All posts in NASCAR Chicagoland Weekend (07/08)

8 Posts

and then we came to the end

The sun sets over Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday, July 12, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)After driver introductions I slogged back through the grass and onto pit road. I felt awkward about where to stand for the National Anthem. It’s hard to not feel like you’re in the way, plus should I really be out there anyway? I decided to split the difference and I stood at one of the garage entrances, which also left me standing just behind Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s pit crew and in front of Jimmie Johnson’s. I looked behind me and there was Ron Malec, car chief and rear tire carrier for the No. 48, looking insanely gorgeous. I’m sorry but that guy is really, really cute. Like really, every time I saw him over the weekend I had to take a moment.

Everybody lined up and then they introduced Gavin DeGraw as a country singer. That was funny. I think I snorted. And then a few of the guys from the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard team said, in unison, “Who???” I think I snorted at that too. Ahh, good times, good times. Later on I caught sight of Gavin taking a seat in Kurt Busch’s pit box next to Kurt’s wife Eva.

I watched the race start and then went back to the media center to eat dinner. That’s another great thing about being in the media center, free food. It really is a great benefit; I didn’t have to worry about what I was going to eat the whole time I was at the track.

I didn’t want to watch the whole race from the lunchroom, and I didn’t want to stand on pit road all night killing my lower back in the process, so I walked down the road to the grassy area next to the infield tunnel. I sat on the grass and watched the cars roll through the space between turns three and four. It was a great place to sit and watch the cars go by. Obviously I had no idea what was really going on with the cars and the drivers that drove them. But I knew that nothing wonderful was happening for Dale Jr. or the Yates Racing guys ’cause their numbers weren’t on the pylon. Well they were but just waaaay down at the bottom where it scrolled through the running order two places at a time.

As odd as it may seem it was really peaceful sitting there. I had earplugs in and it dulled the roar of the engines nicely. I waited until they hit 200 laps before walking back to the pits. I stood behind the pits for the Dave Blaney and the No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota. At one point the crew chief and some other dude were visibly pissed about something that happened to their car because it caused both of them to take their anger out on the pit box.

The end of the race was a rollercoaster. I was up when Carl Edwards took the lead and then down when he lost it. I was up when Jimmie took the lead and then I stayed down when he lost it too. If only he could have held on. If only.

I went into the garage and took pictures of Dale Jr. talking to a TV crew. Carl was next to him doing the same. I caught some of the press conference with Jimmie and Kevin Harvick and then I left just before it was over. I saw both of them as they walked out the back of the media center.

Yet again getting out of the track was a breeze. So remember how I said that I thought I had finally gotten the hang of driving in Chicagoland? Well of course on my last trek I realized I had never taken the right way back to my hotel. I had never gone the exact route my navigation system had initially specified. At some point I had always taken a wrong turn and then it recalculated to get me on the right path. This ended up being kind of a cool thing.

There are two things Joliet is famous for in my mind (besides being the home of Chicagoland Speedway of course). One, it’s the hometown of the very first America’s Next Top Model winner, Adrianne Curry (wife of the guy who played Peter on The Brady Bunch) and two, it’s also home to a ginormous prison that they used to film FOX’s drama Prison Break.

So going into my trip I wanted to see the prison. On my final, and correct, drive back to the hotel I got to see Joliet Correctional Center! The prison isn’t open anymore, they closed it back in 2002. But ok, so it was at night and actually really kinda freaky — especially when you add in the “Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers” sign that sits across the street from it — but it was also cool!

So that was my Chicagoland weekend. The next day, Sunday, I checked into a hotel in downtown Chicago and went to the Gavin Rossdale concert at the House of Blues. At some point I’m going to write about that experience in my other blog.

I had so much fun at the races. On the plane to San Francisco I knew that I wanted to go home, ’caused I missed it and my family, but at the same time I really, really wished I could go to Indy next week.

