Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mr. C does NASCAR

A few weeks ago I was sitting at my desk when the phone rang.  It was my brother-in-law.

Me:  Hello.

Him:  Hey C, this is Mark.  You want to go to Atlanta to the Sprint Cup race with a Hot Pit pass?

Me, after a skinnit (a skinny minute) of reflection:  Hell Yes!

It turns out Mark was doing some marketing for a new Sprint Cup team and wanted me to go with him to take some shots of the car to use in his promotional materials.  The idea is to remove sponsor logos and insert those of the company he's trying to sell so that they can "see" what millions of Americans and those around the world will see on television during a race.

The team was TRG Motorsports, the #71 car driven by Bobby Labonte.  I was familiar with TRG from the Grand Am series where they sponsor four Porsche GT cars and know them to be a first class outfit.

So the deal is done and off we go to Atlanta.  For those of you who don't know, a Hot Pit pass means you are literally part of the team and can go anywhere in the garage or the pits at anytime, even during the race.  The only place you can't go during a race is over the wall.  The garage can be a dangerous place so these passes are very limited and controlled.

Following is a behind-the-scenes photo tour of a Sprint Cup weekend.

This is our car on it's way out to Saturday qualifying.  We qualified 21st out of a 43 car field.  Not bad for a new, one car shop.

Bobby talks things over in the garage with Skip Pope, suspension expert and strategist.  I had dinner with Skip and learned more about spring and damper rates and race strategy than I can possibly repeat here.

Skip told a good story that came out of talking about how much I enjoyed watching drivers from other types of racing try NASCAR. I mentioned that I thought Danika Patrick would make it because she's "got the touch." Skip relayed a story about how most of the drivers have "driver comfort" assistants whose job it is to make sure their helmets are dry and ready, water bottles are in the car, etc. Danika has no such assistant. She does it all herself.

One race day Danika had climbed into her car when she frantically waved over one of her crew members and told him that she had forgotten her gloves. She asked him to run back to her motorhome and look in the such-in-such drawer and he would find them there. Off he goes. He returned without them and saw that she had them on. She had sent him rummaging through her underwear. She instantly earned her team's affection.

A stroll through the garage turned up Little E in heavy conversation.  Dale took the pole position (that means he starts in first place ladies).

Race day dawns clear and cold.

Yes, that's heavy frost on the pace car.

Team chef, Elaine, rustles up breakfast for the crew.  Eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and grits.  This is Atlanta folks.

The entire operation is housed in the hauler you see behind her.  Cars above, spare parts, a small machine shop and even a lounge/office area are contained in the hauler.  Lots of computers.

The garage area is becoming busy and the stands starting to fill, although it wasn't nearly a sell-out as in past years.  I would estimate that 30% of the seats were empty.  Sign of the times.

Celebrities stroll the paddock.  That's Jeff Bodine on the right, who brought NASCAR technology to the Bodine bobsled, along with our Olympic women's bobsled team.  They won a bronze medal at the games.

You could trip over TV personalities.  I have no idea who this one is.

The cars roll out onto the grid.

The pits and grid get really crowded with teams, press and piss-ants like me everywhere.

Drivers get introduced to the roar, or boos, of the crowd.  Loudest cheer, Dale Jr.  Loudest jeer, Shrub.  Hometown favorite Bill Elliot got a rousing cheer as did Jeff Gordon (pictured).

NASCAR's super-team, Chad Knaus and Jimmy Johnson talk last-minute strategy.  No one could interrupt them until it was time for Jimmy to pose for photos.

After the crews line up for the obligatory national anthem and jet fly-over, it's put up or shut up time.  Our man, Bobby Labonte, climbs in to start combat.  You can see how many empty seats there are in the stands.  Even so, it's a damned big show.

Mark and I hung around for the first few laps and then, being the old farts we are, decided to check-out and start the 6-hour drive home.  We actually tried to leave about 10 in the morning but they wouldn't let us out of the parking lot.  One-way traffic only.  So back inside for us where I took most of the race-day photos.

Our guy finished 22nd.  A really good result for a new team.  A great weekend and one I will do again, if asked.  BTW, you can purchase a Cold Pit pass as a patron but I'm told they go for $500.


  1. Can't say I've ever gotten into Nascar stuff, unlike most of my fellow southerners. That does look like fun to be able to go behind the scenes like that, see how it all works. A lot more fun that watching cars go round and round all afternoon.

  2. Almost Mr. C....aaaaalmost made me want to go.

  3. I know a few people down here, who would be extremely envious, of your weekend adventure. They are so into NASCAR they even talk to me about it, I listen for an hour then butt in and say: "I'm so pleased that Jimmy Johnston found another career after being so mistreated by the Dallas Cowboys."

  4. WM... I know an old gearhead like you would love it. At least once.
    Holte, lol. It's hard to get the Blokes excited about anything that doesn't involve Jaguar and Sir Stirling Moss.

  5. I'm not even into NASCAR but this post is very interesting, great pics.

  6. Hey Mr. C, I had some friends who camped out in the infield all weekend near turn 3. I personally have always been more into quarter mile drag, but I admire the skill and endurance it takes to win a NASCAR race.

  7. It's race weekend up here, Mr. C. Guess who's not going :-)

    I used to like going to the dirt tracks, though.


Sorry about the comment thingy folks. Too much spam.