was curious. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
The band Rev Theory at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA on Sunday, February 22, 2009. (Photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
I think this UPS Truck golf cart is the coolest thing. I wanted to drive it! (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
If you’re not from Los Angeles or you’re not a woman then it’s likely you haven’t heard of Sprinkles Cupcakes. Sprinkles is a cupcake bakery, that’s all they do, just cupcakes. They’ve been featured on The Today Show and The Oprah Winfrey Show, and you can buy their cupcake mix at Williams-Sonoma.
I have never had a genuine Sprinkles cupcake but I’ve always wanted to try them. I’ve baked some on my own with the mix but that’s not the same as getting the real deal direct from the source. I’m a baked goods freak. I love cookies, cake, and pie. You name it I’ll try it at least once.
So imagine my delight when I found out on Saturday that none other than Sprinkles Cupcakes were to be sold at Auto Club Speedway that very weekend. The Speedway folks put out a special press release about the cupcakes and other new, and supposedly affordable, food fare at the track this year. Sprinkles had it’s own special bullet point, listing the fabulous flavors that made them famous.
So that was it, I figured out a time (during the truck race) when I could catch the shuttle over to the Opportunity, California FanZone. I arrived in the middle of the ginormous FanZone area and started to wonder exactly how I was going to find Sprinkles amongst all of the attractions and options laid out before me. I looked for signs, and found one that listed every food available except cupcakes.
Undeterred I carried on. I stopped by the entrance to Apex the Wolfgang Puck restaurant and asked the staff there if they knew where the cupcakes were. One guy said that he’d heard they were “right behind them.” When I looked behind them, I found an ATM machine for Bank of America and a Philly Cheesesteak stand.
Still hopeful the cupcakes were within reach I walked in circles in the FanZone, zigzagging around the merchandise haulers and radio station booths. I stopped to ask vendor after vendor if they knew where the cupcakes were and still no luck. I received responses like “No, but that sounds really good” and “Everybody keeps asking me that, but no I don’t know.”
Frustrated and disappointed I bought kettle corn as a consolation prize and hopped on the shuttle back to the infield. I shared the story of my search for the cupcakes with the shuttle bus driver who I’m pretty sure must now think I’m absolutely insane. He was totally nice about it though.
I decided that on Sunday I would try again, and so I did. I came back to the track with a renewed sense of determination. I had an hour to spare before the drivers meeting was to begin. I hightailed over to the shuttle, where the same shuttle driver from the night before was on duty, and set off for the FanZone again. As I hoped off the shuttle he wished me luck. I definitely needed it.
I searched high and low. I scanned race fans to see if anyone was holding a cupcake so that I might ask them where they bought them, but there wasn’t a cupcake in sight.
I gave up again because I had to get back to the garage for the drivers meeting. When the Sprint Cup race began and then fell under caution for rain I decided to make one last complete sweep of the FanZone to make sure I hadn’t left any stone unturned. I had a map of the area and realized I hadn’t checked the eateries located directly underneath the grandstands.
I climbed what looked like one flight of stairs, but what actually felt like two and weaved in and out of gobs of people on line for margaritas and hot dogs. I pushed through huge lines of women and men waiting to use the bathrooms. I walked from one side of the grandstands to the other and still nothing.
In searching for the friggin’ cupcakes I probably expended all of the calories I would have consumed had I found them in the first place.
I bought some french fries and shuttled back over to the infield where one of the security dudes said to me “You went all the way over there for french fries??” I was all “No, I went for cupcakes!” I don’t think he thought that was a better answer.
I vowed to get to the bottom of this. Who would promote the fact that they have a great treat like this and not come through? No signs, no arrows pointing the way to cupcake goodness. It was a total sham.
Yesterday morning it hit me. Duh, why not go directly to the source and ask them what gives. So on my way to the airport I went to the very first Sprinkles location in Beverly Hills and bought 4 cupcakes. I told them my story of searching endlessly for their yummy trifles at Auto Club Speedway. I asked if they were really there and what was their response? “We were there.” Riiiiight.
Whatever! I have my cupcakes — Lemon, Vanilla, Black & White, and Vanilla Milk Chocolate — and they’re delicious.
All day the amount of media that gathered for the individual driver press conferences had been small to say the least. I think almost every driver who walked in commented on the lack of butts in the seats. The audio from each meeting was being broadcast over to the deadline media room, and the reporters there could ask questions if they wanted, so people didn’t have to show up in-person if they didn’t want to.
The only driver to have an insane grouping of everyone and their mother was Dale Earnhardt Jr. who was asked every kind of variation of the same question regarding the incident between him and Brian Vickers at Daytona. The gist of what he had to say was that he didn’t mean to do it, he’s sorry about it, and yes, he’s talked to Brian. Blah, blah, blah.
While the vast majority of media was hanging onto every word uttered from Dale’s lips, Carl Edwards was left sitting in the driver’s meeting room with only 3 writers in front of him. I was kicking myself for not ditching Dale and sitting in on Carl’s session instead.
