Wednesday, June 24, 2009
The crew was busy getting the car ready for inspection so I sought out some of my contacts in the garages and asked their opinion of the NASCAR drug policy. First, anyone who works on the cars can be selected for the random drug testing each week. People are randomly selected based on a number on their hard card and it can be officials, crew or team members or drivers.
When asked about the fairness of not knowing the specific substances on the banned list -- most felt it was completely fair and they know if they are concerned about some drug they are taking they can talk to NASCAR's MD to get that medication noted and "cleared." No one seemed reluctant to go to the MD to discuss their medications and many felt it was the best drug program in sports.
A random tidbit -- some were not in the least surprised by Mayfield getting caught. Hmmmmmmm.....
It was time to meet up with the bloggers at the Miller Lite pit box. RA6AN was writing good luck messages to her beloved Roush teams and IowaGirl, YeeMum and Jon464 were getting the royal tour of the pit box courtesy of Larry, the rear tire carrier. Larry is "almost famous" for his pit box tours as you will see in a video I hope to have up soon. He also admits to reading the blogs and recognized some of the bloggers in attendance! So if you write on Wednesdays and Thursdays don't be surprised if the Brew Crew knows what you said about them! Here is RA6AN trying to counteract the #2 team mojo by holding up a #6 for her favorite driver.
The bloggers headed off to collect signatures and lugnuts from the other crews and I headed back into the garage. The Brew Crew was pushing the Miller Lite Dodge past me towards the first inspection station -- putting the rear shocks back in the car -- so I caught up with them and resumed my duties as the unofficial tool car girl. While we were in line for inspection our teammate, Sam Hornish, Jr. pulled in in his rental car -- a Dodge of course!
Infineon is one of the few tracks where the driver's do not bring their motor coaches and instead stay in local resorts in wine country. As a result they are often stuck in the same traffic we are and its a hoot to see fans recognize drivers in the cars next to them.
We were making it through inspection without a hitch -- well until the final inspection stop. The Blue Deuce was rolled up onto a ramp where the templates sit to check for the yaw and length of the cars. We passed inspection and "Stretch", the general mechanic on the crew, was sitting in the window ready to steer off the ramp and down the hill to pit road. Well, it was a very tight squeeze and he couldn't react fast enough and ended up ripping the lower skirt off the car on the right hand side. OOPS!
Above is Stretch holding the piece that broke off. Not to worry, the Stretch, the car chief Jeffrey, and Steve the rear-end mechanic took the skirt off, cut a new piece of plastic to go in its place and had the car all ready to go about 15 min later. Of course the NASCAR officials were watching "closely" as Jeffrey joked about what a great diversion tactic so they could fiddle with the left side of the car. Given how well the Miller Lite Dodge handled in the race compared to practice, I would say Stretch might be onto something!
Once the car was safely out on pit road it was time to head back to the hauler for some of Cindy's tasty grub. Beef tips, rice and corn were on the menu today. While the guys dug in I admired their most recent trophy -- The Kings Cup.
The Brew Crew had won the annual go-kart race for charity beating out Denny Hamlin's team for the Cup which they proudly displayed all weekend outside the hauler. WOOT!
The guys are also in another competition...weight loss! Inspired by crew chief Pat Tryson's dramatic weight loss over the course of the 2008 season, several of the crew are battling to be the biggest loser this year. Based on their progress chart, I would say they are practicing "Yo-Yo" diets -- baby steps right?! LOL
The drivers started heading out of their haulers to driver introductions and of course one of the most popular dad's on this Father's Day race was "Big Daddy" Jeff Gordon. Here he is with Ella as everyone yelled Happy Father's Day to him.
In a rare event, the Miller Lite Dodge was lined up exactly with our pit box so Kurt had a nice shady place to hang out before having to get in the car.
Kurt filled us in on the hunting trip he was heading to in Montana on his way home from California this week...including the 3 hour donkey ride he had to take to get to the hunting spot -- Man, I wish I could get some pictures of that!!! He's plan is to hunt bear with his compound bow and arrow...let's hope he shows up for Louden!
Here is nearly the entire team lined up for the prayer and anthem...
And another moving moment -- especially for me as a "retired" National Park Police Mounted Patrol groom -- was when the Oakland Police Department motorcycles lead the field on the pace laps in honor of the four officers killed on duty earlier this year.
To our right in the pits was Elliot Sadler's team where The King had chosen to watch the race. It sure was fun watching them cheer on their teammate to the victory.