:)


Ron Malec (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

Car chief and rear tire carrier Ron Malec before the start of the LifeLock.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday, July 12, 2008. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet team (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

The crew for the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet before the start of the LifeLock.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday, July 12, 2008. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge pit crew (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

The pit crew for the No. 22 Caterpillar Toyota prepare to go over the wall during the LifeLock.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday, July 12, 2008. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous

Dale Earnhardt Jr. speaks with media after the LifeLock.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday, July 12, 2008. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

petty tribute: who was missing?

NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers pay tribute to Richard Petty and his 50 years in NASCAR at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday, July 12, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)The difference between the crowd gathered for the Nationwide Series drivers meeting and the one assembled for the Sprint Cup Series was like night and day. Friday it was me standing with the security guards but on Saturday I had to contend with a big crowd, a fence and those damn TV crews.

I made sure I was there early, like half an hour before it was all supposed to begin. Matt Kenseth arrived first with a Sirius satellite radio DJ in tow. Matt was very punctual on Saturday, he was also first at driver intros. So as per usual I tried to take as many photos as possible. My attempts at getting shots of guys and their shoes were foiled by guys from TNT filming people right in front of me.

In the drivers meeting they go over what’s going to happen before, during and after the race and what the rules are, or if there’s going to be a competition caution, etc. There’s a lot of stating the obvious, but it’s something you have to do. I couldn’t help but wonder though what it would be like if someone raised their hand at the end and said “So, what do I do if I win the race? Where do I go?” That’d be fun.

Kurt Busch walked into the drivers meeting with none other than pop singer Gavin DeGraw. I didn’t know who was singing the anthem until I saw him arrive. I have lukewarm feelings about Mr. DeGraw. I want to like him, he has a nice voice, but his music always leaves me wanting something more. Anywho, I ended up seeing him a lot after that. I almost bumped into him coming out of the bathroom in the media center; he was pacing around warming up his vocal cords.

After the drivers meeting came driver intros. I trekked out onto the grass and proceeded to get my socks and shoes totally soaked by the soggy field. I decided to stake out the opposite side of the stage that no one was on because it was the best angle to get great photos. Of course security had to come over and rain on my parade and told me I had to go to either the front of the stage or the other side. They had to keep that area clear. Dagnabit!

Okay, so let’s talk about that tribute to Richard Petty and his 50 years of NASCAR racing. It’s amazing it’s been that long. I thought it was such a great idea to have all the drivers wear, what has become his signature accessory, the cowboy hat. However, it was clear that he should be the only person wearing those suckers. The King is the only person who looks good in them as far as I’m concerned.

Check out the photo below. Who’s missing from it? In spite of what they were saying at the time all 43 drivers weren’t there to take this photo. Robby Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards all showed up later just in time for the actual driver introductions. Oh and someone else is missing from the photo too but I can’t remember who it is. Any guesses?


The 43 drivers starting the LifeLock.com 400 pose with Richard Petty, who was celebrating his 50th anniversary in NASCAR. (Photo Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The 43 drivers starting the LifeLock.com 400 pose with Richard Petty, who was celebrating his 50th anniversary in NASCAR. (Photo Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Richard Petty (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

He’s always got a smile on his face!

Richard Petty stands behind the stage before his tribute begins at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday July 12, 2008. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

Robby Gordon and Richard Childress (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous

Robby Gordon walks with Richard Childress to the drivers meeting at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday July 12, 2008. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. walks to the drivers meeting at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday July 12, 2008. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. walks to the drivers meeting at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday July 12, 2008. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

Singer Gavin DeGraw (left) walks to the drivers meeting with Kurt Busch at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday July 12, 2008. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

Singer Gavin DeGraw (left) walks to the drivers meeting with Kurt Busch at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday July 12, 2008. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

David Gilliland walks to the drivers meeting at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday July 12, 2008. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

David Gilliland walks to the drivers meeting at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday July 12, 2008. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