When it comes to these Q&A shindigs with drivers I’ve never asked a question and I usually try to stay towards the back and to the side. But when you’re in a situation where you’re one of like 5 or 6 people in a big empty room it’s hard to blend in. I don’t prepare questions for these things, or at least I haven’t in the past.
These guys are always asked the same questions and if I did dare to say something I’d want it to be interesting and somewhat thoughtful. After about 3 drivers came in it was Casey Mears turn to take the stage and field questions.
I don’t know what I was thinking but I raised my hand to ask a question. I was curious if becoming a father last year has changed his outlook on racing at all. I was sort of afraid to ask because I didn’t want to pry into his personal life and I didn’t want him to give me a Paul Menard answer of “I’m not going to answer that.”
Casey was very nice and smiled throughout his entire response. Smiling is the international symbol for “Your question wasn’t horrible.”
Here’s Casey’s full response: “I’ve discussed this a little bit before and in Daytona as well. It’s funny because I think being one of the younger guys looking at some of the guys that have children and have a little bit more of a family thing, ‘Man, they’re probably slowing down a little bit.’ Ya know, they’re going to be a little more conservative because of that situation and in a lot of ways I think it’s completely the opposite now, being in that situation. It makes you want to try that much harder. It makes you want to be that much more successful. It makes you want to be able to provide for that family now and that child. And I think that it definitely brings a whole new light in my mind of the situation because I feel like you think about it at night a little bit more, ‘hey we wanna make something happen. I want to prove myself, I want to do well.’ So I think from that perspective things have changed. I’ve always had a huge drive to do well and be successful but it’s definitely affected my life probably, and my racing career, in a different way than I thought it was going to. It’s not slowing me down it’s making me work harder.”
From that and subsequent questioning of other drivers I quickly realized that these guys remember everything they’re asked and if you want to stand out and not sound like a schmo you need to come up with something different.
Unfortunately for me I didn’t have the time to think of something fabulous and witty when Elliott Sadler walked into the room. I was the ONLY media member sitting in front of him. As Elliott walked by me he was like “So it’s just you and me today?”, and I was all “I guess so!”
Inside I was freaking out, what am I going to say? I have nothing! Nothing! So I offered up the only thing I could which was the standard how do you feel about your car question. After that I followed up by asking him if ever gets the opportunity to sit down with The King, Richard Petty, or does it happen more in passing which is what Kasey Kahne and Reed Sorenson had said earlier that day. He was nice and answered them both well, but I could tell that I hadn’t wowed him with my journalistic skills. Luckily, a few reporters trickled in during his response to my second question and I was off the hook.
The best part of my day, in which I had to pat myself on the back, was when I asked David Ragan if he ever Googled himself. I think his answer speaks for itself, in it’s pure awesomeness:
“I have Googled myself and, trust me, I wasn’t just like sitting in a room and it was just me. It was probably with a group of friends or at a racetrack trying to kill some time, but yeah I read a little bit.
I think probably my aunts and uncles, and family members they read a lot more than what I do. I read a couple magazines and papers and kind of see what everyone’s talking about, but I don’t get overly caught up in what everyone is writing. And every now and then I’ll see something that ‘Hey that’s not right, or that’s not spelled out right.’ And I think that for a second I’m like ‘Man I wonder if they’re just confused or they don’t have the facts right’ and I’ll try to round ‘em up or if I see one of the writers at the next racetrack I’ll try to grab them or something like that. I do pay attention a little bit to what’s going on but I think my family probably keeps me up to date more than anybody.
That was a good question. I like questions like that, other than ‘How was your car?’ or ‘Are you excited to be here this weekend?’ and stuff like that. I like odd questions.”
Kasey Kahne (left) and Reed Sorenson (right) took on their press conferences together at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA on Friday, February 20, 2009. (credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. mulls over a question at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA on Friday, February 20, 2009. (credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Gosh, where do I begin?
Let’s start with Thursday night when I arrived at LAX and picked up my rental car from Thrifty. I usually go with Hertz, but this time around Thrifty was cheaper and I was, well, trying to be thrifty. It was sort of a mistake. There was drama from the second I walked in the door. Some woman was trying to pay with quarters and one dollar bills and some other dude was trying to cheat the rental company out of money which ended with the Thrifty employee telling the dude to never come back there again.
What a glorious way to start a trip! Actually it wasn’t all bad, when it was my turn they got me out quickly, and I was able to pick the car I wanted. I ended up with a black Dodge Caliber. I’ve never driven one of those before and they said it was a compact car, but it totally doesn’t feel like it. I feel like I’m driving a boat.
Anyway, Yesterday morning I set off for the track with more butterflies in my stomach than ever. I always get nervous because I have no idea what is going to happen and I’m always seriously afraid that I’ll look like a nut job. How I would make myself look like a nut job I will never know, but I fear it nevertheless.
