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A day in the garage area is a fan’s dream (5-15-08)

By admin | May 14, 2008

By Richard Allen


Imagine that just before a regular season NFL game journalists and fans alike were allowed to hang around on the field, talk to players and coaches and go back into the locker room just before game time. Imagine that during a Major League Baseball game people not associated with the teams were allowed on the field during batting practice and then to sit in the dugout during the game.

Both of those scenarios are unlikely. However, in NASCAR that very thing happens all the time.

This past Saturday at the Darlington Raceway, I had the good fortune to experience behind the scenes preparation for a major auto race first hand. I am not associated with any team. I am merely the writer of a weekly column for a local newspaper. The reality is I am a fan pretending to be a “journalist”.

No other sport would allow the type of access NASCAR does. There were writers and broadcasters from major publications and television networks as well as from small town newspapers and local television stations. Also, there were numerous other people allowed access to the garage area as guests of the corporations who sponsor the races and cars.

All in all, the Sprint Cup garage area was a busy place on race day and that was not to mention the crew members busily preparing their machines.

When doing something like this for the first time, as I was, it was difficult to remember not to just be a fan. In my mind there was a constant “Hey, there’s Joe Gibbs!” or “It’s Jeff Gordon!” going on.

The amount of work going on behind the scenes was almost mind boggling. Team members went about the business of seeing to every possible need the car might have. Each car had a five page checklist of things to be looked after before the race and there was little time wasted in tackling that checklist.

All the while people were constantly coming and going. Reporters were looking for interviews. Television media were shooting footage of various things to fill in during the race and the pre-race show. Yet, crew members seemed to be unaffected by all that was happening around them.

While everyone there seemed very respectful of the teams and gave them the room they needed there had to be distractions. I do not believe an NBA or college basketball team would invite people from the stands to come down and shoot free throws with them during pre-game warm ups, but that is almost the feel of the garage area.

One thing I saw was very refreshing to me. NASCAR has been accused of moving away from its roots. That seems true of the organization itself but it is not true of drivers and team members.

As part of a promotion for an event Darlington Raceway has coming up on Labor Day weekend they allowed Wood Brothers Racing to remove one of their old cars from the track’s museum and have it be part of the pre-race ceremonies.

The old #21 car was pushed through the garage area and parked by the Wood’s hauler. Throughout the afternoon seemingly every driver and crew member there took a moment out of their schedules to come and look, rather marvel, at the Mercury that had once been driven by David Pearson. It was obvious from the looks on the faces of people such as Jack Roush, Ray Evernham and Juan Pablo Montoya that tradition is still alive and well inside the NASCAR garage if not in the corporate office.

All in all, it was a great day. No other sport would offer such an opportunity to even a writer from a major national publication. And when it was all said and done I was able to accomplish the two goals I had set for myself going into my first trip inside the garage. First, stay out of everyone’s way and second, do not get run over by a race car. I am especially glad I succeeded on that second goal.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.

*To view my pictures from the Darlington garage area click on the MySpace link on the left side of the page. You may have to be a MySpace member to view the pictures but you do not have to be a member to read the blogs. If you are a MySpace member feel free to invite me as one of your friends and we can talk racing whenever you want.

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