Jeff Gordon walks to the drivers meeting at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday July 12, 2008. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

Jeff Gordon walks to the drivers meeting at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday July 12, 2008. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

Martin Truex Jr. walks to the drivers meeting at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday July 12, 2008. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

Martin Truex Jr. walks to the drivers meeting at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday July 12, 2008. (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

encino man at forty

Deep fried Wisconsin cheese curds (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)On Saturday morning I got the chance to sleep in a bit before heading to the racetrack. Things weren’t really starting up until 3 in the afternoon, but I still ended up leaving my hotel at 11. I didn’t want to get stuck in some crap parking spot.

My first order of business at the track was to head back over to the grandstands so that I could try a Wisconsin cheese curd for the very first time. A guy that I’d met a couple months ago is from Illinois and he swore that cheese curds were the best thing ever and that California cheese paled in comparison, so I had to try them. However, I found out they were only serving them in the deep fried format, not fresh. I figured I’d still get the essence of it so I bought ‘em anyway. They were really tasty! It’s similar to eating fried mozzarella but a lot lighter. They’ve got a very mild cheddar flavor.

I sat next to the fountain in front of the main gates eating my cheese curds, people watching. After awhile I headed back to the infield.

Brendan Fraser was the Grand Marshal for the Sprint Cup race and a press conference was scheduled for him and Ryan Newman at 3pm. So of course I was there in the media center waiting for them to arrive at 2:45. I stood in the back of the room next to all the video cameras. Brendan is funny and cool and relaxed. His personality from the minute he walked through the door was so obvious. He was similar to his character in the movie Bedazzled with Elizabeth Hurley, or even in The Mummy. He’s not arrogant or stuck-up. He was totally down to earth and it was clear that was the case when he said that the NASCAR fans he’d met that day were the nicest people.

As I predicted the gathered media had zero quality questions for Brendan. I still couldn’t think of anything myself which irked me later on in the day when I finally thought of one. There was a great moment at the end of the conference when the moderator asked if there were anymore questions and the room was silent. So Brendan made cricket noises. Funny stuff. All told I think it lasted maybe 10 or 15 minutes.
Actor Brendan Fraser at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday, July 12, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)
Ok, so I made a beeline for the exit and rushed to wait outside. Apparently that was everybody else’s move too. The majority of the media swarmed Ryan Newman and asked him questions about his future and his chances for the weekend. Meanwhile Brendan was standing next to Ryan’s mob being interviewed by a local news crew. I stood there in front of him and snapped photos. He’s so adorable, and tall, and cute. *sigh* And as everyone found out later on in the day he gave one of the best “Gentlemen, start your engines” I’ve ever heard. He’s right up there with Matthew McConaughey in my book.

So get this as I’ve said before there are rules for the media about getting autographs and such. You’re not allowed to ask the drivers for them and by extension you would think that would include photos too. Well this one group of local tv people didn’t get that memo. They snapped photos of each other with Brendan Fraser after they interviewed him and then later that night they stopped Jimmie Johnson as he was leaving the media center to get a photo with him too. I just had to shake my head.

The second funny/cool thing Brendan did was after his interview. Ryan was still in the middle of the media mob and I had moved over to that group to try and get a shot of him too. A few seconds later I looked up and over the crowd and I see Brendan snapping photos of Ryan the same way I was. I stepped back and watched as he walked around the mob snapping photos of them and then turned his back to them and started to take photos of himself in front of Ryan and the reporters. The man could not be anymore likeable, it’s disgusting.
:)


Ryan Newman answers questions outside the media center at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday, July 12, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

Ryan Newman answers questions outside the media center at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday, July 12, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

Actor Brendan Fraser at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday, July 12, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

Actor Brendan Fraser at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday, July 12, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

Brendan Fraser takes pictures of himself and Ryan Newman outside the media center at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday, July 12, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

the nicest thing

Carl Edwards prepares to practice for the LifeLock.com at Chicagoland Speedway. Edwards posted the quickest time in Friday's final practice. (Photo Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)I have a new appreciation for Nationwide Series races. For one there are less people around for all of the pre-race festivities so it makes getting closer for photos a lot easier. It also seemed like security was a little more relaxed, not that they weren’t paying attention or taking care of things, it’s just that it felt like there was less hassle.

