I don’t know if you’ve heard but a little known race car driver named Dale Earnhardt Jr. won this year’s Daytona 500.
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I mean, A LOT of graphics! I think the theme of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season will be ‘Explanation.’ Everybody is going to be explaining how the new qualifying system will work and how the new Chase format will work, so get ready for a bunch of segments dissecting the new formats and whether or not Jimmie Johnson will be able to adapt to them.
First, I apologize for taking so long to write about Sonoma. Life, work, blah, blah, blah.
I don’t know why I always feel this way when Jimmie Johnson wins a race. It’s like watching Survivor and getting pissed off when the idiots have the upper hand and they don’t take the opportunity to vote off the obviously stronger player when they have the chance. It’s silly. That’s how I feel when I see Jimmie Johnson leading a race.
I think pretty much everyone in agreement that the finish to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ Finger Lakes 355 at Watkins Glen International was crazy, right? I scrolled through my Twitter feed and all it showed were a series of tweets that said “Wow.”
I’m so happy I got to go to New Hampshire and Kansas over the past month or so. Getting to attend those races reminded me why I love writing this blog so much and how awesome it is to interact with you and hear your thoughts on my experiences. Your feedback means a lot to me so don’t hold back. Let’s just hope that someone reads this site, believes in what I’m doing and steps up to help it grow. I might create a quick link for you to click to Tweet brands that tells them to sponsor me. Ha! I seriously just thought of that while writing this and now I need to make it happen.
In other news…
– Today was the first ever Better Half Dash at Charlotte Motor Speedway, featuring the wives and girlfriends of NASCAR drivers, crew guys and personalities. The inaugural winner was Jacquelyn Butler, the girlfriend of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver David Ragan.
“That was crazy,” Butler said from the frontstretch victory celebration, which was complete with a trophy presentation, interviews and a champagne shower. “That was fun. I’m ready to go out and do it again next week.”
Better Half Dash Finishing Order
1. Jacquelyn Butler (David Ragan)
2. Trisha Mears (Casey Mears)
3. Ashley Allgaier (Justin Allgaier)
4. Patricia Driscoll (Kurt Busch)
5. Wendy Venturini (Speed Network)
6. Beth Baldwin (Tommy Baldwin)
7. Sabrina Simpson (Joey Logano)
8. Jami McDowell (Michael McDowell)
9. Michelle Gilliland (David Gilliland)
10. Kristen Yeley (J.J. Yeley)
11. Nan Zipadelli (Greg Zipadelli)
12. Angie Skinner (Mike Skinner)
13. Shannon Koch (Blake Koch)
14. Melanie Self (Motor Racing Outreach)
– Better Half Dash Honorary Starter Kelley Earnhardt is expecting her third child. It’s her first child with her husband & race car driver, L.W. Miller III (who you can see in that Richard Petty energy drink commercial). Kelley has two daughters, Karsyn & Kennedy, from her previous marriage to NASCAR crew chief, Jimmy Elledge.
“Obviously as a former race car driver, I would love to be participating with the other ladies in this event,” said Earnhardt, co-owner and general manager of JR Motorsports. “But with a baby on the way, I am thankful they found a home for me as the honorary starter to be a part of the fun.
“It is fulfilling to be doing something positive while raising awareness and funds for Motor Racing Outreach (MRO) and Speedway Children’s Charities. MRO is a staple to our sport and NASCAR family and SCC has done so much for our community.”
– Montgomery Lee, daughter of former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Petty (and granddaughter of NASCAR legend Richard Petty) announced this week via Twitter that she and her country music artist husband, Randy Montana, are expecting their first child. The couple are expecting a daughter on February 29th of next year.
The image I created in my head of Richard Childress getting Kyle Busch in a headlock and beating him up far surpasses any actual image of the incident that you could show me (if one even exists). I can’t help but laugh at the whole thing. It’s just too much. Childress was fined $150,000 for the incident and put on probation by NASCAR. When they give fines I think they should be the same number as the person’s car number, so Childress should of been fined $180,000 for Kyle’s #18 truck. NASCAR should maintain a NASCAR theme at all times.
