(Editor’s Note: Tom Bowles is down at Lowe’s Motor Speedway covering the NASCAR Nextel Cup and Busch Series races this weekend. Each day, he’ll contribute a blog of his personal experiences at the track or in Charlotte.)
Before I open up the blog of hilarity, I’ll get serious for a minute as this week gave me time to reflect. (Skip down if you don’t like that type of stuff!) For the past five years, I’ve been writing in one shape or form about NASCAR, often for little or no pay. I don’t want to get all Carl Edwards on you, the loyal reader, but this year is becoming the realization of a dream. I remember one experience a couple of years ago where I sent an email to sign up for the NASCAR Media site NASCAR provides, and I pretty much got laughed at by the powers that be.
Not only that, but I’m not from the South. Not even close…from Connecticut originally, now from New York City. All my friends not only don’t follow the sport, they think I’m nuts to follow “cars in circles.” The same for my family, who didn’t come around to this idea for a career until very, very recently.
Still, despite the disadvantages, despite feeling hope was lost on more than one occasion, I somehow found a way to get it done. This year has found me sitting in the same league as the big boys: asking questions side-by-side with Marty Smith, taping a documentary with David Poole, and now, a credentialed member of the NASCAR media. Hard work got me to where I am, and now the possibilities seem endless. Bottom line: if you’ve got a dream, just don’t stop believing, because they really can start to come true.
Alright, enough of the sob story. On to the fun stuff!
7:47 A.M. Ready to leave for Lowe’s Motor Speedway from Durham. The average fan gets to the track mid-afternoon, but the media’s got to be there early for prescheduled driver interviews and to get handed 2,000 sheets of paper, 1,998 of which we throw away. Add to that it’s a two hour drive from my buddy’s place in Durham, and it’s a looong day ahead.
7:52 A.M. Yup, about to take off…just need to search through my pockets one more time for that rental car key…
8:47 A.M. Yup, just one more bag searched and we’ll find that key…
8:52 A.M. Finally on the road!!!
10:10 A.M. Here’s what I don’t understand. 60 miles outside of Charlotte, there’s four lanes of highway in each direction, plenty of room for everyone to drive seeing as no one lives there. Then, when you get close to Charlotte and the Speedway, the highway loses lanes, down to two on each side. You’re joking, right? I mean, who builds roads in our country?
10:45 A.M. Credential office. There’s actually an attendant there to help me park…even though there’s 40 spaces in the entire lot. Interesting.
10:57 A.M. Stuck in traffic headed to press area infield. Culprit: Jeff Burton and Co. driving slowly in a golf cart ahead. Consider passing them on left holding up Verizon Wirless phone to window while driving by…but think better of it.
11:03 A.M. Here in the media center! The Time Warner Media Center at Lowe’s is one of those amazing state of the art things, the type of building where you walk in and you think to yourself, “Wow, this is awesome. I wonder how much it cost?” I take a seat in the third row from the back.
11:20 A.M. Have the I.T. guy come by because my laptop can’t connect with the wireless cable. I get the “Are you a NASCAR fan?” question. Hmm…I’m here for the food? Maybe it’s because I look 15 and I’m actually 25 people ask that, even though I’ve been writing for five years. Let’s move on.
11:25 A.M. It comes to my attention I’m sitting two rows in front of Marty Smith. Not quite sure how to handle this one. I hate introducing myself to other writers I like, because I feel like I always come off as the “I’m such a big fan!” type, which I know I would find incredibly annoying. I have the same problem with David Poole. We both were filmed for the same documentary, easy topic to bring up…yet, I can’t bring myself to do it. Reporters…so tough when it comes to the story, so shy when it comes to everything else.
11:30 A.M. Kasey Kahne comes through the media center and is attacked like a pack of rabid wolves searching for food. Media pet peeve…let the man breathe! I pass on that one.