I arrived at the track, picked up my credentials and grabbed the press conference schedule. So I’m used to having to go from hauler to hauler for each session, but this time around the majority of the gatherings were in the drivers meeting room in the garage. So I just sat there as driver after driver came in and took a seat behind the table on the stage.
Here is a quick rundown of things that occurred to me as each driver spoke:
– Kurt Busch is kinda growing on me. I used to dislike him a lot but now, eh, not so much.
– I was dying to ask Matt Kenseth point blank whether or not his wife Katie was pregnant, but I do not have the balls to ask that kind of question. It’s none of my business, of course.
– A.J. Allmendinger is talkative, friendly and funny. He joked that he told USA Today that he might be doing steroids in an effort to get them to write an article about him.
– Kyle Busch talked about the incident at Daytona a little bit, all without actually saying Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s name. A reporter called him on it and asked why he wouldn’t say his name, Kyle replied (in a sort of annoyed tone) that he didn’t say the other guys’ (Brian Vickers) name either.
– I really liked the Kobalt Tools hat that Jimmie Johnson was wearing.
– Kasey Kahne kinda looks like the actor Robert Pattinson, who played the Edward character in the movie “Twilight.” They’re not dead ringers, but c’mon there are some similarities.
– When you ask Jeff Gordon a question he will never, ever answer it with just one word or one sentence. It’s not a bad thing, he just tends to go on more than others.
– David Ragan is my new favorite driver! Why? Read my next post!
When I wasn’t listening to drivers talk about the track and their feelings about the upcoming race I spent time in the garage Twittering and taking photos. Oh, and I monitored the Port-A-Pottie usage of a few drivers like Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and David Ragan. These are the kinds of important updates you get when you follow me on Twitter.
On to driver introductions. This year the Auto Club Speedway rolled out the red carpet, literally. Basically from the pit road wall to the back stage area there was a long red carpet roped off for the drivers to walk. It was a cool idea and it was nice because it allowed for drivers to be cheered or booed twice before they made it to their racecars.
After all of that I headed down pit road and saw Michelle Gilliland standing next to her husband’s car. I totally interrupted her conversation with someone else and I’m totally sorry about that, but I had to introduce myself and I was afraid I wouldn’t get another chance to do so that day. I hadn’t talked to her since I interviewed her over the phone back in March. She was just as nice and gracious as she was then. We chatted for a bit and then I headed back down pit road trying to figure out where I was going to stand for the national anthem.
It’s always annoying ’cause I don’t want to be in anyone’s way, or be super obvious. It’s one of those moments in life where you just want to be there but you don’t want to be noticed, I guess that’s what I’m trying to say. I dunno. I got as far as Tony Stewart’s car and spied Krissie Newman chatting with him. I also caught sight of Casey Mears being very sweet with his very pregnant girlfriend Trisha Grablander. I watched Dale Earnhardt Jr. give an interview and I ended up standing behind Jeff Gordon’s pit crew with some other reporters and PR people.
I watched the first couple of laps of the race from behind Denny Hamlin’s pits. It had a good view of the start/finish line. I also got to watch ESPN’s Dave Burns give a report and then listen to him as he talked to the kid that has to hold up the mini TV screen for him during the race. It helps the pit reporters so that they can see what’s going on on the track while they run around the pits. This kid that was with Burns seemed to be new ’cause he was telling him to just stick with him at all times. That must be an interesting job. You have to stay with the guy; he doesn’t say where he’s going you just have to follow.
I watched the race from the press box but when there were ten laps left I made sure I was back in the pits in position to get to victory lane. Apparently so were everybody else and their mother. The minute pit road was open everyone raced across to get into position for Jimmie Johnson’s arrival. I was slow and there was no way I was getting close to middle of it all but I did come away with some great shots of Jimmie entering victory lane. He actually drove in at the wrong angle and had to back up, turn and drive in again.
There was no point in standing behind all of those people, looking at nothing so I went back into the garage and headed to the conference room for the press conference with the top three finishers. I caught Denny Hamlin and Greg Biffle but there wasn’t much to ask it seemed and not a lot to say about the race. It was a pretty boring race wasn’t it?
I headed back home to my sister’s place where she, my brother-in-law, my three nephews and their cousin had all stayed up to wish me a happy birthday. This had to be one of the most memorable birthday weekends I’ve ever had.
The No. 24 team listens to the national anthem before the start of the Pepsi 500 at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. on Sunday, August 31, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Jamie McMurray waits with his girlfriend, Christy Furtrell, for the start of the Pepsi 500 on pit road at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. on Sunday, August 31, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Jimmie Johnson enters victory lane after winning the Pepsi 500 at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. on Sunday, August 31, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Sunday, August 31st was the Pepsi 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, but it was also my 28th birthday. I still can’t believe I’m 28. I sometimes wish they had a version of Tivo for our lives but oh well. Until that day comes I have my mom. She called me while I was at the track to wish me a happy birthday and to tell me about everything that happened on the day of my birth.