Before driver introductions began the pit crews pushed their cars out to pit road and drivers started walking out to the stage at the start/finish line. I was in the Nationwide garage debating whether or not I would even go out there. I decided it was worth it (I don’t know why I would think it wouldn’t be) and headed in the direction of the stage. When I stepped on to the grass I noticed a small commotion to my right. There was a cameraman walking backwards, and another guy helping him, while filming Carl Edwards who was walking about 6 feet from me. I couldn’t catch what he was saying or what they were filming it for, but they quickly finished and left Carl alone.

I was watching the whole thing and when the camera guy was gone I was still looking at Carl. He saw me and then smiled and said “hello” to which I said “hi” back. To be honest I don’t think I’ve smiled that big in quite some time. Just thinking about it makes me feel like a big geek. I can say this about Carl, when he looks at you, and really it seems whenever he interacts with people, he gives you his full attention even if it is just for a moment. He just oozes this really genuine nice guy vibe.

After our exchange our paths split. I was already replaying the whole thing my head over and over again as I walked up to the right side of the stage.

Being out in the grass, and then on the track itself right up against the grandstands is truly surreal. It’s like, can it get any better than this? That’ll never get old to me, never.

After driver intros I went back down to pit road for the anthem where I happened upon Joey Logano signing stuff for a fan and David Stremme’s totally packed pit box, and I caught the start of the race there too. I watched the majority of the race in the lunch room of the media center and then caught the last laps outside from behind Victory Lane.

We all know how the Dollar General 300 ended. Ugh.

I headed back to my car where I was invited to some sort of motor home/bus party by a random guy that I had never met before. Apparently he had been tasked by his friends to get all of the girls to their little shindig. I politely declined and headed back to my hotel. My driving experience going back to the hotel was way better than the day before since the sky was clear for the most part and I prepared my change for the toll roads in advance. I was finally getting the hang of driving around Chicagoland, or so I thought.


Joey Logano signs his autograph for fans on pit road before the start of the Dollar General 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on Friday, July 11, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

Joey Logano signs his autograph for fans on pit road before the start of the Dollar General 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on Friday, July 11, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

The grandstands and the track before the start of the Dollar General 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on Friday, July 11, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

The grandstands and the track before the start of the Dollar General 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on Friday, July 11, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

It was a full house for the first few laps of the Dollar General 300 in David Stremme's pit box (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

It was a full house with standing room only for the first few laps of the Dollar General 300 in David Stremme’s pit box (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

if only i knew what he was thinking

Michael McDowell gets ready to roll out for a practice session at Chicagoland Speedway on Friday, July 11, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)After the fun ESPN tour I headed into the Sprint Cup garage. I walked down one row and then another and stopped at the stall for the No. 55 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota. I took photos and then noticed Michael Waltrip walking towards me. As he passed by he smiled and said “Hello” to me and the guy taking photos next to me. He got into the car and strapped himself in.

Here’s the thing, I knew that the practice sessions were set to start soon, but I didn’t realize exactly how soon. So here I am walking down the garage right in front of the car stalls stopping at each one to take a photo. I started to see a pattern that all of the drivers seemed to be in their cars with their helmets on all at the same time. It didn’t dawn on me that they were minutes from racing out of the garage and onto the track until I got to the end of the row and noticed that nobody else was as close to the stalls as I was and drivers were looking at me as I took their photos like “What are you doing? Who are you? Don’t you know I’m about to run you over?!” It wasn’t that serious, but it was really, really, eerie.