Ya know what’s annoying? Yesterday’s race was Brad Keselowski’s second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win, his first with Penske, and the commentators didn’t bring that up until he crossed the finish line. I find that annoying because I would like that information up front–with laps to go–so that I can get all emotional and worried for the guy. They do it for Dale Earnhardt Jr. ALL the time. They’ve got that “Races since last win” graphic queued up, always ready to go.
I feel like we didn’t get to really appreciate the fullness of the moment for Brad because nobody talked about the significance of it all that much. Kinda lame.
While I certainly don’t dislike the Fox broadcast team, I am REALLY excited about TNT’s coverage because I’m looking for a change of pace. It’ll be good to get a different perspective, until we get another perspective when ESPN/ABC takes over later this year.
My only question right now is: Can it be time for Infineon’s race now?? Please! I’ll be there and I cannot wait for that race weekend. I know it’s going to be superfun, but let’s hope this ridiculously cold & rainy weather we’ve been having doesn’t last through that weekend. I’m ordering perfect weather; not too hot, not too cold, but just right.
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!
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.
I’m sad I missed the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Media Tour in Charlotte this week. But, if I’m being honest, it’s only because I just read this article about all the swag the media received, that I missed out on. There were cupcakes and cookies and wine!
Anyway, here are photos from the week. It’s one of my favorite things to post photos of the teams wearing those annoying long sleeve shirts. I don’t know why I hate them so much but they just look wrong. I say this every year and no one listens to me.
It’s just like bridesmaid dresses: it’s really hard to pick on dress type that works on every body type. Which is why brides have started letting their maids pick a fit that suits them individually and then just going with the same color and/or print for the group. I think NASCAR teams should adopt this same principle. Some teams have, but definitely not the majority.
NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Elliott Sadler, (second from left) speaks with the media, as drivers (left to right) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jason Leffler, and Aric Almirola look on, during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, held at Hilton University on Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C.(Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Michael Waltrip’s familiar No. 15 NAPA car is on display during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, held at Hilton University on Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C. (Credit: Harold Hinson/HHP)
(Left to right) Bobby Hutchens, director of competition for Stewart-Haas Racing; Tony Gibson, crew chief of the No. 39 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car; Ryan Newman, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver; Tony Stewart, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series owner and driver; and Darian Grubb, crew chief of the No. 14 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car, pose for a picture during the 2011 Sprint Cup Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway on Monday at Stewart-Haas Racing in Kannapolis, N.C. (Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Regan Smith stands in front of his No. 78 Furniture Row ride during the Sprint Media Tour hosted byCharlotte Motor Speedway on Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C. (Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
(center) NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty stands between his two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers AJ Allmendinger (left) and the newest addition to Richard Petty Motorsports Marcos Ambrose during the Sprint Media Tour hosted byCharlotte Motor Speedway on Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C. (Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Team owner Jack Roush (center) poses with drivers (left to right) Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and David Ragan, during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, held at the Roush-Fenway hanger of Concord Regional Airport, on Thursday in Concord, N.C. (Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
(Left to right) Brian Vickers, driver of the No. 83 Red Bull Toyota, speaks with Kasey Kahne, driver of the No. 4 Red Bull Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, held at Hilton University on Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C.(Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
(Left to right) Richard Childress, team owner; Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 33 Cheerios Chevrolet; Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet; Jeff Burton, driver of the No. 22 Caterpillar Chevrolet, and Paul Menard, driver of the No. 27 Menard’s Chevrolet, pose for the media during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, held at Richard Childress Racing on Tuesday in Welcome, N.C.(Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
(Left to right) Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, owner Rick Hendrick and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. pose for a team picture Wednesday at Hendrick Motorsports Media Day during the Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway.(Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
(Left to right) Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the No. 12 Alliance Truck Parts Dodge in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, speaks to the media as NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teammates Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge, and Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge, look on during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, held at Penske Racing on Monday in Mooresville, N.C.(Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Team owner Joe Gibbs (third from right) poses with J.D. Gibbs (third from left), Joe Gibbs Racing President, Joey Logano (left), driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota, Kyle Busch (second from left), driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota, Denny Hamlin (second from right), driver of the No. FedEx Toyota, and NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Brian Scott (right), during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, held at Joe Gibbs Racing, on Thursday in Huntersville, N.C. (Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
J.D. Gibbs, president of JGR, on hiring Tony Stewart: “For 1997, we wanted to form a second team. We asked all the guys to write down the name of the driver they wanted the most and put it in a hat. There was one name on every piece of paper. That was Tony Stewart.”