I’m sure anyone who saw me on my cell phone standing in the garage with tears streaking my face were probably wondering what was wrong, but everything was totally right.
For the majority of the morning I spent my time stationed in front of a moving mister in the garage. It was situated next to the final inspection station teams had to pass through before parking themselves on pit road. This particular inspection took a look at the distance between the tires from the left and right and between the front and the back. It’s obvious if a team doesn’t pass muster, they just have to go back through it again, but I think they need to implement some sort of horn or a big flashing sign that says they didn’t pass. A little theater couldn’t hurt.
This inspection area also happened to be right next to the drivers meeting room and I wanted to get a good spot for photos. Well they started blocking it off and I got shuffled into the crowd. Yet another reason why I love the Nationwide Series ’cause they don’t bother with blocking anything off. But whatever, I caught sight of all of the VIPs on hand for the race.
Max Siegel, the president of global operations for Dale Earnhardt Inc. pushed past the crowd along with actor Blair Underwood, who is on a really great show on ABC that everyone should watch this season called Dirty Sexy Money. It’s really good, trust me.
Tom from MySpace was at the race! Tom Anderson, who is on the cover this month’s issue of Fast Company, started MySpace and if you sign up for the social networking site he’s your first “friend.” Anyway, he was there, looking shorter than I’d expected with a skinny blonde chick on his arm.
Drew Carey was walking around like the mayor of the garage looking far older than I’d imagined. I saw American Idol alum Bo Bice, who sang the nation anthem, walking around but I didn’t realize it was him until later. He’s way shorter than I’d thought, but I guess that’s how it goes with people that you’ve only seen on TV.
Actually, maybe that doesn’t apply if you’re an athlete because I saw Olympic swimmer Jason Lezak and he’s definitely 6’4″ like it says he is on the USA Swimming website.
Now, I begrudgingly, and I do mean begrudgingly, have to report that Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt, so-called stars of the MTV reality show The Hills, were in attendance. I don’t like them. I felt sorry for Jamie McMurray having to show them around and speak to them. Although there was a moment of sweet justice when they were introduced to the crowd and they were summarily booed. It was brilliant.
Ok, so back to the drivers meeting. I stayed on the crowded side for a bit but decided to take a chance and head on over to the other side where there was a second exit. I was sure some slick drivers might decide to sneak out undetected. The only people on that side of the garage were team PR people. It was a good idea because I ended up walking right behind Jamie McMurray and A.J. Allmendinger.
The No. 84 Red Bull Toyota goes through inspection at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. on Sunday, August 31, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
The Price is Right host and comedian Drew Carey walks through the garage at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. on Sunday, August 31, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag from the MTV reality show “The Hills” take a tour through the garage at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. on Sunday, August 31, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Olympic gold medalist Jason Lezak heads into the drivers meeting at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. on Sunday, August 31, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
MySpace president Tom Anderson (center) drinks something and checks out the inspection process at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. on Sunday, August 31, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
On Saturday on my drive into the track from my sister’s house in Encino, I stopped by a Jamba Juice in Upland and bought a sixteen ounce Razzmatazz. I also decided to put the top down my on my car. It was 90-something degrees outside but I was wearing a hat and if you can’t put your top down when it’s hot what’s the point?
The day was about getting photos of anything and everything. During the Nationwide Series qualifying session I stood in the garage and watched as the top qualifiers came in and were interviewed by the crew from the SPEED channel.
After that I wandered the garage and spied Dancing with the Stars professional dancer Cheryl Burke with her new partner, Olympic sprinter and gold medalist Maurice Greene shooting some sort of video thing next to the pace car. Cheryl got to wave the green flag for the Camping World RV Service 300 presented by Coleman later that evening.
I made sure to keep close to the conference room in the middle of the garage where they hold all of the driver’s meetings and major press conferences. The Nationwide Series drivers meeting was set to start and I wanted to be in a good position to try and get good photos, but for some reason I got nothing of people going in, and then when they came out everybody was grouped together and they rushed out, so I didn’t get much.
One cool thing that happened was just a little bit later when the Cup Series guys got ready to go out for their final practice session of the day. Cars started to pull out from the far side of the Cup garage and made a long line out to pit road. They were all stopped and a second line formed right in front of me starting with Jeff Burton. He was so close that I could have easily walked up and touched the car and then poked my head in beside the window flap. Of course I didn’t, but there were photographers that did. They pushed their lenses right on inside the car to get close up shots of the drivers. I wondered what that must be like to have people basically shoving their cameras in your face to get a shot, right when you’re about to go out on the track.
But moving on, while I’m standing there Carl Edwards drives his car up behind Burton and rolls to a stop, and then starts to roll again and bumps into the back of Burton. I took a photo before Carl backed up. I’m assuming he meant to do that. They must like each other right?