To our left in the pits was pole-sitter Brian Vickers. One very interested party in the Red Bull teams this weekend was Front Row Joe who sold his ride to Scott Speed and instead was hanging around the pits.
Some of you may remember we have a father-son team on the Miller Lite crew. Steve, the rear-end mechanic and catch can man (seen previously in my blogs eating chicken wings with me) is the father of Chris, our gas man. Chris was a good son and didn't forget to wish his dad a Happy Father's Day -- in the form of a neon sticker on his helmet that his dad could read as they were gassing the car!
Of course, you all know that Kurt was kicking booty and taking names as he drove the Blue Deuce through the field from 27th up to the lead and was in contention for certainly a top 5 finish. Finally this generated some media attention and we had the lovely Lindsey in our pits interviewing crew chief Pat Tryson.
We were all pretty excited to hear the No. 2 car was getting awesome gas mileage and we were good to go on two stops, well until Jimmie Johnson decided to try passing Kurt through the "esses" and blatantly took Kurt out as he slammed hard into the tire barrier. Apparently JJ apologized but his crew chief did not pass that message along to Kurt who headed to the pits with a badly wounded ride.
The only good news was this fired Kurt up and he drove like mad in the final 30 laps to end up with a 15th-place finish. That and I managed to snag a small part of sheet metal as a souvenir! Several of you saw me on TV as Kurt was being interviewed after the race. He was clearly disappointed in Jimmie's judgment and thought he could trust Jimmie as the two former champs usually raced clean. As soon as Kurt finished his TV interview, Johnson headed over to apologize. I didn't get too close but it was clear Jimmie was saying he lost control of his car going over the rumble strips. Not sure if Kurt *really* forgave him but he was gracious nonetheless. We might see this one come back around...
The Miller Lite racing team had the car loaded and they were all heading out to the plane for the long flight home soon after. I said my goodbyes and good lucks and hope to see them again during the Chase.
Stay tuned for some more blogs from The Bloggers Weekend at Sonoma!
Monday, June 22, 2009
Friday -- Qualifying Day
I made it into the garages around 10am after picking up my credentials and saying hello to the bloggers in attendance. One of the first images I came upon was Patrick Carpentier having some fun with the NASCAR officials "weighing" himself at the second to last inspection site. I have a feeling he was not heavy enough to even register!
I popped over to say hi to the Miller Lite Brew Crew in garage stall #5 and stopped by the hauler before heading out and taking in the sights. Marcos Ambrose was a very popular interview this weekend, here he is taping with TNT. Per the request of a fellow Aussie fan, I did chant "Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi! Oi! Oi!" as he walked back to his hauler. Marcos laughed and said, "good show!"
Of course, another popular driver this weekend is the defending champion of this race, Kyle "Thorn" Busch who was driving a super slick 18 car with an M&M's Transformers paint scheme.
I watched most of practice from the main grandstand with fellow blogger, RA6AN and then headed down to listen in to some of the drivers in the top 12 did their media interviews. Much of the questions centered around the economic situation and the recent cutback by Chevy as well as the new double-file restart rule. It was funny to hear the varied opinions on how the restarts would go here at the road course, from "we are all professionals, it will be fine" to "it is going to be a disaster."
I then got back to the Brew Crew who were just heading out to inspection. Above you see our engine tuner, Darin, posing for a laugh after working like dogs making numerous repairs to the Blue Deuce after practice searching for the right setup and fixing the splitter after breaking some of the brackets on the rumble strips. They were the last car out of the garage and had to cut in line in order to get through inspection in time to get the car out on pit road for their third-place qualifying spot. Interestingly, I learned in order to cut ahead of other teams you had to ask each team for permission. I thought the NASCAR officials waved you up. So our car chief, Jeffery, was running all over the place getting permission to jump in line.
I resumed my un-official job as the "tool cart girl" because the entire team was needed to steer and stop the car as it rolled off the final inspection site and down the hill to pit road.
I *love* being on pit road before qualifying - all the drivers are out socializing and not nearly as tense as before the race. Cousin Carl was getting a lot of attention next to us because his car failed the height sticks and weight inspection site a few times and he was without his Aflac ride right up until the start of qualifying. He joked that he might have to run around the track to qualify! Here are some driver shots.
And of course, our usual game of "Where's Junior" as he tries his best to be stealthy to get to his No. 88 ride.