Team owner Joe Gibbs (center) speaks about the 20th anniversary of Joe Gibbs Racing, as (left to right) JGR President J.D. Gibbs, former JGR drivers Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte, JGR senior vice president of racing operations Jimmy Makar and Interstate Batteries CEO Norm Miller look on during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, held at Joe Gibbs Racing, on Thursday in Huntersville, N.C. (Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
The No. 21 Motorcraft Ford proudly displays the new American Ethanol sponsorship around the fuel hole during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, held at the Roush-Fenway hanger of Concord Regional Airport, on Thursday in Concord, N.C. (Credit: Harold Hinson/HHP)
(Left to right) Juan Pablo Montoya, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver, team owners Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates and Jamie McMurray, defending Daytona 500 champion, pose for a picture during the Earnhardt Ganassi Racing stop on the 2011 Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway on Monday at the Hilton Charlotte University Place in Charlotte, N.C.(Credit: Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Awhile back I solicited questions from readers for Richard Petty to answer. Well, the winners have been selected and the questions have been answered!
1) Tara in Arizona: What are you most proud of this season at Richard Petty Motorsports? The teams? The shop? The people?
Richard Petty: All the above, we are very proud of everyone at Richard Petty Motorsports.
2) Amy from California: What do you consider your biggest personal achievement?
Richard Petty: My biggest personal achievement has to be winning 200 races.
3) Amy from California: Can you tell us about the first time a fan asked you for your autograph? What that felt like? What you thought at the time?
Richard Petty: It thrilled me and it still does..it is a way of thanking the race fans.
Tara & Amy will both receive STP Prize Packs filled with STP Complete Fuel System Cleaner, STP hats, stickers and t-shirts. Congrats chicas!
This is a big deal people so listen up!
STP, sponsors of the iconic red and blue No. 43 STP car since 1972 that Richard Petty drove to victory lane many, many times during his amazing career, has put together a series of videos to document and celebrate the silver anniversary of The King’s 200th win.
The one-of-a-kind video series titled, “Crowning Achievement,” examines Petty’s 200th victory from back in 1984 (I was only 4 years old! ha!) and follows him during his 25th anniversary celebration at Daytona on July 4th of this year.
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)?
When Tony Stewart announced his plans to be a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver and owner I was skeptical. I had no idea what would happen but I can tell you that I definitely wasn’t thinking he would be leading in the points standings and winning races. Yea, I thought things would be “interesting” which is code for “not winning.” I didn’t think he would stink up the place but I certainly wasn’t expecting him to contend for the Championship like he is now.
His success is great though. I’m happy that Tony is leading and that he won this weekend’s race at Pocono. I know I’ve talked smack about Tony in the past, and I totally stand by it, but there’s something about him that I do like. I couldn’t tell you what it is right now but there’s something.
And because I’m a sucker for emotional things I love, love, loved it when TNT showed Tony’s dad in the pits. I loved seeing him wipe away tears as he watched his son drive into Victory Lane for the first time as a driver/owner. That’s a very sweet moment and those are the things that add that personal, sentimental touch to this sometimes impersonal, corporate sponsorship driven sport.
On Saturday I watched the Nationwide race at Nashville. No, I’m not going to talk about Kyle Busch’s ill-conceived plan for breaking up the race’s trophy into pieces to share with his team. (I basically agree with what Kyle Petty said about it during Sunday’s broadcast.) I want to talk about Brad Keselowski. Is it just me or does Brad seem a lot more mature and manly this year? He seems a lot less goofy (and I mean that in a really nice way!) and more sure of himself. Does winning a race make your voice change? Hmm, if so, maybe there’s hope for Joey Logano.
I kid, I kid. Photos after the jump!