So I’m standing there taking a couple photos and I’m like, I dunno, five feet away from his car and Carl waves at me. So I waved back, smiled, laughed and said “Hiii!” It was too funny.
After the Cup practice was the Nationwide Series race and oh how I love a Nationwide Series race. I love the fact that there’s way less security and structure to the driver intros, at least behind the stage, you get way better photos and experiences because of it. I got some great photos of drivers looking right at me as I took their photo, like the one below of David Ragan.
Okay, so I have to put in one more “Awww, Carl” story. There were these two teenage girls who kept calling to Carl to come over and sign their stuff. He eventually came over, talked to them and signed whatever it was they had. To hear their reaction was so cute, they were all “We got Carl! We got Carl! Omigosh!” I love that.
Nothing too noteworthy happened after all of that. I think some dude named Kyle Busch went on to win the race, but I’m not sure.
Dancing with the Stars professional dancer Cheryl Burke and her new partner gold medalist Maurice Greene hang out before the start of the Nationwide Series race on Saturday, August 30, 2008 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
David Gilliland chats with his crew after qualifying for the Nationwide Series race on Saturday, August 30, 2008 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Look closely and you can see his eyes peeking out through the window net!
Carl Edwards sits in his car, waiting to start practice on Saturday, August 30, 2008 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Stanton Barrett signs an autograph for a fan before driver introductions on Saturday, August 30, 2008 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
David Ragan (center) chats with Carl Edwards (right) and Joey Logano (left) before driver introductions for the Nationwide Series race on Saturday, August 30, 2008 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
After lunch on Friday I made sure I was in position to hear and see everything during Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s media session outside of his hauler. The crush of media wasn’t as thick as it could have been because Carl Edwards was having his session at the same time at the hauler next door. Obviously in a situation like this Dale overrides Carl.
Now, I feel like I must share something with you before you can understand the immense importance and weight of the moment I had that day. See about four years ago, way before I started this blog, I was a full fledged NASCAR fan but I wanted more and I didn’t know how to go about getting it. I hated my job, let me say this again, I hated my job and I knew that I had to figure out something to do in my life that was totally me — something that was made by me, for me, about me.
I’ve always wanted to do my own thing in business, seriously just ask my mom, whose kid wanted to buy a “Business Kids” kit when she was 8? Whose kid went dressed as a business woman for Halloween when she was 10? And whose kid was obsessed with cash registers and was ecstatic when she finally got a real one when she was 13? So you could say I was just sort of interested in becoming an entrepreneur.
Anyway, when I started this blog I finally realized that writing was really my thing, it’s something that I’ve always loved and until then had done just for myself. But in writing about NASCAR I found that maybe I could use it as my bridge to independence.
Plus I knew that I really wanted to be at the races. I wanted to be a part of it but I didn’t know how I was going get there. And obviously because Dale Jr. has been my favorite driver ever since I became a true fan of the sport, I always wondered how I could get myself in his proximity.
And I don’t mean that in an icky, groupie, pit lizard kind of way because that’s not what I’m about. To be clear and I don’t know how much more clearer I can get than this — I want to have a career writing and talking about NASCAR, I’m not a skank and I don’t aspire to be one.
So back to the situation at Dale Jr.’s hauler, I wedged myself in between two other reporters, mostly dudes, if not all, and propped my arm up on top of the AMP beverage refrigerator so that my digital tape recorder was within a reasonable distance of Dale. He started off answering a question about his thoughts on the reconfiguration of the Budweiser Shootout, and then commented on how he felt about Brad Keselowski’s opportunities for the future.
I had a clear question that I could ask, that no one up until that point had asked, at least not that I’d heard. He was scheduled to go to the set of the NBC sitcom “The Office” on that previous Thursday and I was going to ask how that had gone, after all it’s one of his favorite TV shows. Well the guy from the L.A. Times got to it before I did. Turns out Dale hadn’t gone to the taping. For some reason he went to the DirecTV offices.
He proceeded to tell us how he complained to the folks at DirecTV about their remote controls and how the positioning of the numbers so low on the remote isn’t very comfortable when you’re trying to change the channel. He’s apparently dropped the thing when trying to switch the channel to a specific number. I had to agree with him on that one, I have had DirecTV in the past and the numbers are so low that you have to change your whole hand orientation in order to switch the channel to a number you know by heart.
Anyway, he was funny and made everybody laugh multiple times. But the coolest freaking part was when he was talking about the DirecTV remote and he was looking at all of us asking if we knew what he was talking about and he looked right at me, like straight at me. I had to say to myself, “How the hell did I get here? This is amazing!”