Kurt went out third and had a great lap going until he went in too hard into a turn and went just into the grass resulting in ultimately a 27th place qualifying run. I found it interesting the lack of respect the No. 2 team gets from the media. They are in 4th place in the points, the only Dodge in the top 12 and yet Kurt didn't even get interviewed after his qualifying effort, instead the media flocked to Carl Edwards who eventually ended up qualifying way worse in 34th. Not sure what this team has to do to impress and get some respect!!
Up next...Sonoma Race Day!
Saturday, June 20, 2009
A big CONGRATS goes out to Kurt Busch and the Miller Lite Racing team on their dominating win this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway! After all their struggles the past year adapting to the COT, I am very proud of these guys for their perseverance and hope they all enjoy the well-deserved spoils of Victory!
For a little tribute to the over-the-wall guys for their stellar work this weekend, I thought I would share with you their answers to this question:
“You may not believe it, but as far as jobs go, at one time in my life I…” (Courtesy of TRPR.com)
Ray Gallaghan, Jackman: “worked at Auto Bell Car Wash during high school and the first year of college. I was like their MVP guy in that I knew how to do anything there. Inside cleanup and vacuuming were my specialties.” (Ray --these skills will be a big hit with the ladies!)
Jay Hackney, Front Tire Changer: “worked in a sawmill. My dad knew how hard the work was and he wanted me to get off on the right foot while I was getting out of school and having to do things on my own. I did everything from cutting and hauling the dropped trees to all the work at the mill. Dad was right, that was the hardest work I can imagine doing…” (Jay puts his sawing and cutting skills to work on the BBQ)
Travis Johnson, Rear Tire Changer: “worked on a pheasant farm performing all the jobs there…yeah, even de-feathered and gutted them…I don’t talk about it much because my girlfriend doesn’t like it. I grew up on a dairy farm, so it really wasn’t all that strange to me…(Travis gave up on game meats and now snacks on Tasty Cakes)
Dave Littau, Front Tire Carrier: “was a paid dish-washer. It only took me two hours to figure out that kind of work was not for me. Ever since I was 13 or so, I’ve never done anything else except something that was automotive-related…” (Dave is the "senior" member on the pit crew and has gone from cleaning dishes to cleaning wheel wells)
Larry Robinett, Rear Tire Carrier: “was a ‘repo man’ back out in Texas, where I grew up. We had a nice little setup, with a truck that hid all our tools. We could pull up front of a car that we were after, drop our tailgate, make our hitch and get out of there in a hurry. I’m fortunate that I never got shot at, but there were a bunch of pretty hairy situations that I better not talk about…” (Oh my Larry! This is so you...enough said!)
Chris Williams, Gasman: “worked for a while waiting tables at a restaurant.” Steve (father) comments, “Chris was really good at it, too. He was working at Damon’s at the time. I brought a huge group and we sat at one of his tables. He came over and took our orders without writing a single thing down. Man, was I ever impressed that our orders were perfect down to the little special items a couple of us requested. Chris has always had a sharp mind and a great memory. Working at that job probably helped him more in that department than he’d ever admit…” (No garlic please, Chris and extra fries with that!)
Steve Williams, Catch Can: “worked for four years at the General Electric plant north of Cincinnati where we built jet engines. I was a union steward there when GE had the contract to build the F101 engines that powered the B-1B strategic bomber…” (Wow, the rear end of the Miller Lite Dodge must look pretty simple compared to a Bomber engine!)
All I can say knowing these guys is ...HOW FITTING!
(Thanks TR for this great inside story on the Brew Crew--italics and pictures are mine)
Finally here is the inside scoop from my time in the garages at Phoenix! I will get the Saturday Garage report out soon and also have a blog focusing on Kurt and the Brew Crew at Phoenix.
Friday - Practice and Quals
The teams arrived in Phoenix on Thursday and had the cars already through initial inspections so they would be ready to roll onto the track for the 10a first practice. I arrived at the track around 9a, grabbed my credentials and found the Brew Crew already hard at work.
(From left: Jeffrey (new car chief), Steve (rear-end mechanic), Billy (windshield/interior) and Darren (engine))
As Steve. the rear-end mechanic likes to say to me with a smile, "If you can't get there on time, get there when you can." As they toiled in the hot Arizona sun I made my rounds to say hello to the rest of the crew and others in the garages I have gotten to know. The first practice was a marathon 2 hours and started with a scare for the Brew Crew as the Miller Lite Dodge shut itself off just as Kurt pulled out for practice. The crew went to work immediately correcting the problem -- I think something with the ignition box and got the Blue Deuce out on the track.