How to make me cry at the end of a race:
1.) Be a respected driver and a generally nice guy.
2.) Be the oldest man to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race since 1993.
3.) Climb out of your car and head straight to your crew chief, a man that has idolized you since he was a kid, and thank him for getting you to Victory Lane after 4 winless years.
4.) Look into the television camera and thank your wife for letting you go racing again after you said you’d retire.
5.) Greet all of the drivers and crew members who come over to Victory Lane to congratulate you with a warm smile.
Yes, Mark Martin knows how to make me cry. I wasn’t bawling but I did get weepy. It was a special moment and I am so incredibly happy that I got to see it. Congratulations to the No. 5 Car Quest Kellogg Chevolet team for putting on an awesome show last night.
AJ Allmendinger shares a moment with team owner Richard Petty after the team announced Allmendinger has signed a contract to remain at Richard Petty Motorsports through the end of 2010. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
Crew members for Greg Biffle’s No. 16 Ford celebrate winning the Bashas’ Supermarkets 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
Subway Fresh Fit 500 Grand Marshall Michael Strahan and Carl Edwards share a laugh in the media center before the race. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
The cacti always look like they’re flipping me off.
Track conditions changed drastically as the sun set and the final portion of the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway was run under the lights. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR)
This morning I interviewed Kyle Petty, part-time driver of the No. 45 Wells Fargo Marathon PVA Dodge Charger, son to Richard Petty and grandson to Lee Petty. The name Petty is synonymous with NASCAR and I don’t think there’s anyone on the planet that doesn’t know who they are or what they’re famous for — there’s been a Petty racing in every NASCAR season since the sport’s inception in 1949. So speaking with Kyle was an honor, to say the least.
In this first post Kyle talks about Prostate Cancer Awareness Week (which is this week) and how this subject hits home with him and his family. Stay tuned for subsequent posts that will cover things like the importance of physical fitness for race car drivers, his impending musical performance at Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s charity concert in October and what the future holds for his racing career.
Me: Tell me why Prostate Cancer Awareness Week means so much to you.
Kyle Petty: Because it runs in our family. My grandfather in the later years of his life was diagnosed with it. My father went through prostate cancer in the early to mid 90s. So obviously at my age and with my family history I am in a high risk category. And we do so much; we have a camp in North Carolina called the Victory Junction Gang Camp which is a camp for children with chronic and life threatening illnesses. We see so many diseases that are preventable and treatable, once they are diagnosed, that obviously being this close to [it] myself it’s important for me to understand what prostate cancer is all about.
I was fortunate to be asked to help with this. Early in the year in June we did a thing in Michigan International Speedway and had a booth, STAY ON TRACK for Better Prostate Health. Had a great time, had a great turn out up there with people at the racetrack who came out and wanted to know more about it. We asked them to take the “Kyle Petty Prostate Inspection Pledge,” to go to the website — www.pcaw.com — to get the manual STAY ON TRACK, a manual for better prostate health. It really explains everything about prostate cancer from symptoms to being diagnosed, and once you’re diagnosed the process you go through.
Obviously we’re in a sport where team work is important, and my father kind of approached it like a pit crew and put together a pit crew of a medical oncologist, a radiation oncologist, a urologist. Basically we looked at it like a pit crew, like a team that was trying to attack the problem and figure out the best way around it just like they would from the race shop side.
This isn’t something that you just talk about. This is something that’s obviously touched my life on a couple of different occasions and it has the potential to be apart of my life for years to come. So to get the awareness out there, to be able to talk to race fans and get race fans involved in it, and have an understanding with the race fans of what this is all about and get them behind it is important.
The following is more from my interview with ESPN NASCAR analyst Dale Jarrett, after this there are a couple more posts to come — all good stuff.
Me: Do you think that NASCAR could get bigger in terms of media coverage? It’s huge in its own right, but it still doesn’t quite get the respect, I think, that the NFL does and the NBA. Do you think it could get bigger and that the coverage could expand?