I mean, really eerie. It’s this extreme calm before the storm. They were all just sitting there waiting for the go ahead. As soon as I caught on that they would be racing out at any moment I decided to walk faster and get to a corner where I could get a good view of the cars as they pulled out and stay well out of everyone’s way.

Once practice was over it was time for the drivers & crew chiefs meeting before the start of the Nationwide Series race. First I must say that I love the way the infield area of Chicagoland is laid out. The media center is smack dab in the center of everything and it’s closed off so the fans, even those with pit passes, are kept well away from it. The Sprint Cup garage is to the left and the Nationwide garage is to the right, and the tent for the drivers meeting was behind it.

So back to the drivers meeting, I went to tent area and stood with the security stationed outside of it to keep the fans at bay. Since it was the Nationwide race after all there weren’t that many people waiting with me, maybe like 3 or 4? If that, I’m not entirely sure but I know it wasn’t anything near all of the people that were there the next day for the Sprint Cup drivers meeting. They had to put up steel barriers for that one. But I digress. So I’m standing there and drivers start to trickle in. I snapped Tony Stewart, Brian Vickers and Matt Kenseth.
Clint Bowyer walks to the Dollar General 300 drivers and crew chiefs meeting at Chicagoland Speedway on Friday, July 11, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous
And then there was Clint.

Clint Bowyer walks up, all alone and I hold up my camera to take a photo and he looks in my direction. Now, I had no idea if he was actually looking at me or just in my general vicinity. I had no idea what expression he was making and honestly I didn’t want to know. I feel totally fine about taking pictures of people if they’re not looking at me while I’m doing it. Plus he’s seen me directly taking shots of him at Las Vegas and Infineon and now Chicagoland. So I didn’t dare look up from my camera for fear that he might be frowning or something. I don’t know. He went into the tent and that was that.

Later on I looked at the photo in its full size and I cracked up because he is in fact staring straight at me with this weird expression that looks kinda like he’s pissed. But I love this photo. It’s my most favorite photo to date. :) The look on his face is priceless; he’s like “What??” Hmm. Note to self: No more photos of Clint Bowyer, at least for the next race. Or at least not when he’s looking.


Sprint Cup cars roll out to the track for a practice session at Chicagoland Speedway on Friday, July 11, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

Sprint Cup cars roll out to the track for a practice session at Chicagoland Speedway on Friday, July 11, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

Tony Stewart heads into the drivers meeting before the Dollar General 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on Friday, July 11, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

Tony Stewart heads into the drivers meeting before the Dollar General 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on Friday, July 11, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

David Ragan (far left), Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth leave the drivers meeting before the Dollar General 300 on Friday, July 11, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

David Ragan (far left), Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth leave the drivers meeting before the Dollar General 300 on Friday, July 11, 2008 (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

behind the scenes: fast times at espn

These go where? ESPN production trailer shows off it's insidesAwhile ago I was contacted by ESPN and invited to take a tour of their production facilities while I was at Chicagoland. I of course was delighted by the offer and immediately accepted. On Friday Andy Hall, one of the communications managers for ESPN, took me and Geoffrey Miller from AOL Fanhouse over to their production trailers on the other side of the track, way off behind the grandstands.

I know this is a really silly thing to point out but that was my first time on one of those go-karts everybody drives around during the race weekends. I was extremely happy about it, for one it’s a lot nicer to get a ride around the track (and not walk) and two, it kind of made me feel like I was “in” on things.

Once we arrived at the trailers, which were this little TV production town complete with a big catering tent, we entered the ESPN Tech Center. Qualifying for the Nationwide Series race was going on at the same time and so right as we stepped in there’s Tim Brewer watching the telecast. He said hello and apologized for not being able to talk to us because he had to concentrate on the action on the track and what his counterparts in the booth were saying in case they cut to him. Of course I completely understood, although I was afraid at some point they would cut to him while we were there and we’d have to duck out of his way with only seconds to spare. Luckily that didn’t happen, but then again it would have been to cool to see him in action.

