Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sunday Garage Report - Daytona 500!

Woot!  Sunday, SUNDAY, Sunday…Race day and everyone was ready to see the best drivers in the world strut their stuff but first the North Turn Crew had some NASCAR 101 classes with me in the Fanzone. 

We headed in to Daytona’s infield and their spiffy area for fans to see in the garages through windows in each garage stall and from on top the garages for a birds eye view of the drivers, crews and the rest of the motley fools wandering around in the Cup garage.   

The NTC started out at Kurt’s window – mostly because it was close and open! – and got a long lecture introducing them to the crew guys and their jobs, the car and what they were doing to prep the car for inspection and the race.   By the time I turned around and finished talking the 7 of us had turned into about 30 people!   I really have to try to get paid for this someday…LOL

We then headed up top of the garages hoping to catch some drivers but we were on the wrong side for the drivers meeting.  We still spotted a few as well as some owners and learned all about the inspection stations.    We did manage to spot our ole buddy Luke, who is now the shock specialist on the #56 team.   As is custom for women on the garage roof I just had to yell out to him that I wanted to have his baby – I cannot tell you how many times I heard women yelling this to drivers over the week, that and “you suck XXX” – Luke laughed and I am pretty sure gestured for me to kiss his arse…!

After getting the NTC some free water from the hauler (Ellie saved her bottle even – now that is a rabid fan!) we hoped to get a tour of the brand spanking new, million dollar #22 pit box.   Problem was the Fanzone pass didn’t allow you on pit road.   To continue the magic of the weekend for the NTC, Kurt’s pit just happened to be the one right next to the cut through the fans took to get to the infield grass and the concerts.   So I told them to follow me like they belonged there and I’d get them in and sure enough we did it!   
Our new pit box is pretty swank including stadium seating for all the guests of the race team and even nicer flat screen TV’s and computers along with satellite dish and high end electronics.  The guys used to have the old pit box up in about a half an hour and this one took about 3 hours the first couple times to put it up and they had to help the #2 crew with theirs!    NASCAR is getting pretty high tech…

After the tour of the pit box the NTC headed out to the infield where we came upon Cupcake’s winning car from last year.  Gotta love year old champagne and confetti!
We headed over to the track itself and signed the start finish line – I am surprised the white checks could even be seen with all the sharpie signatures all over it.   Afterward we headed over to where I assumed the drivers would be coming out – the stage – to wait for driver intros as we jammed to Brad Paisley.   Of course, the drivers did NOT come across the stage which I thought was ridiculous!  Why even have it up then?  We could barely see them through the throng on the grass as they walked down the walkway to the cars.   The only major disappointment we encountered.    My NTC headed up to our grandstand seats and I decided (with their insistence) that I just couldn’t pass up watching the race from the pits, especially given how well Kurt had been running.  Could you imagine me stuck in the stands watching that finish?  I would have died if he had won…

The green flag dropped, Kurt grabbed the lead and kept it until the famed silent #3 lap.  Here is a shot from my view, none of the crews participated that I could see but it was an impressive sight to look up at the grandstands to see the salute.  
Our first stop for tires was a hot mess but not for the reasons we were prepared for – Kurt came in too hot to the pit and slid through the pit box.   In the picture below you might be able to make out the pit road sign being broken off and flying through the air and the guys trying to save the air gun hose.   Because Kurt stalled the car while backing it up, some fuel ended up in the tailpipes and when Kurt restarted the car it produced a giant blow torch and was right when our new rear tire changer was just getting to work.   Luckily he and Larry, our rear tire carrier, managed to avoid being toasted and were both fine.  Thankfully the stop was under yellow and we had our dancing partner with us on pit road anyway (the #78).  
Speaking of the pit stops – the Double Deuce ran into trouble later in the race with a hole in the grill that needed patching.  We started with some sticky tape (the first piece they pulled off got stuck to the lamppost in our pit stall and is probably still there) to cover it and that is all we would usually use but because of the new drafting style Kurt was yelling on the radio about how we were going to get stuck to the #78 and needed something slicker on there. 
So the guys pop riveted a piece of aluminum on there so Kurt could continue to slide the bumper.   He noted later in the race that his bumper was really chewing up who ever he was drafting with as a result but that was about all the guys had to work with. 