Jarrett: It could expand and it has expanded a lot, but what everyone would need to understand is how different our sport is because we don’t really have home teams. That’s the thing that separates our sport from getting more media coverage is that we don’t have that home team in Los Angeles or New York. The teams are based primarily around the Charlotte/Mooresville area.
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?
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)
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 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)
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)
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)
:: This is part two in a series of four posts (to see all of the posts on one page, click here) ::
Me: You talked about Jeff Gordon and his entrance into NASCAR and how that kind of signaled the entrance of, ya know, guys who grew up racing and learned about the whole corporate aspect of it and knew how to answer questions and all of those kinds of things. I’ve always thought of Jeff Gordon as the face of NASCAR, at least to the outside world, or to people who never NASCAR ever or haven’t in their lives. He usually the most recognizable person, I mean, obviously Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty are big too but Jeff Gordon kind of like in the 90′s was like, the guy. Do you think that’s changing as far as, ya know, other people coming through? Like Dale Earnhardt Jr. is so popular and Carl Edwards is like, camera ready.
Liz: Yeah, he is, isn’t he?
Me: And he’s so good at it. It seems like its part of his personality actually.
Liz: Yeah, and it seems very natural and authentic. Not like he went to some school to learn how to talk. I guess there are a few more characters that people associate with NASCAR. And I think, I totally agree with you regarding Jeff being the face of NASCAR in the 90′s. Ya know, it really helped too because his car was so special. Ya know most of those cars then were one solid color. Ya know they were a color and then a number. And he had the rainbow. I mean, it’s different now but I mean kids loved that. It was like the rainbow car with all the colors and it just looked so sparkly. And he was so sparkly.
I live in D.C. which is hardly a hotbed of NASCAR but this Halloween I had two little Tony Stewarts and one Lightning McQueen come to my door. They were in the like little miniature Home Depot suits and it was really adorable. Now, Joe Gibbs of course owns that car so a lot of Washingtonians follow Joe Gibbs, but I do think Tony in that orange car that’s kind of become iconic.
I’m really not at all a fan of Dale Jr. having this two car sponsorship and two car look. Not because I’m opposed to either sponsor or either look. But I just think in NASCAR it’s such an extension of the driver’s personality is his car. And when you keep switching it, it just muddles the message. I don’t think it does either sponsor a service. Who was it? It was Kyle Busch at California he was back to Interstate; he wasn’t the M&M’s car. It was annoying to me and I love Interstate, don’t get me wrong, but for little kids or new fans part of the way you come to know a driver is the black number 3, the rainbow colored 24 or the orange number 20. I mean I understand the business reasons for it, it’s too expensive, you need multiple companies to pay the freight, but I really think people are missing how serious this is to keep switching the uniform of the guy. It’s basically his uniform.
Me: Yea, I know what you mean. ‘Cause it’s the same thing with Clint Bowyer, he’s doing DirecTV and Jack Daniels. And then he has that switch happening at some point. Greg Biffle has a switch happening. It’s hard to remember which car they’re in, “Oh, wait, that’s so and so.”
Liz: And by extension it’s hard to care. I mean, it sounds silly but it’s just hard to care because that’s not my guy. You’re just more conscious of oh, he’s selling this product this week. You sort of don’t believe, like, “does he really like that product?” It’s not like you get that detailed in your thinking but the guy should look the same. You cheer for the car because you know who’s inside. I love that M&M’s car. I don’t like Kyle Busch, I’ll tell you that, but I love the M&M’s car. It should be in the race all the time.
Me: That’s one point where we totally agree. I don’t like Kyle Busch either. Well two points actually, I totally agree on both of those points.
That’s another thing that’s getting hard. Sometimes at the beginning of every season I have to go through the roster and say “Ok, this guy is with this team now and he’s driving this car, and he’s in these colors now so look for that if you’re looking for him.”
Liz: It’s hard enough as it is, with the regular changes.
Me: It’s one thing if the guy changes sponsors but then he’s changing his entire team, changing his number. I’m like “Oh wait, that’s not David Gilliland anymore, that’s Kyle Busch, so yea, don’t cheer anymore. If you see the M&M’s car just walk on by.”