It’s amazing how much stuff they have to put together and pull apart every week. The technology it takes just to make something that can look amazing, function but then collapse into a mobile size is mind blowing all on its own. I’m still surprised at how many moving parts and pieces there are to put these shows on, it’s amazing more things don’t go wrong. I mean, just imagine having to move your home every week, but add in 250 people and over 78,000 pounds of stuff. Crazy.

After saying goodbye to Tim we went into the production trailer where they were directing the qualifying session broadcast. There were a million screens and a million little buttons. It’s like a video game on steroids. Everybody had headsets on that connected them to about a dozen different people in various locations throughout the track.

I know fans get upset when they’re watching a race, a caution comes up, and they cut to commercial and come back after the green flag has flown. If you could see what goes into making a broadcast happen you might not get so upset the next time it happens. The people that work behind the scenes are striving for excellence and they work hard so that you don’t miss anything. I have a deep respect for their work. I don’t think a person takes that kind of job without having a serious passion for what they do. I know that I have no desire to have that much pressure sitting on my head every week.

Oh! On the ride over to the studios we were all talking and I asked if there were any plans for the NASCAR broadcasts to have the same side-by-side race view that the IndyCar broadcasts use. With side-by-side you get to still watch the race in the left hand side of the screen while commercials play on the right hand side. It’s similar to what TNT did for the Coke Zero race last week. Apparently NASCAR won’t allow ESPN to do this. Note to NASCAR: Uhm, what’s the problem here? Would you please make this happen? We all know we have to live with commercials but the side-by-side thing makes it seem less obvious and really you wouldn’t have to worry about getting back to those green flags as much.

So the tour was awesome and I’m so grateful that I got a chance to go behind the scenes and see how a race broadcast is created.


Tim Brewer watches and waits for the call to explain the technical details of racing (photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

Tim Brewer watches and waits for the call to explain the technical details of racing

(photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

(photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

So there’s a cool story behind this tire. It came off of David Gilliland’s car at Indianapolis last year. He was doing his practice run and his car spun out. Thinking quickly Tim Brewer immediately got on the phone with a contact of his from Goodyear and within minutes they got the tire over to him in the ESPN Tech Center so that he could show it on air. What a great way to show off the Tech Center in its debut!

(photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

(photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

So I’m total girl and I was curious about the clothes! The pit road reporters don’t have to wear the firesuits, it’s totally voluntary.

(photo credit: The Fast and the Fabulous)

the emptiness of it all

An empty Gatorade Victoy Lane at the Chicagoland Speedway on Friday, July 11, 2008I’m still processing this weekend, working on posts and I just uploaded a buttload of photos. But I wanted to put up something for now. I’m trying to go in chronological order, to keep things straight for you and for me. As soon as I post this I’m off to downtown Chicago for some sightseeing. But first here’s what happened Friday morning.

Friday started out really good. Traffic was a breeze compared to Thursday and I had a Grande Cinnamon Dolce Latte from Starbucks to help ease me into the morning. I left at 9, so that I could be at the credentials trailer exactly at 10 when they opened. It worked out perfectly.

I have to give huge props to the Chicagoland Speedway staff for making it so incredibly easy to get in and out of the track. I’m getting ahead of myself a bit but when I left the track it only took me ten minutes to get out and onto empty city streets. If you have an infield parking sticker they give you another thingy to hang from your window so that you can take this one particular road to get in and out the track. Ingenious! I think Infineon and Las Vegas should figure out a way to do this, build a whole new road if you have to! It’d be worth it.

Anyway, back to the morning. I was stoked to learn that I was getting a hot garage pass. Suhweet. It’s a total crap shoot on what you’re gonna get. After that I headed to the media center where I quickly realized it was insanely early in the race day. People camping in the infield were in line for the portable showers. Neither the Nationwide nor Sprint Cup garages were open. The place was empty. The fans hadn’t been let in to the main gates yet either.