It was so awesome, and I’m glad I didn’t have a moment like that until my 7th race as a member of the media. If it had happened sooner I might not have appreciated it as much as I did. It sounds really silly, the guy just looked at me for two seconds after all, but for me it represents more than just that. It means that I’m headed in the right direction and that I can make whatever I set my mind to happen.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. speaks with the media assembled oustide his hauler at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. on Friday, August 29, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Okay… So here’s the first of several posts on what happened while I was at the Auto Club Speedway for Labor Day Weekend:
On Friday I got to the track and picked up my credentials and I found out that I got two things I’ve never had before. The first was a Victory Lane sticker and the second was a reserved parking spot in the media parking area. This may seem really insignificant but it seriously made my weekend. The parking spot alone was awesomeness. Why? Because it meant that I got to drive in between the driver & VIP bus lot and the garage area and park right next to the Nationwide Series garage, and all of that made my walk to and from the media center super short. It’s the small things people!
I got into the media center and grabbed a copy of the driver media availability schedule. I had to plan my day and the first thing I had to do was find out how the haulers were situated and whose hauler was where. I think it was funny/interesting that Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch were set up right next to each other in the garage after the incident at Bristol the weekend before. It’s not like it really matters seeing as how they’re never really in the garage for that long at any given time, and when they are they’re busy with their teams and their cars. So ya know getting into a fist fight is probably the last thing on their minds even though it would be the greatest thing in the world to see from my perspective.
But I digress. There was time before all of the press meet-ups were scheduled so I enjoyed some pastry in the media lounge while listening to Sam Hornish Jr. and Regan Smith talk about being rookies in the Cup Series over the loudspeaker. Because I couldn’t see them or hear the questions that were being asked I got to play a fun game of “Guess Whose Voice That Is” in my head.
After the top two rookies had their press conference there was another press gathering for Michael Waltrip Racing and Affliction Clothing. Affliction sponsored the No. 00 car that was being run that weekend by Mike Skinner. In promotion of this they had a group of Mixed Martial Arts fighters on hand (and a butt load of what I’m assuming were their girlfriends and such) to take photos and talk about the upcoming MMA fights. I got to see Michael Waltrip, who seems to me these days like a gentle giant, well, a gentle giant in designer jeans. I wanted to snap a photo of them but I couldn’t without it being incredibly obvious that I was trying to take a shot of his butt.
Auto Club Speedway implemented a bunch of misting stations in time for the race weekend. It was such a brilliant idea and I’m glad they did it ’cause it made standing around in that insane heat so much more bearable. Actually it was pretty windy too and that helped, although I have a serious tan and sunburn on my back. I remember taking a shower on Monday morning and at the very top of my back, just beneath my neck, it was all sore from sunburn.
The highlight of Friday morning was of course meeting Travis Kvapil and interviewing him in his hauler. I tried to catch Kasey Kahne’s session but it was totally pointless because there were cars in the garage revving their engines and I couldn’t hear anything.
I caught sight of Clint Bowyer sitting outside of his hauler during his specified media time but nobody was crowed around him. I debated going over and talking to him, but of course I didn’t. First, I found it highly odd that someone like him would just be left alone like that with nary a writer in site and I didn’t want to look like a doink asking if I could talk to him only to find out it had been moved to another time or it was earlier or something. Plus after reading a transcript of a press conference he’d had, the one I’d missed apparently, he had some really short answers and he kind of strikes me as someone who’s not that interested in talking. So I don’t regret not going up to him.
For lunch I went to the Panasonic tent in the infield where they were hosting a special BBQ for the gathered media. As soon as I walked in I was greeted with a pink lei placed around my neck and a free USB drive. The place was decked out in what I’m calling “Tiki BBQ Chic” decor. There was a bar in the middle serving soft drinks and water and outside in the back was the aforementioned BBQ. Of course they were promoting Panasonic goods including the largest plasma TV screen in the world. It is 100 inches wide. It was crazy big and of course I would love to have that sucker on my wall. They were showing off a video game on it and I wanted to go and try it but the power went out and I left.
Clint Bowyer hangs out outside of his hauler at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. on Friday, August 29, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Kasey Kahne chats with the media at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. on Friday, August 29, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
That’s me in the reflection!
Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet is rolled out to pit road before a practice session at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. on Friday, August 29, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Travis Kvapil’s No. 28 Hitachi “Inspire the Dream” Ford Fusion gets pushed out to pit road before a practice session at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. on Friday, August 29, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
The big screen tv inside the Panasonic tent at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. on Friday, August 29, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Finally, here is part two of my interview with 32-year-old Wisconsin native Travis Kvapil, driver of the No. 28 Hitachi Power Tools Ford Fusion for Yates Racing.
I had intended to get this online yesterday but I didn’t get home until late Monday night after driving over 300 miles. Plus Tuesday morning I interviewed retired NASCAR driver and current ESPN racing analyst Dale Jarrett. So when you combine trying to come to terms with the fact that I did indeed speak to THE Dale Jarrett yesterday and the amazing birthday weekend I had at the Auto Club Speedway and the fact that I haven’t been feeling well these past couple of days it has led to me being very late with posting all of this stuff. So bear with me!