We had one more problem later in the race when we cut a tire – luckily Addington and Kurt were all over coming right into the pit and getting it changed so it didn’t cause any damage to the body.   Our pit crew was one of the only ones to fix things and keep their driver in the running…yet I noticed today they aren’t even an option for the best pit crew voting on FOX.   Boo!  

In keeping with tradition on this blog I had to get a picture of lunch in the pits.  Since we lost Travis who usually posed for me I had to sneak a shot of Jeffrey, our car chief, snacking on some grapes while he sat on the pit wall.  The rest of the menu included beef jerky and Pringles.  I cannot believe these guys can perform they way they do fueled by junk food!
Our pit was really a good spot this weekend for men in uniform.  We had the true young gun pilots of the Thunderbirds hanging out most of the race.   They were so impressed with the racing, I kinda found that funny given they fly just as close together as the drivers race and go about 10x faster!   They were certainly fun to look at though! 

While Dave, our front tire carrier, tried cozying up to the officials, Kurt and our spotter Chris, aka “The Voice of Victory” were trying to find a dancing partner in the final laps.
Everyone Kurt had worked with had wrecked by the final laps of the race and Chris was searching for a partner when over the radio came a familiar voice…Kyle said, “hey bro I heard you need a drafting partner…I’ll push you.”    There was a pause and the crew waited for Kurt’s reply which was “I guess we still share the same mother…if you get me to the checkers I’ll buy you an ice cream”  Crack up!   They then strategized and Kurt asked Kyle, “not getting ahead of ourselves but what are you going to do in turn 4?”   Kyle replied something along the lines of “we’ll deal with it when it happens…”  aka I’ll pass ya or wreck ya!   Roger then got on the radio and said, “if you boys behave I’ll take you both to ice cream!”    We never found out because Kyle cut a tire in the first GWC and we got stuck in the final round with “he is Juan!”    When Kurt found out who Chris had hooked him up with his first response was “where is the #1?”   Not thrilled to say the least.

At this point I was nearly peeing my pants because everyone in our pit knew if Kurt had a pusher stay on his bumper we were going 3 for 3.  Juan Pablo either couldn’t keep up with the Penske powerhouse or got sucked off the car by the others passing or just isn’t as talented as people think…whatever, our chances for the win faded when Juan fell back just a few feet.   Kurt was VERY hard on himself for not jumping in front of Edwards but God knows with the #99 record at restrictor plate wrecking (oops I mean racing) I wouldn’t have done it either.     Kurt did go to Victory Lane to congratulate Trevor Bayne with the sting of knowing another 500 was within his grasp.   He’ll get it and I hope to be there!

Congrats to the rookie! 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Saturday Garage Report - Daytona

Saturday was the first day I had my North Turn Crew (NTC) in force.   We got to the track and the rookies were starting to “amp up!”    We secured scanners and headed into the merchandise/sponsor circus.    On the way we passed the often shown statue of Dale Earnhardt Sr and paused to remember #3.  

One of the first sponsor attractions we came upon was the Chevy display and managed to time it just right to find Jimmie Johnson on stage to the delight of our new Jimmie fans.  While they watched Superman (in his Ed Hardy shoe-stringless hipster tennis shoes) Bob suggested we scope out where to get them some autographs…good thing he was thinking!    I plopped DJ and Tim in what I thought was a good spot and a few minutes later they both had secured the autograph of the 5x Champ.  (Notice DJ’s jaw dropping look of astonishment!  LOL)
Big Daddy Gordon was next up on stage so while they were chasing down JJ I staked out a better spot so the two Jeffy G fans could possibly go 2 fer 2.  Tim had to lay out to get it but he managed to secure another impossible to get autograph in less than 20 minutes!   Tim immediately informed me he had “the fever”…
We then went to all the merchandise haulers and got everyone their driver swag for the race and collected our freebee’s along the way…cereal, tums, shampoo, tornado’s samples, stickers & tattoos.  Of course Bob & I couldn't pass up the opportunity to pose with our favorite rodent...NOT!

We shopped til we dropped and missed most of the action early in Happy Hour but managed to catch the last 30 min of practice in seats right along the fence line in turn four.   The look on their faces when the first twosome flew by and rattled the stands was priceless.   At track level the cars really do go so fast you cannot turn your head in time to follow them – they didn’t believe me. 

Before the Natiowide race I popped into the garage to see if the guys were happy with our practice and the car – we were switching out brakes but otherwise we were good to go on Sunday.  I headed back out to our grandstand seats once the race started – how cool it was to have the cars roaring over my head as I crossed under the track through the tunnel.    