I checked out the media center, took pictures of the emptiness around me and then just hung out for a while. I picked up a schedule and some other random press releases — including the transcript of Tony Stewart’s press conference regarding his move to Haas CNC Racing, now Stewart Haas Racing; I hate that logo by the way. I’m not a big fan of the font.

At two in the afternoon I was set to meet up with Andy from ESPN’s communications team to take a tour of their production facilities. I had some time before all that so I walked around and over (and under) to the grandstands. I checked out the usual fan stuff like the merchandise haulers and all of the interactive attractions. Really it’s all the same, but I caught the performance of the band that later performed the National Anthem for the Dollar General 300. If anyone knows or remembers their name from the telecast post a comment. They were a pretty good country band. I saw them in the credential trailer earlier in the day and let’s just say I have a soft spot for rockers with long hair. :)

After listening to a few songs I headed back to the media center to take the ESPN production tour, more on that in the next post.

‘it’s like thunder and lightning…’

Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, IL, Thursday, July 10, 2008What a day.

I woke up at 5am to get ready to fly out of San Francisco at 9-something in the morning. I was in the sky for close to 4 hours. I was so happy that I didn’t need to take a pee break during the flight, as I was wedged in between two people. Once in Chicago I was hit with the wacky local weather. It was hot, muggy and raining. On the shuttle bus to the rental car station I could see lightning in the distance.

So I got my car, or at least what I thought was my car, but I had to bring it back ’cause the license plate listed in my rental documents didn’t match those on the car. In the end they let me take the car that I was given, along with the navigation system that I hadn’t requested but because of their mistake I was getting for free! Wee! And how important that navigation system would prove to be, let me tell ya. I made my way to my hotel and caught my first glimpse of the hell that is Chicago traffic. If you think traffic in L.A. is bad you ain’t seen nothing till you get here. There seems to be a lot of road work going on, so maybe that’s adding to it. Either way it’s crap, but more about that in a minute.

My hotel is fabulous, I’m staying at the Renaissance Chicago O’Hare Suites Hotel and it has totally exceeded my expectations. The rooms are modern and super comfortable, plus there’s a flat screen TV with HD in the living room and a sick shower that I can’t wait to use in the morning. There hasn’t been that many times I’ve been this excited about a shower, so that’s saying something. To make things even better, this place even has its own Starbucks shop in the lobby! Starbucks = happy Valli.

Ok, so the credentials office was open today at Chicagoland Speedway until 8pm. I got checked in to my room by 6 and so I thought I’d have enough time to make it to the track to sign for my credentials. I ended up arriving fifteen minutes too late! Yes, it took me 2 hours to get to the track. There was a lot of traffic and in one particular stretch it was because of an accident involving a big wheeler. It sucked that I couldn’t get my credentials today and at least get into the track, but it’s no biggy since qualifying was called on account of the rain.

And speaking of the rain, we’re talking thunderstorms people. I haven’t seen lightning and thunder like this in such a long time. I really, really, really, really, hope it clears up and doesn’t come back. Driving in the rain in unfamiliar surroundings is not fun. I missed turns that I was supposed to make, so I was thankful for the navigation system, oh so thankful. On my way back to the hotel it was raining so hard that I could barely see the lines on the ground. I had no idea what lane I was in a lot of the time. Luckily at this point there weren’t a lot of cars on the road. Oh and they have all of these tolls on the roads every so often. It’s like 80 cents here and 80 cents there and then 30 cents there. I’ve never heard of such a thing. I come from California where we only have tolls on bridges. No biggie though, I plan on being better prepared for tomorrow.

One cool thing I have to say is that I got to drive a portion of Route 66 after I left the race track. That was pretty neat.

Okay, I’m super tired, off to bed I go. More tomorrow!


Chicagoland Speedway

This is how it is here in Chicago, flat and green.