A couple months ago I was given the opportunity to read Washington Post writer Liz Clarke’s new book about NASCAR entitled “One Helluva Ride: How NASCAR Swept the Nation.” I mentioned once before, when I was close to finishing the book, how emotional it made me feel. If you’re new to NASCAR or have been a fan for all of your life you should definitely pick up One Helluva Ride. It gives great insight, from one reporter’s unique perspective, on how NASCAR began and evolved over the years.
Luckily for me I was also given the opportunity to speak with Liz about the book and ask her some questions. I’m posting the results of our conversation here and in subsequent posts. Enjoy!
:: This is part one in a series of four posts (to see all of the posts on one page, click here) ::
Me: Why did you want to write the book and how did it come about?
Liz: I think that my experience was different than a lot of peoples in that I was approached by an editor, a book editor who was familiar with my work at the Post and asked if I had ever thought about writing a book. She suggested one on gymnastics or tennis, which I was also covering at the time. She emailed and I said I’d love to write a book, I’ve never written a book but if I wrote one I really would feel more comfortable writing one about NASCAR. That’s the sport I know the best and would probably have the most to say and I thought she might go running, ya know fleeing and hanging up, I didn’t know how this would go over but she was open minded. She said “Well I’ll listen to that.” So that forced me to give some discipline to what was the book that I had in mind, I mean what is it that I wanted to say about NASCAR. Ya know and put that in written form, and do a proposal. Ya know one option would have been to focus on one driver’s story. Or to focus on a season in the life of the sport and I really wasn’t drawn to do either one.
I looked at this as the only book that I would ever write in my lifetime and I wanted sort of to say everything, just like say everything that I knew that I felt most strongly about and that there never was room for in a newspaper story or you edit your own self and you think “Well that’s not appropriate for a newspaper story, nobody really cares what I think, or nobody really cares about this funny conversation I had with so and so.” It’s invariably when you talk to people and they know you cover sports the questions they ask you are often the stories you never write, like “What is that person really like?” “What is Bill Elliott like?” or “What is Dale Earnhardt really like?” It’s odd how you never write those stories.
Also I was acutely aware of how rapidly the sport was growing and changing in obvious ways, the closing of several small tracks, the move west to new markets but also the change in the basic driver. The drivers were getting younger, they were from all over the country, they had a certain polish, ya know PR training was new and ya know some of this is easy to admire NASCAR for and really applaud their growth. Some of it made me sad. And so I just felt this overwhelming need to capture all of this before it kind of went away, before it was lost forever. And my, I hope this is not to vague, but my idea was to start the book in 1992 with the first night race at Charlotte. It was the first night race I recall seeing in person when it just knocked my socks off. And then I talked to some smart people and they said “No, no, no, you have to start where the sport starts. You have to start in the dirt.” And I thought “Oh god that’s going to bore people, I won’t get them through that to get to the part that I know.” But I think that was right.
I tried to cover a ton of history really in a compressed way and ya know certainly the book doesn’t stand up as this definitive history of NASCAR. I mean, I skip tons of champions. I ignore big chunks of the sport’s history but it was my version of the sport’s history in that it was to me what was important. To me what was important was the individualism of the people who ran moonshine and then raced stock cars, and the power of Bill France Jr., the unbelievable power that he had, and the warmth of Richard Petty. To me those are the three themes of the first thirty years of stock car racing. So I took some liberties in focusing on that.
Me: Which I think is really great because when people ask you “why do you like NASCAR?” It’s hard to say, because everyone always says “isn’t it just them driving around in circles?” And I’m like, “It’s so much more than that.” It really is the personalities of the drivers that make it so interesting and figuring who your favorite is based off of personality traits or how they interact with the other drivers.
Liz: Yes, I totally agree. And so, I can certainly understand why people change the channel as fast as they can when they see it. If you can’ tell, if you don’t know who’s in the cars, it is just kind of cars going around. It’s hard to explain to people that the people stand for something and that fans feel this connection.
Me: That’s what I liked about Richard Petty’s introduction in your book, which I thought was really cool that you got The King to write an introduction to your book. That’s awesome.
Liz: Oh, I was honored. I was so honored. So you liked that?