12:00 P.M. Walk around the pits for Busch Series practice. There’s this spot at the end of the garage area where you can simply stand and snap a picture of each car as it slowly rolls by (there’s also a similar spot in the Cup garage). Pretty cool. Also, no one knows who the heck I am…not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I mean, it’d be nice if ONE fan said hi…
12:30 P.M. – 2:00 P.M. NASCAR Nextel Cup Wake Up calls in the Media Center. These are pre-selected guests that the media gets to ask questions towards and interview for their own stories. Today’s contestants? Rick Hendrick, followed by Doug Richert and Goodyear tire spokesman Stu Grant. Just because these guys are hand-selected doesn’t mean they give politically correct answers…all three were actually pretty open and honest about pretty much everything, so Kudos to NASCAR for that.
3:00 P.M. First walk through the Nextel Cup garage area. One thing about the garage when it’s “hot”—- every single person looks like the busiest one that ever lived. Even the PR people and sponsor representatives just sit there with a nervous look on their face as if they’re going to unstack and restack a row of tires all by themselves. I feel like I need to down three Red Bulls just to fit in.
4:00 P.M. Meet one of the Nextel PR people. It’s so nice when someone introduces themselves…when you’re a “rookie” on the writing circuit, you’re kind of out on an island; it’s not like you’re at the race with your buddies and you just approach everyone within earshot. ‘Twas good to be noticed by someone.
4:45 P.M. After doing some interviews, head back to the Media Center just in time…to miss interview opportunities with Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson. Oops! Still had a great story from Terry Labonte…but you always feel you miss out when you’ve got four drivers of that caliber in one place. Did catch the RYR “Are you dead yet?” press conference, which was entertaining. I mean, RYR clearly has work to do…but both teams are in the Top 20 in points! It’s not like they’re missing races…they could easily turn things around in the second half and make the Chase.
5:30 P.M. Dinner at the media center! Yes!!! Dinner!!! It is…”Beef Brisket.” Brisket? Huh? I’m from New York City, I don’t know these things. Brisket to me sounds like a giant Triscuit cracker on crack. I’m sure the food was great…but words like “brisket” and “grits” still send me running.
5:35 P.M. Bojangles for dinner.
6:05 P.M. Catch the end of the Bandolero / Legends races. It’s nice to walk around the garage area in between practice and qualifying…it’s such a happy place. Crew members joking and talking, everyone with a smile on their face…NASCAR doesn’t need to market itself as a family sport in times like these, as its genuine character shines through.
6:50 P.M. Alright, hard to ever be in “fan” mode anymore, but have to admit a highlight was introducing myself to Jack Roush, who I had interviewed by phone just a few short weeks ago. Whatever your opinion of these men at the pinnacle of the sport, when you see them in person, they truly become larger than life.
7:20 P.M. You’d think all the media members, including me, would be out on pit road for all of qualifying, but when you’re covering a race, that’s not the case…if you aren’t pursuing a story, the media center has up-to-date qualifying times, the FOX and MRN feeds, and most importantly…air conditioning.
9:30 P.M. Running joke between Scott Riggs and Jeremy Mayfield in the media center. Mayfield comes in for his interviews and says he hears Riggs’ car was too low. Riggs comes back with, “Too low? Have you looked at Mayfield’s head?” Pretty funny if you think about it…
10:00 P.M. Did you know….J.J. Yeley took not one, not two, but three naps in last year’s Coca-Cola 600? Good thing he was in his hauler and not on the track…
10:15 P.M. Ironically enough, my day at Lowe’s ends with the Lowe’s driver…Jimmie Johnson. You’ve got to hand it to the guy…qualifies his Busch car and then runs over to do the mandatory interview after qualifying 3rd in the Cup race. Other drivers would be tired and quiet, but Johnson was talkative and engaging…another reason why he’s a constant contender in the series, year in, year out. Personality can matter.
With that, I bring day one to a close…but come back tomorrow! There may be no cars on the track, but there’s plenty to be learned off it in Charlotte during Life at Lowe’s : Day Two.
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