It was a bit shocking to me to see the fans go nuts when Danica rocketed up to the front of the pack.  It was clear she was fairly comfortable being pushed but Jr worked with her quite a bit mid-race on the racing line but only had her on his bumper for ¾ of a lap before she couldn’t keep up.   Not a good day for the Penske – related drivers - Bad Brad returned to his wrecking ways, Sliding Sam (ah dreamboat!) picked up where he left off and poor Lil Gator had several hard wrecks in his new ride.  I thought for sure JuuuuunnnnnnYER would pull off the win for me but the (supposedly 15# lighter) fat man still managed to block the best of the rest.
The only Smoke pic I got all week!  He really is skinnier...
We trudged down the stands with great anticipation of the racing action we would see tomorrow.  The NTC loved the scanners and were getting a feel for the personalities and talent out on the track.   We ended the day with another dinner, this time Mexican, with our favorite official and got more great stories from him and some of the history of NASCAR's best "innovators."    

We all hit the pillow early with SUNDAY, Sunday, SUNDAY looming in just a few hours...

Friday Garage Report - Daytona

Friday brought another day of me alone in the garages while my NTC relaxed before the big weekend at the pool, hot tub, and beach and waited on Bob to arrive.   While Friday was a little slow out on the track with most teams (including ours) choosing to skip one or both practices, it was not a slow day for Kurt.    He was in uniform and doing appearances from 8:45 am until the minute before the garaged closed at 4 pm – while most of the other drivers were well out of there by 2 pm.  

One of the coolest appearances was when several of the HOF nominees showed up at the hauler for a photo opportunity with Kurt.    Can you name them?  (Mostly I am asking you this b/c I an only name 3 of the 4!  Ooh bad fan!!)

It was interesting to listen in on them asking Kurt to describe the “new” way of drafting on the track and how Kurt described the track as “almost boring” because the surface is so smooth so you no longer have to “wheel it” as much or worry about getting out of shape and instead focus so much more on partnering up.   I dunno about you guys but it seems far from boring out there to me.

Kurt also was visited by one the rep of his new sponsor TAG Heuer..  You may have seen Kurt’s new line of sunglasses – well TAG Heuer brought a pair for every single one of the guys on the crew.   They were pretty stoked!   They also got super swank TAG Heuer watches from Kurt for Christmas this past year.   Here is Stretch modeling for me!
For some of you super astute Kurt fans – you may have noticed in Victory Lane on Thursday Kurt was not wearing his new shades.  That’s because he “lost” them…he apparently left them in his rental car unknowingly and a couple of the guys took his car out Wed night and when they got back the gate to the drivers lot was locked so they parked the rental right outside.   Well of course the car got towed!   Craig,the coach driver, found the rental and unbelievably Kurt’s red sunglasses were still in there.

The two new Ms. Sprint Cup ladies were also hanging about and asked me if I could take a picture of them with the “newest driver on twitter” (Be sure to follow @KurtBusch22 and @22carPR).  Of course I was happy to do it and get a picture with them myself in return.  

Man I wish I had those sunglasses I lost running to Victory Lane!  The squinting and the sun burn starts here!

Kurt was also did appearances for the Paralyzed Veterans of America and has taken this charity on as one of his focuses again this year as well as multiple TV, radio and print media interviews.   A few of you caught me in the background when Kurt was being interviewed by Dick Bergeren on SPEED. 
I did pass along the message that Kurt Busch Nation would *really* like to get their hands on the NHRA Pro Stock die cast and Kurt said he would be making that happen.   I also hear that Kurt would be updated this week – apparently both Kurt and Penske’s website had some problems getting updated from the company hosting them and now should be done. 