Me: Yea, and I liked how he said that if you’ve never been to a NASCAR race you should just go and then, ya know, you watch the cars, pick one out that you’re going to focus on for the race. And then as you keep watching you’ll learn more and then you’ll figure out ok, maybe I want this other driver, and you’ll figure out which one you like and then it can grow into something more. You have to kind of just pick one and go with it. Which is really true, that’s what I did. I started out with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and then I found out about all of these other drivers. I was like “Hey, Carl Edwards is really cool,” and I like the way he handles himself. You broaden your horizons as you keep watching. So, speaking of personalities, do you think that there is less personality in the drivers or different characters? Or do you think it’s about the same?
Liz: Based on what we can see as viewers, whether you’re watching on TV or listening on the scanners whatever, to me there’s definitely less personality. I’m not convinced the drivers themselves are less interesting, but there latitude for expressing themselves is so narrow now, they’re so scrutinized, ya know primarily by their sponsors who are paying the bills. They have to be the corporate pitchman all the time. Ya know, NASCAR probably gets and probably deserves some criticism for muzzling drivers’ personalities, with being very quick to fine and penalize for expressions. I mean, the one that just rankled me to death was when Dale Jr. was so excited after the win at Talladega. Ya know the “it don’t mean shit because my daddy won here ten times” or something. And ya know that use of “shit” wasn’t offensive. The vernacular [was used as a] huge compliment to his dad.
Me: Yea, that got me too. It was like, the moment he said it, it didn’t even phase me, you’re just so happy for him you’re not thinking about what he’s saying. Not the word he used at that particular moment.
Liz: Exactly. Yea, because the whole spirit was: I’m nothing compared to my dad. I mean what a great thing to say. He is something, he is emerging. But it was just a great tribute and a great moment and it was so dour and lame of NASCAR to react to that. I just wish the drivers words and behaviors after winning were not so scripted. I mean I understand corporate money makes the sport go and that these people are in the sport not only because their logo is seen but because their company logo is said by the driver. But I would find any driver who wins a race and gets out of the car and mentions his sponsor before he expresses one authentic emotion. I mean lets have the emotion and then, ya now, fulfill your contract. It’s a long way of saying I don’t think the drivers are boring personalities and you can’t find an interesting guy in the garage with an interesting opinion. I just think they’re almost in a straight jacket about how they behave, whether it’s all the, what are those Gillette drivers? What are they called? (Me: The Young Guns) Yea, Whether it’s all the Young Guns have to shave, ya know. Certainly decorum is called for but ya know and also the whole thing about being fearful of criticizing NASCAR or even questioning NASCAR. I was elated when Dale Jr. said on Sunday this track wasn’t ready to race; it was not a good move. Now that’s perceived as criticizing NASCAR. To me that’s a totally legitimate comment by a guy who was in the car and just got wiped out. I can’t believe more drivers didn’t say the same thing. I was thrilled that Denny Hamlin said it. To me it just bothered me to death that the broadcasters were not already discussing this on TV. Ya know, is this a good decision? You can talk about issues in the sport without slamming NASCAR.
Ya know but people, there’s this culture of you can’t question the Car of Tomorrow, you can’t question any, the length of the races, you can’t question the timing of the starts, ya know, whatever. The sport would be better, I mean Kyle Petty can do it, he can do it.
Me: Do you think there’s a fear amongst the drivers of retaliation from NASCAR? Is there a real, valid fear that if I say something they’re going to dock me points?
Liz: I think that that specter certainly was very palpable when I started covering this sport 15 years ago, 10 years ago. That was a real fear because there was so much more grey area in the application of the rule book. Getting through inspection was a real black box, I mean no one really knew quite what it took. And now I mean under Robin Pemberton and Gary Nelson before him, NASCAR has gotten quite specific and quite literal about what it takes to get through inspection, so there’s not that murkiness. It’s more above board; it’s more on the up and up. But that said, there’s still this vestige I think in the culture of, ya know, this is one man’s sport and he makes the rules and we can play by his rules or leave. That’s the way Bill France built it. It’s not so much the way they run it now but it has, that effect is still in the air.