I know in part one of this interview I’ve already stated that Travis was super nice but I have to say it again and add that he was honest and forthcoming. I like writing about the Yates Racing guys because I feel like they’re in a very good position to do great things in their careers, their stories are just beginning really, and it’s nice to know that in meeting Travis it didn’t cause me to lose my belief that a win for him and his teammate are just around the corner.
I had the opportunity to speak with Travis Kvapil, driver of the No. 28 Hitachi “Inspire the Next” Ford Fusion, one-on-one before practice and qualifying today at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. I have to add that this is the first time I’ve interviewed a driver in person. The whole morning leading up to it my stomach was in knots and I was so incredibly nervous. In the end though, it went really well.
Travis was really nice and super easy to talk to, definitely a good guy with a realistic understanding of the sport of racing. I should confess that the real reason I’m breaking this interview up into two posts is that I forgot to bring my laptop charger. It never fails; I always forget something when I go on a trip. When I went to Chicagoland I forgot my toothbrush.
And so here’s the first part of my session with Travis. Part two should be posted sometime Tuesday after I get back home. I’ll also have a ton of other posts to share about my Labor Day weekend in general.
Sunday was the IndyCar race day. Driving to the track was a considerably different experience than it is for a NASCAR race, there wasn’t any traffic. Leaving was an entirely different story. It still sucked and what should only take 45 minutes took 2 hours. But that’s the way it goes with race weekends. Although, next year I have a plan for a new route to take me home that should cut down on the time I spend in my car wanting to slit my wrists from all of the stop-and-go traffic.
Anyway, back to the track. It was firefighter appreciation day and as I walked into the paddock area the first thing I saw was this old timey fire truck with the cutest and smartest Dalmatian dog sitting on top of it. I couldn’t believe how obedient he was! He just sat there in the seat and didn’t freak out or bark at the people gathered around staring at him. There was another dog, whose breed I couldn’t tell you, that was barking a lot but the cute Dalmatian could not and would not be baited into barking back.
And then there were these big creamy-colored horses to pull the old timey fire truck. They were huge, but absolutely beautiful. They had a special moment during the pre-race festivities when they pulled the truck down the track and in front of the grandstands.
So I guess IndyCar has this reputation for being more upscale than NASCAR in terms of its fans and such. They’ve got Cristal and Izod for sponsors after all. Well I’m here to tell you that it’s all a bunch of hooey. Why is it that I saw more boobs during this race weekend than I ever have at any NASCAR race I’ve been to? And when I say that I saw boobs I’m not saying that women were flashing them, of course they weren’t but let’s just say they were on display. And why is it that I saw more fans wearing NASCAR gear than anything else? The Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans were out in full effect. Instead of trying to act all hoity-toity I think they should try to soak up some of the NASCAR marketing tactics and get some more butts in the seats.
Oh, speaking of butts in the seats, that’s exactly where they stayed when it came time to try and break the record for the most people doing the twist dance. Yea, that whole idea crashed and burned the minute the music started up. A group of people did dance but mostly everyone just watched. To make something like that work you really have to have a group that’s invested in its success ya know?
So I was totally right when I said that George Lucas would probably make an appearance at the race because Marco Andretti’s car was running the special Blockbuster/STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS paint scheme. George hung out with Marco during the pre-race festivities and then in his pit during the race. Marco’s race suit was made to look like a storm trooper uniform. I’m not a big fan of the whole codpiece detailing.
In the end, Helio Castroneves won the race, his first of the season and Dan Wheldon and Tony Kanaan were mathematically eliminated from the field running for the Championship with only two races left on the year. This win was a sweet one for the Team Penske guys after having their primary cars go up in smoke (literally) earlier in the week. It’s amazing they were able to come back and finish first with Helio’s Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe coming in second. Briscoe has the most awesome accent by the way. I gotta get to Australia.
Danica Patrick walks to the garage after the PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma County on Sunday, August 24, 2008 at Infineon Raceway. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Marco Andretti gets ready for a warm-up session on Sunday, August 24, 2008 at Infineon Raceway. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Ryan Briscoe chats with someone on pit road on Sunday, August 24, 2008 at Infineon Raceway. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Fans gathered around victory lane to watch the first through third place finishers receive their trophies on Sunday, August 24, 2008 at Infineon Raceway. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
I thought this guy looked a lot like paparazzo/ex-Britney Spears boyfriend Adnan Ghalib only cuter, but I figured he was probably just a guy from William Rast. WR is the clothing company started by Justin Timberlake and his best friend Trace Ayala. The company was the sponsor of Townsend Bell’s car.
Some dude on pit road on Sunday, August 24, 2008 at Infineon Raceway. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Saturday was IndyCar qualifying and the first of two IndyCar Lights races, the Carneros 100 and the Valley of the Moon 100.