The crew was endlessly working on the car and towards the end of the day there were only a few loyal fans left in the Fanzone area looking in through the windows.  To prove we have the coolest crew in the sport – Dave Winston, our head engineer, spotted two little girls and their dad watching and he went out of the garage around to the window and got them and brought them into the garage to take pictures by the car.   They were so over the moon and are now three more #22 team fans for life.   Dave will henceforth be known as the “Dream Maker”…LOL Since the entire crew doesn’t have a nickname anymore (Oilslicks?  Shellraisers?) I am making it my mission to come up with individual names for each!
L to R - Steve-O (rear end mechanic) Chris (Steve-O's son & our gas man), Addington and the Dream Maker!
Kurt and TR came running back to the garage with seconds to spare before it closed at 4pm and I hooked up with TR to finally pay him back with dinner for all the love he gives me.   He took me on a tour of Daytona Beach showing me all the highlights and where history was made.  I saw where Rusty & Dale Sr. kept their yachts and where Mr. Penske parked his when he was in town.   He showed me many of the driver condo’s and the France family compound as well as many of their offices.  TR then took me by the bar where the points system was first hammered out on a napkin and then the hotel where they finalized it.  I saw the airplane hanger where FOXsports did all the photo shoots for the season and the hospital were Dale Sr. was taken.   History and stories too much to recount.

Another funny story – we had to head back to TR’s hotel because just like the crew his official Penske/Pennzoil/Shell shirts were not all in yet and he was expecting a box of them that day.   TR was out of shirts and asked if I would be willing to iron a few of them for him!   I was cracking up and happy to do it since I need to pay TR back anyway I can but I am not much of a domestic girl it took me almost 30 min to do two shirts! LOL  I told TR to tweet about it but he said his wife would kill him for asking me to do this!   I think he looked pretty wrinkle free on Saturday and Sunday.   Sadly I have no pictures of this....

TR and I headed out for dinner and beers and got caught up on all kinds of good stuff.  There were plenty of racing personalities at the restaurant including Hollywood Hammond who stopped by to say hello.   We headed back to the hotel bar to finish watching the truck race with some of the #22 crew who were hanging out there and rooted on Parker Klingerman.   Another late but fun night for me – thank goodness I run on adrenaline at the races!

Thursday Garage Report – Daytona

Let me begin by saying sorry for slacking on getting the blogs up so late.  Once you read the non stop fun to be had you’ll understand why…

First, let me give you a little background info…my amazing trip to Speedweeks was born out of a conversation about bucket lists between my Uncle and his friends who happen to have a condo in Ponce Inlet, just south of Daytona Beach.  None of them had ever attended a NASCAR event and going to the 500 came up.  My Uncle said if they wanted to get a real NASCAR experience they should include me and told them of my exploits.  The invitation shortly followed (Thank You Uncle Frank, Terry and Ellie!!) and we eventually became the “North Turn Crew” named after the restaurant just up the road on the beach where NASCAR used to race.   I was dubbed the “crew chief” and my crew consisted of my Uncle Frank (rookie rooting for #39), Terry & Ellie (rookies rooting for #48), Tim (rookie rooting for #24), DJ (young gun rooting for #24) & Bob (who we all know as Dwindy1 rooting for #18 of course!).

Here we have L to R DJ, Tim, Terry, Ellie Frank and Bob!
For more exploits of the North Turn Crew (NTC) at Daytona see Dwindy1’s blog here:

On Thursday, most of the NTC were still traveling in for the race so I spent the day at the track in the garages.   After picking up my credentials I headed to the infield of the famed raceway.   I was shocked to find the race track sitting on the main drag with shopping and restaurants right across the street.   Every other track I’ve been too it’s a good long ride out of town to get there.   Not the World Center of Racing – it is the town.

After hoofing it to the garage area, I was welcomed by our favorite crew all decked out in their new colors and sponsor.   It sure was odd to see them in yellow and red but worse was seeing the Miller Lite guys walking around and waving at them and them looking back at me like I was crazy (I only know a few of those guys)!    I had to get new pictures of everything and found out our mechanics don’t even have their official uniforms yet.   I wore my Penske Racing t-shirt and was about to head out to the merchandise hauler to gear up but before I could TR (Kurt’s fabulous PR guy) dropped some sa-weet swag in my lap so I was good to go in our new colors.

After winning the Bud Shootout, Kurt was probably the most popular interview in the garage and he had more appearances than any other driver through the weekend.  I couldn’t keep up so instead spent time asking about the changes to the car and meeting the new guys on our crew.   Sadly, we lost hauler drivers, Cindy and Stump, to our old buddies Pat Tryson and Luke Cunnington over on #56 team.  They are very happy in their new racing family and we now have George and Greg, who drove the #77 hauler teaming up to get the Pennzoil Dodges to the track.  They told me the #22 hauler is really the #2 from last year and the #2 hauler is the #77 from last year because the #12 hauler was the oldest.    Lots of repainting going on in the off-season at Penske.   

