(This is part 2 of our two part annual Sonoma “Race-cation” post! Check out Part 1: Friday & Saturday here— Amy)
Sunday would prove to be one of our busiest and most interesting race days that we have experienced to date. Thanks to NASCAR we had earned a VIP race experience and what an experience it was.
Our race day started as another bright and even earlier day. We wanted to be absolutely certain we were at Sonoma Raceway in plenty of time so we left quite early knowing that highway 37 towards Sonoma is two lane for much of it (one in each direction) and can back up quite quickly and we wanting to leave nothing to chance. Because we left so early we encountered virtually no traffic except the usual getting into the raceway traffic so by the time we were parked and waiting for the shuttle to the paddock/media center we realized we were there well before we needed to be. So what do an early Misty and Amy do at a race track early? They take a quick walk down the length of the garage and then out to the area behind the pit stalls before they are too crowded.
After our little stroll we met up with our NASCAR liaison and were escorted to the open air drivers meeting in turn 11. Literally they had folding chairs and a red carpet set up for the drivers meeting right in the middle of the turn. The area that sat the drivers and special guests was fenced off and fans were allowed up to the fencing to watch the drivers meeting. We were escorted into the meeting right down the red carpet and sat in the very back. It was awesome to watch the drivers and crew chiefs arrive and take their places. I was surprised how many fans were gathered around the fence to watch the drivers meeting. During the actual meeting VIP sponsors and other dignitaries were announced and thanked. Then there was a short video presentation that included all the track safety information like the areas that drivers can quickly exit the track should they need to, where emergency vehicles would enter the track, pit road speeds, what local caution flags would look like (that’s a road course thing if you aren’t familiar with a local caution flag) and the like. It was exactly the way you would expect a drivers meeting to be like. It concluded with a prayer and times for chapel for the drivers.
After everyone filed out of the drivers meeting, Misty and I were escorted back to the garage area and then given a personal tour of the garage. It was quite fascinating and I actually learned a lot. Here are three of my favorite little tidbits for your pleasure:
1. The teams are given a set amount of tires for each race by Goodyear and MUST return them ALL before they can leave the track. The tires all have RF tags and Goodyear has a record of who has which tires and the haulers aren’t allowed to leave after the race until the tires have been returned.
2. The teams work to improve not just driver ergonomics but team kinesiology. Each job in the garage has it’s own toolbox, each toolbox is specially laid out so that the tools are in the most optimum position for usage and being grabbed at a moments notice and the action of grabbing the tool can often be done without a need by the crew member to even really look at the box. I have always said that pit stops are kind of like watching a ballet of sorts. It really is orchestrated down to the level of how hundredths of a second can be gained by an over-the-wall crew member having their foot in one position versus another when jumping off the wall to service the car- it is THAT detailed. It’s all about maximum efficiency of movement for maximum time saved doing the task. I guess I kind of knew this somewhat already- but hearing it was fascinating!
3. Every race fan is familiar with the fact that race teams each have a hauler that they use to haul a cars (a primary and a backup), tools and other gear. But did you know that NASCAR itself brings three of their own haulers- each with a specific use? One hauler is a radio control center of sorts for the NASCAR officials. It also has a meeting room in it that the officials use for pre-race meetings. A second hauler contains mobile offices for NASCAR senior leadership. This hauler also has a conference room that drivers and crew members are invited to from time-to-time (this is the “bad boy” trailer as Misty called it). The third hauler is just a hauler in every sense of the word and is used to transport the cars (and sometimes just parts, like engines or suspension pieces and the like) that are pulled for inspection after each race to the NASCAR Research and Development center back in North Carolina.
After our tour we were then escorted to the backstage area of driver introductions. We got to watch all the drivers arrive and mill around backstage and talk to each other and broadcast media. Another fun fact for you: There is someone back stage whose job it is to make sure that the drivers are all there on time (he has a little attendance sheet!) and make sure all the drivers line up in time and in the right order for their introduction.
You might think that is where our fun filled race morning would end right? We did. But we were then escorted up the starting grid. That was an experience in itself. There are all the cars lined up on the left of us and I am just wanting to peek at the cars (and by now the drivers and crew were starting to assemble at the cars along with special guests of the respective teams) and to the right of us are the Toyota Tundras they used in driver intros dropping the drivers off after their lap around Sonoma. It was crazy busy and honestly I was worried I would be in the way of the drivers in the parade lap trucks! But we eventually made our way up to the very front of the grid and stood with the grand marshal and the Toyota Highlander pace SUV during pre-race ceremonies. After which we quickly walked back down pit road towards the media center as the officials and security were clearing pit road. It is amazing to me how quickly this happens considering how many people are on pit road for pre-race ceremonies.
You all probably know by now how the race went. It was a great experience.
We even stuck around for a couple of the post race media sessions.
There are so many more pictures for you to enjoy and if you have been a reader for awhile you know I am a little bit of a photography geek at heart so I will do a photo geek post next week after I get some photo albums organized and get Misty’s pictures to include (she got some really good ones)! I promise it will be less wordy and more photo-filled!
*Disclosure: This post has been submitted to a NASCAR sponsored program.
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