All posts in NASCAR Auto Club Speedway Weekend (08/08)

7 Posts

all good things come to an end

The red carpet is rolled out at the Auto Club Speedway (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)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 Pepsi pit crew

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

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

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)

the pepsi 500 celebrity round-up

Jamie McMurray (left) and AJ Allmendinger (right) talk after leaving the drivers meeting for 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 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)

Drew Carey

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

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)

Jason Lezak

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)

Tom Anderson

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)

this time carl bumps but doesn’t run

Cars lined up for Cup Series practice on Saturday, August 30, 2008 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. (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 Carl Edwards' No. 99 gets up close and personal with Jeff Burton's No. 31 at the Auto Club Speedway on Saturday, August 30, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)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.

:)


Cheryl Burke and Maurice Greene

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

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)

Carl Edwards

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

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, Joey Logano and Carl Edwards

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)

fate finally throws me a bone

Dale Earnhardt Jr.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. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Courtesy Hendrick Motorsports)

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.

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)

who knew a parking spot could mean so much?

Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California (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)

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

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)

Jeff Gordon's No. 24 Car

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 Car

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)

Panasonic Tent

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)

interview: meeting travis kvapil – part two

Travis Kvapil inside the No. 28 Hitachi 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.

interview: meeting travis kvapil – part one

Travis Kvapil at Pocono earlier this year (photo credit: Getty Images for NASCAR)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.