We retained our entire crew of mechanics but added another team engineer.  He was not at the track by the time I arrived and had already been sent home to work on the cars for the next 5 races as Dave Winston had the engineering at the track well in hand.  Kurt also has a new coach driver, Craig who has been around the sport for many years. We did have a few changes on the pit crew – we lost Travis as the rear tire changer and now have Jonathan Billy coming from the #29 team.   We also have Paul who was in training to be a gas man for the #77 who moved over to work behind the wall passing and catching the new larger gas cans during pit stops.   

Speaking of the gas cans…did you know they weigh 90#?  Yikes!  No wonder our guys dealing with them are huge.   Chris, our gas man, said Penske is working hard on improving the flow out of the cans and doing a ton of research on them to get them as efficient as possible.   I am not so sure about the gas being environmentally friendly though – gas seemed to be spouting out of the gas cap area on every car in the garage and most of the garage stalls had puddles of gas behind them.
I decided to watch the duels from on top the hauler for a better view of the racing action which I must say was super.     Just as Duel 1 started up the ladder comes a Miller Lite pit crew member.  I freaked out asking “why the heck aren’t you pitting the car?” and he had to remind me that we were no longer Miller Lite (again!).  Duh!   

As you know, Kurt was driving the wheels off the Pennzoil Dodge and came sweeping off turn 4 with me screaming like a banshee jumping up and down with Terry LaBonte on the hauler next to us laughing at me.   I have never EVER gotten off the top of the hauler faster (those steps down are really steep!) and ran up pit road to Victory Lane.   I was going so fast my sunglasses flew off and I made it just in time to follow a familiar fire suit in … and for once I didn’t confuse Brad with Kurt!  (Only because I knew Kurt was in the car! LOL)  
I was SO excited to be there finally and was kinda happy not to get my new shirt drenched in Gatorade (since it was our 500 car we didn’t want it to get all sticky) but Kurt was not so lucky…
I was such a dork I had Billy (our interiors mechanic) take my picture while up on stage and then had Ms. Spring Cup take this one…
I sent these pictures to my parents and later they asked why I sent them…(HUH?) well didn’t recognize ME in red and yellow and in a hat (my patented visor is not available until Vegas!)   In fact, it took a few days for some of the officials who I know to recognize me since my “inverted bob” hairdo was hidden by my Pennzoil hat.  

I got to participate in the hat dance and now have an awesome new hat collection.  My favorite is the black Gatorade Victory Lane hat that Kurt was kind enough to autograph for me later…sa-weet!    I watched Kurt on SPEED being interviewed after the race and had to chuckle that they were sponsored by Sunoco.  

Time out for a funny story…because Sunoco is the official fuel of NASCAR, Pennzoil/Shell has to focus on marketing the oil part of their business and minimize the gas part.  You all are familiar with the giant “Pennzoil” on the hood of the car and may have noticed the seashell –otherwise known as a Pecten– is considerably smaller.   Well, apparently, Kurt’s uniform has also been redesigned several times to make Sunoco “happy” and Kurt noted the other day “Hey my pecten is so small!” and Addington told him “that sounds like a personal problem to me.”   Now that is funny.   Pecten is also the name of the chassis that won the Budweiser Shootout.

Kurt was kind enough to pose with me by the hauler after his Duels win while the crew got to work changing engines.     
There were several Penske powerhouses to choose from and the crew put me to work.  They asked me to block the engines from view and stop folks in the garage from taking pictures while they made the swap…like I am wide enough to block an engine but I did my best…and I got this “Digger” shot of Stretch.                  
Soon after Mr. Penske himself came down to congratulate the entire team.  He and the rest of the Penske brass were super happy to start the season off “2 fer 2.”   Mr. Penske was (rightfully) very proud of our spotter – Chris Osborne – who proved to be one of if not the best out there this weekend.    I have now dubbed him “The Voice of Victory” – feel free to use it!   =)
Thursday ended with me and our favorite official who works the shocks inspection station meeting up with the NTC for dinner.   We ate at Caribbean Jacks which happens to be on property owned by the France family and right next door to Brian France’s private yacht club.  Wow. Spoiled Rotten.    The NTC were stoked to pick his brain and learn about the sport from a “professional.”  

All in all an unforgettable first day at Daytona I must say…

One last picture - here is one of the official photo's from Victory Lane...see if you can find me! LOL