I will just come right out and say it: I had never been to a NASCAR race until the Good Sam 500 and Axalta 200 last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. That’s right, my first real life exposure to the sport was as part of the working media.
But since my passion is motorsports, I couldn’t pass the opportunity to cover a NASCAR racing weekend.
My first day was chaos. The second challenged my stamina.
I kept asking myself, “What I am taking away from this experience?”
To put it simply, a lot. Here are four things I learned:
Safety is always the No. 1 priority
The ground shakes. You can’t even hear your own thoughts, it’s dangerous, thrilling, and most of all, exciting. Its pure chaos in the most organized fashion and while I thrive on it, let me be clear that it’s not a situation or an event to ever be taken lightly.
Regardless if is a local track event, the drag strip between a pair of 10-second cars, or taking on Formula Drift or NASCAR, while you need to move around and capture different angles and get multiple perspectives for your readers, you also always need to be aware of your surroundings. You don’t ever want to turn your back on oncoming cars or do something stupid to get what you anticipate to be “the shot.” The risk outweighs the reward.
For an endurance race, it’s all about speed
Sunday, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick exchanged hits in a side-by side overtime battle as Harvick edged forward and won the Good Sam 500 by roughly four inches.
It was the closest finish PIR has ever produced.
The finish also illustrates that every tenth of a second is precious, even in a race where drivers are doing 500 miles. Anything the driver or team can do to be faster, happens. This includes waxing the car before the race to ensure the air flow isn’t restricted and teamwork and coordination in the pits to get the car in and out as fast as possible.
Yet for the teams, this is just another day at work, and because time is everything they don’t care who they run over as long as they get to where they need to be when they need to be there. And don’t forget, just being late returning tires can result in fines.
NASCAR can be boring to the untrained eye
At first glance, the cars are just going around an oval hundreds of times and it can get old. But the excitement is in the details and in the experience. The cars are loud. Fans get rowdy. But with 40 cars on the track, something is always happening, you just need to look for it.
It may not be as crazy as a full on crash, but tire blowouts are common, drivers bumping into one another, and cars breaking down break up the monotony.
Have someone or something to root for
People go to NASCAR races for many different reasons. Some are just car guys who can appreciate a race car, while others are raised to like it, and then there are some who love it for the crashes.
Whatever your motivation, having someone or something to root for makes all the difference.
Over the weekend I met someone who worked with one of the teams. They explained all sorts of different elements within the sport and told me about their experiences traveling with the cars and going to the different tracks across the country.
After making that connection I instantly had someone to root for and that completely changed the experience for me. I wasn’t just covering the race for work anymore, I had a much more personal reason to pay attention and felt more connected to the event and experience.
Photography by Hans Marquez