While they were practicing I made my way over to the now famous Start and Parkers to snoop around. It was a sad sight to see these teams with little to no equipment, no visable hauler, one small tool box and most of the teams don't even have uniforms. Brandon Ash's crew was working in jeans and matching T-shirts. Here we have a shot of Blaney's #66 Prism Motorsports Toyota.
My sources tell me that owner Phil Parsons has no intention of finishing races, the crew does not even get paid (Blaney or who ever is driving does) and that the officials are not going after their bogus reasons for dropping out of the races because if they make the start and parkers tear down their cars then they would have to tear down the legit cars and they don't want to make the legit teams work that hard (or the officials don't want to work that hard).
I told my source that fans would be highly disappointed to hear that Blaney was okay with this and the resopnse was "well if Blaney was a better driver he wouldn't be in this situation, sorry truth hurts." OUCH! So since these crews aren't even getting paid I decided to stick with my job of pulling the tool box through inspections for the Brew Crew instead.
There was only a half an hour in between practice and Happy Hour and it seemed all the drivers were doing their media interviews during that time. Everywhere you looked --drivers drivers everywhere. Here is our very own Lee Spencer getting the scoop on Junior's new diet...
I was peeking in on Carl Edward's interview and wasn't really paying attention to whose hauler area I was standing in and out pops "THE SHOW" to grab an icy cold beverage...
Of course, Smoke had to blow off some fans asking for autographs on his way to talk to his teammate after practice to compare notes. He and Ryan talked the entire time in between practices and had fans drooling with delight.
And as SpeedBeagle so graciously pointed out -- The #2 hauler was right next to Gordon's hauler in the garages (remember that they line up according to points and the current Champ always gets the first spot) so I have lots of pictures of Jeffy poo...and yes, also a few of those uber-important, heavy little golden lugs too(!)
After Happy Hour the crews had a few hours to get the cars through inspection before qualifying. I asked them if anything was new on the car other than the longer studs and they said this antennae -- no one on the crew really knew what it was for but they thought it had something to do with the TV cameras.
Also new this year are the super cute new engine vent covers (ok I don't really know what that part of the car is called so feel free to chime in). NASCAR is making the teams provide them now and some of the teams are getting pretty creative!
The sleek Mobil 1 pegausus...
The cuddly Aarons Dream Machine pup...
and of course the obvious Miller Lite six-pack!
We pushed the Miller Lite Dodge out on pit road and lined up for qualifying. I just love this because I am "with the team" and can stay on pit road where only the broadcast media is allowed -- so I can get cool pictures like this...
and chat with the Penske teammates and get them to pose for a picture.
And snap this shot for our very own RA6AN...
Kurt laid down a great qualifying lap, picking up a lot of speed from practice. The crew was only expecting a top 15 starting spot. Must have been the pep talk by the Captain just before Kurt went out on the track that did the trick.
After qualifying was over, I did not stay for the Nationwide race but instead hit the road to visit with my family. I have much more to come in the next blog about race day including more info on those pesky longer studs, even more problems with the 88 team, and a poor baby bird! Stay tuned!
Saturday - Race Day!
The crews got to sleep in today -- good thing since a few of our guys had one too many margaritas the night before -- as the garages opened around noon today. My day started off on an autograph hunt since I did not have a chance on Friday to get the Kurt Busch hat autographed that HoosierRacer won for naming the backwards Victory Lap the "Unwind Lap." Pat Tryson was in the hauler so that was easy but Kurt was in his coach and was unlikely to come over until race time so TR (Kurt's PR guy) walked me over to the coach lot (my first time ever in there!) and we hung out for a bit watching the Alabama crimson and white scrimmage on TV until Kurt popped out and did the deed. Mission accomplished Hoosier!
TR is a HUGE 'Bama fan and was glued to the TV so he trusted me to "let myself out" of the coach area. Given that I was dressed in my usual Miller Lite garb I was hardly inconspicious so I did a brief run around the coach area but it was impossible to tell the coaches apart. Saw lots of drivers out and about but not the one I was really looking for...LOL
After safely tucking the autographed hat away I headed out to pit road to see the pit crew. They had flown in that morning and had the pit box all set up already. I caught up with the guys and asked them about the problematic longer studs.
