"I don't believe you can make tough decisions unless you can answer tough questions" Tim Russert
Oh The Pits. Not that hairy patch under each of your arms, but the place in which stock cars visit to maintain their vehicle. The pits at Richmond International Raceway are just one of the numerous places that I spent my time on race weekend.
How did it happen? It all began with an idea. Several months ago, I had sent an email to RIR asking them if they would ever allow a student reporter to come to the raceway and conduct interviews with various individuals involved with the racing process. After I pitched the idea, I really didn’t think much of it, but to my good fortune RIR had followed up on the idea, pitched it to NASCAR, and I was awarded the opportunity.
On the last weekend of April, Kelly Courtney, Michael Zapalowicz, Professor Micheal McAlexander, and I hit the road to the raceway to function as a student production crew and reporting team. When we arrived at the .75-mile short track we received our credentials and were taken into the infield to the media center station. The infield is the inside area of the track where the driver’s haulers, cars, and teams are located.
NASCAR really went above and beyond for us throughout the course of the weekend. On Friday, after we arrived we were escorted around the track and then given our free reign to cover any story that we wanted to. At first we hung out in the media center for a few press conferences. The first conference was with five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson. The second conference was with Matt Kenseth, and the others included Dale Earnhardt Jr., Danica Patrick, and Elliott Sadler.
As Friday progressed, our team worked hard as I interviewed NASCAR Nationwide Series Driver Chase Miller, Sargent’s at the US Army Expo in the midway, and finally 11-Time X-Games Champion Travis Pastrana on the night of his NASCAR Nationwide Series Debut. Right before our crew met with Pastrana ESPN conducted a live interview with Pastrana. Seeing the live interview take place was extremely interesting for us because it provided us with a better sense of what we need to work on for our future careers in the industry.
On Saturday when we thought it couldn’t get any better, it did. In the morning Kelly, Mike, and I decided to construct a behind the scenes look at what the infield at Richmond International Raceway looks like before the drivers of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series arrive. I did reports at numerous areas around the infield while Mike and Kelly recorded footage of all of the interesting things that are located in the area.
Later in the day we attended the “Tweet Up,” which is an event that was started by SBNation Journalist Jeff Gluck to invite fans that have a twitter account to come to a particular location at the track to meet a special guest driver. At the tweet up we conducted interviews with fans as well as Mike Calinoff, Matt Kenseth’s spotter, and Ernie Irvan a former NASCAR driver who was forced to retire from racing due to a life-threatening injury. We were also able to speak with ESPN’s Marty Smith about his career and the advice that he would give aspiring journalists.
During the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race Mike and Kelly were able to go to a tower located on turn one and obtain cool footage of the whole track. “The tower was definitely my favorite part,” said Kelly. I was given the opportunity to hang out in the press box, which was also really interesting. Following the race we sat in on the final press conferences which involved team owner Joe Gibbs, Capital City Champion Kyle Busch, runner up Dale Earnhardt Jr., and third place finisher Tony Stewart.
Our experience at Richmond International Raceway was beyond anything that I could have ever imagined. I was a NASCAR fan prior to the event and now I have determined that my overall goal is to one day obtain a journalism job that concentrates on the sport specifically. As for Mike, Kelly, and Micheal, they have converted into fans of the fast-paced sport. Mike even said, “If I had the opportunity to do that every weekend, I would.”