I was a rookie. It seemed strange after covering more than 200 races live and knowing many of the people at the Sprint Media Tour, I had never attended the pre-season event. I didn’t get hazed because most of the people there either knew me or had heard of me, but I learned it was at once exhilarating and fatiguing at the same time. As I look back on it, it was worth every 15-hour day. These are my reflections on what happened behind the news and a little commentary.
First, NASCAR does not take a back seat to any professional sports organization. It’s so much different when I started covering event in 1996. It’s first class all the way and a lot of that credit goes to Scott Cooper of Charlotte Motor Speedway. We were treated to luxuriously appointed meeting rooms and a schedule that would kill a horse. More on that later. The access to drivers and teams was second to none and there was always someone there to answer questions. Most days started at 8:00 AM and ended near midnight. Yeah, my advancing years were evident with that schedule.
The tour started out with the information on the Sprint Unlimited, something you started calling the Busch Clash years ago, and ended with a trip to Joe Gibbs Racing Shop in Huntersville, NC after four days. The tour brought teams to the guest hotel or the media was bussed to shops around the area. We saw Stewart-Haas, Michael Waltrip Racing, Furniture Row Racing, and had a dinner with Chevrolet and breakfast with Ford Racing. The Ford breakfast gave us access to Richard Petty Motorsports, Wood Brothers Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Germain Racing, and all their drivers. The Chevrolet dinner featured no drivers. In addition, we made trips to Richard Childress Racing, Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Penske Racing, and Joe Gibbs Racing at their racing shops. We met with Roush-Fenway Racing at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Meeting with the 25 top teams in Sprint Cup and many others in the Nationwide Series, was hectic but rewarding. Attempting to grade the visits will be harder, but here goes.
Best Shop Visit – Penske Racing. No matter what anyone says, Roger Penske is the class of the circuit. All his NASCAR racers were on site and presented for everyone to see. It was even more interesting to see Ford’s racing boss, Jamie Allison there along with Edsel Ford II. It was obvious that Ford is banking a lot on Penske’s switch to Ford. Second place went to Richard Childress Racing. Even though two accidents on I-85 delayed us nearly two hours, and the program Childress had planned for us had to be abbreviated, every driver was present from Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton, and Paul Menard to his Nationwide drivers (grandson Austin Dillon and Brian Scott) and truck campaigners Brendan Gaughan and grandson Ty Dillon).
Best Non-Shop Visit – Earnhardt-Ganassi. It was held at a hangar at Concord Regional Airport, which was confusing to some, but it became apparent once inside the hangar. Ganassi had not only his NASCAR people there, but his IndyCar and sports car racing drivers. On display were not only the No. 1 Chevrolet for Jamie McMurray and the No. 42 of Juan Pablo Montoya, but show cars and drivers for his IndyCar and sports car teams. It was an opportunity to talk with Dario Franchitti, Scott Pruett, and others. Also present was Cessna’s fantastic Citation airplane, since the company has joined EGR as a sponsor for 2013. Honorable mention was the Stewart-Haas presentation that presented the media with Danica Patrick. Amid rumors of a relationship with another driver, Patrick refused to comment and looked marvelous in her $2,000 high heels.
Best Eye-Opening Team Function – Roush-Fenway’s presentation at the Hall of Fame. After a buttoned-downed presentations featuring Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., and Travis Pastrana, in the Hall’s theatre. Later, the drivers moved to their stations overlooking the Hall exhibits for interviews. Soon, we were told to move to the outside plaza for the Ford event. The event was each Ford team would be driving their 2013 cars through the streets of Charlotte. One by one, the new Fusions came out of the garage under the Hall—Biffle was first followed by Keselowski, Logano, Edwards, Stenhouse, Bayne, David Ragan, David Gilliland, and Casey Mears. An F-150 truck of photographers and a production Fusion led the parade with drivers doing burnouts and generally having fun. Crowds lined the streets of Charlotte and gathered at the plaza where fans could get autographs and take pictures of each team with driver and car owner present. It was something to see and created a lot of attention. Edsel Ford II and Jamie Allison also appeared to put the exclamation point on the exercise. I’ve never seen anything like it. No honorable mention. Nothing compared to that.
It was a glorious week that included two stops at Charlotte Motor Speedway and wonderful food. Would I do it again? You bet. I’m now ready for the season to start. To a team, everyone was optimistic about 2013, but baseball Spring Training brings out the same attitudes. It’s just time to get racing going again. The Rolex race this weekend got me going. With 19 days until the Sprint Unlimited and only 27 until the Great American Race, it’s time to be looking forward to a new season of racing. I’m fired up. Are you?