There appears to be two issues. First, the reason some teams are having more problems than others is that they were cutting back on the threads. So rather than having 6 threads holding the lugs on some teams were down to two threads (not the Penske teams of course -- you might recall some other teams losing wheels last year...now you know why). The longer studs ensure that teams cannot skimp on the threads which is obviously a pretty dangerous modification. Neither Jay (Front Tire Changer) nor Travis (Rear Tire Changer) said the longer stud affected their rhythm much but some teams are having much slower stops now because of this issue.
The second issue has been more widely reported on, which is the glue problem. Teams are experimenting with different glues and how far in advance to glue the lugs onto the wheel wells before the race. If it is too sticky they it gets the lugs all gummy and clogs up the air guns but we are also seeing lots of lugs popping off when they slam the tires on. Penske has found something they like.
I then had to get back to my tool box pulling duties since the crew had the Blue Deuce ready to go through inspection for the final time. We were nearly the last car out which is unusual for this crew and were stuck waiting baking in the sun for nearly an hour and half! During that time the future of Penske Racing popped by...
Yup, thats "lil Gator" -- Justin Algier, Penske's NW driver with Billy whose job it really is to pull the toolbox! I was also able to get to know Dave Winston, the new team engineer much better while we waited. He used to work on Biffle's team when Kurt was still at Roush and then moved to Red Bull Racing before coming to Penske. He has clearly made a huge difference and is one of the main reasons the team has figured out how to get that COT to turn better for Kurt.
We had a "camber issue" on our inital pass through the height/weight inspection site and had to circle back around after fixing it which put us nearly last pushing out onto the grid...nearly last...we cleared the final inspection area that measures the wheel base and checks to see how offset the chassis and suspension are and who is stuck parked next to the final inspection spot? The 88 team looking glum...guilty?
We pushed the car out all they way up to the third starting spot on pit road -- I tell you that is a good workout!
I headed back to the hauler to grab a quick bite to eat as driver introductions were only about 10 mins away. As I was stuffing down some steak and baked potatoes off the grill out came the Gordon family! (Personally I really like her hair short...)
On my way back out to the track I passed by the final inspection site and sure enough, the 88 was still on the template and Tony Eury Jr was having a heated discussion with several officials.
I asked the crew, "Isn't that kind of an odd inspection site to get stuck at?" and they all agreed it was very odd. The best they could guess was maybe the car was too wide or the suspension was offset too much. By the looks of the conversation Tony Eury Jr. was having I thought Junior might not ever make it out on the track.
Driver introductions were already in progress and I managed to get out to our pit box in time to get some good pictures. Of course you all know it is tradition for me to have at least one funny photo of a driver in a compromising position so here it is...Junior's crotch shot!
And then comes another favorite part of mine...lining up with the crew for the prayer and anthem...
Just before the start of the race, the Ray (Jack man) was sweeping our pit stall and this adorable tiny baby bird (morning dove?) haphazardly flew into our pit. The tiny thing was clearly trying to learn how to fly and RAY swept him out of our pit and he ended up inside the outer pit wall! The HORROR!!
He walked along the wall until I couldn't see him anymore and God only knows what happened to him after the first round of pit stops. That poor bird!
Something I had not seen before...we had an Official in Training in our pit stall for the night. He is the one taking notes. He worked our pit while the veteran official supervised. I am sure it takes a while to learn, they keep track of everything the team is doing from the pit stops themselves to every air pressure change in the tires.
I staked out a great spot right up against the pit wall in the opening next to our pit stall. Matt Yocum was next to me the whole night and the Fox cameras were shooting our pit stall just over my shoulder. Perhaps I should have pulled a "Digger" and popped up in front of them!
We had stellar pit stops most of the night...
and had a happy crew as a result...
Course we all know who won...
As Mark drove down the pit road to Victory Lane, I headed down pit road to the post race interviews. Many of you saw me on TV walking behind Kurt during his interview..
And sneeking up to take Jimmie's picture as well. (Really I think the beard looks fantastic on him..)
I followed Kurt to the media center for his post race print media interviews and on the way he made a detour to Victory Lane to congradulate Mark. Of course, I did not hesitate to follow him right in!
Then he settled in next to his best bud for more interviews...
And finally, I headed back out to the garages where the Brew Crew was busy tearing down the #2 for the officials. They had several hours of work left before flying out making it a very long two days but two very good ones at least!
Thats it - I'll have another blog up more focused on Kurt and the Miller Lite team in a few days...Kurt was in rare form this weekend and funny as heck so I'll share some of those stories next time!