For qualifying I hunkered down with $8 chili cheese fries in the lunch tent. They were absolutely delicious, although it totally didn’t help my self-esteem when the Infineon Raceway umbrella girls had to walk in with their skimpy outfits and fatless bodies while I was eating them. I got over it though because I was hungry and their job is to hold up an umbrella, so whatever.
This weekend was my introduction to the Firestone IndyCar Lights series. You should see the guys in this league. Ladies, these guys are serious hotties. They’ve got more eligible bachelors than you can shake a stick at. Yes, yes, the racing is all fine and good. But these guys are really cute. Have you seen Arie Luyendyk Jr.?? Richard Antinucci? Dillon Battistini? Raphael Matos? Logan Gomez? Dude, you need to. Get yourself to an IndyCar Lights race tout de suite! There’s only one race left this season, so uh it’s Chicagoland or wait till next year.
Okay, I’m laying it on a little thick, but not really.
Right before the IndyCar Lights race ended the apparent head of security for IndyCar barked orders to everyone in the area of the winner’s circle. I think watching him might have been more entertaining than the race itself. I have never encountered someone in NASCAR who has the same level of responsibility as this guy seemed to have. From a little Google search I gleaned that this guy is known as Security Chief Charles. His reputation and ability to corral and move the drivers along to their next destination seems to be the stuff of legend. He is pretty intimidating I must say.
So I have one funny story to share, well it’s funny to me. Not so much bust out laughing funny, but more ha-ha funny. After IndyCar qualifying concluded and Helio Castroneves received his pole award he was ushered to the media center (by Security Chief Charles of course). On his way over, he was followed by a woman yelling “Helio! Helio! Will you sign my shirt?!!?!” To which Helio responded in a loud boisterous voice, his arm up stretched with one finger pointed, “Yes! I will!” and walked right into the media center.
That tickled me. You had to be there. He eventually came out after the media press conference was done and signed the woman’s shirt.
Logan Gomez walks to the garage after finishing fifth in the Carneros 100 on Saturday, August 23, 2008 at Infineon Raceway. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Raphael Matos speaks with the press after finishing second in the Carneros 100 on Saturday, August 23, 2008 at Infineon Raceway. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Richard Antinucci speaks to the press after finishing third in the Carneros 100 on Saturday, August 23, 2008 at Infineon Raceway. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Helio Castroneves heads into the media center on Saturday, August 23, 2008 at Infineon Raceway. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Helio Castroneves leaves signs autographs on Saturday, August 23, 2008 at Infineon Raceway. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Marco Andretti asks Danica Patrick’s husband a quick question after qualifying on Saturday, August 23, 2008 at Infineon Raceway. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
And now for my IndyCar at Infineon adventure. Friday was dedicated mostly to practice for the IndyCar teams, and because of that it meant that the garage was dead. You’ve never seen a cleaner garage in your life. Things didn’t get interesting there until Sunday when the teams actually had to use it for preparation before the race.
So the really big deal was the press conference set up to unveil Firestone’s new “Magic Circle.” They’re the tires they created specifically for the top drivers who are still in the hunt for the IndyCar Championship. The tires have a white wall on the outside so that they can be easily spotted in the field during a race. Just another way the fans can keep track of the Championship contenders. Before Sunday’s race there were 4 drivers mathematically still in the hunt — Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon, Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves.
So I decided to stand outside of Victory Lane where the media had gathered for the announcement. I just wanted to try and get good shots of the drivers as they made their way over. What I didn’t know was that I managed to situate myself in the precise spot they were all going to stop their little motorcycles and scooters. Scott Dixon was the first guy to roll onto the scene right behind me. I find him to be incredibly cute and I can’t believe we’re the exact same age; he always strikes me as being a lot older. Then there was Helio who as far as I’m concerned seems to be totally over the whole Dancing with the Stars hubbub. Everyone loves to bring it up with him but he never goes into it and I can understand why. It’s been forever ago and he’s a race car driver, and that’s what he’s really about.
Finally Scott Wheldon rode up with his wife Susie on the back of his Target scooter/bike thingy. Instead of going around all the bikes where there was more room to walk, he had to walk on the inside of them causing me to try and squeeze myself against the Victory Lane fence. I think my bag hit him, but that’s what he gets.
Scott Dixon’s scooter on Friday, August 22, 2008 at Infineon Raceway. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Dan Wheldon and his wife Susie roll in for the ‘Magic Circles’ media event on Friday, August 22, 2008 at Infineon Raceway. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Helio Castroneves arrives at the ‘Magic Circles’ media event on Friday, August 22, 2008 at Infineon Raceway. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Scott Dixon walks in to the ‘Magic Circles’ media event on Friday, August 22, 2008 at Infineon Raceway. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan pose for photographers during the ‘Magic Circles’ unveiling on Friday, August 22, 2008 at Infineon Raceway. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
No outfit is complete without pockets!
Dan Wheldon speaks to the media on Friday, August 22, 2008 at Infineon Raceway. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)