NASCAR’s Auto Club 500 at
Matt Kenseth & last year’s NEXTEL CUP SERIES Champion – Tony Stewart
By now NASCAR enthusiasts probably know the
results of the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway. If not, here they are: Matt
Kenseth won the race in his #17 DeWalt Power Tools Ford, driving one of the five
different Ford Fusions campaigned by Jack Roush Racing. There were two
significant, late race engine failures: in Tony Stewart’s #20 Home Depot Chevy
and long-time (168 laps) race leader Greg Biffle’s #16 National Guard/Jackson
Rather than rehash yesterday’s news with an
abbreviated play-by-play, ending with the results, I am going to present a
different take on the race. We’ll take a look at some of the people who made
this day so interesting.
The author takes a break
Loaded up like a pack mule with my camera
equipment (but with less heavy stuff than I burdened myself with last year), my
first stop was at the NASCAR garage area. On the way I noticed that California
Speedway has a new logo this year. It was on the huge water tank, which is
visible from almost everywhere.
Adding fluids and scuffing tires
The race teams were making final preparations
to their cars in advance of the race: adding fuel; making tweaks under the hood;
doing who knows what underneath; climbing in and out; and taking wheels, tires
and gas cans back and forth; and so on.
NASCAR officials were present, too, especially
at the area where cars were being carefully checked for compliance with the
official racecar templates.
Start/Finish line with fan signatures
Fans and journalists were taking pictures
everywhere. Patience was the order of the day. I knew that they would take their
pictures and then move on, leaving me ample opportunities to take mine.
At the Media
Center I picked up a Victory Lane sticker to add
to one of my credentials and said hi to a few colleagues in the crowded Deadline
Press area. Ever wonder how everything gets so well covered in a race, from the
on-track action to pit row activity to Victory Lane celebrations and more? Some
publications send teams of photographers, so that all areas are covered. In
contrast, I just roam around as best I can and hope to be in the right place at
the right time.
Race fans were almost everywhere. Some
gathered just outside of the Media Center, lining the
access road between the garage area and pit lane. No doubt they hoped to catch
glimpses of their favorite teams, as racecars were pushed from one place to the
other amid the sound of track workers’ whistles and the presence of
yellow-jacketed security staff keeping everyone safe.
Racer Bobby Labonte talking with his fans
This year, for a change, I was determined to
check out the vendors and exhibits before they started closing up. I got a ride
with a shuttle driver and was taken to a large NEXTEL tent. Inside, I watched
and listened as NASCAR driver Bobby Labonte talked to his assembled fans and
answered some of their questions.
Outside were long rows of souvenir trailers,
each with a crowd of fans waiting to buy racing treasures to take home.
Phil Hill, Shav Glick and Carrol Shelby
Jewel in concert
That done, I proceeded to pit lane and beyond,
taking pictures as the cars, drivers and celebrities arrived. Musical pre-race
entertainment was provided by multiple Grammy Awards nominee Jewel.
Tony “Smoke” Stewart, driver introduction stage and Jimmie Johnson
At the drivers’ introductions, if one looked
closely behind a lower level curtain, one could see drivers peeking out before
they went upstairs to be formally introduced and wave to their fans. I was able
to capture a photo of Tony Stewart before he put on his trademark sun glasses.
Skydivers with their colorful parachutes
dropped from above. The crowd became hushed for our national anthem. The quiet
was broken with the sound of military jets in a fly-by formation. Then the
drivers started their engines. I put my earplugs in, where they stayed for the
next several hours.
What followed was like a well choreographed
play, comprised of drivers, their race team crew members, NASCAR officials,
track safety workers, members of the Press and, of course, thousands of
colorful, noisy, enthusiastic fans. It was a good, clean, safe race.
Shortly before the race ended I tried to make
my way to Victory Lane. An official walked in that direction with two bottles of
2006 NASCAR NEXTEL CUP winner’s champagne, along with a few bright yellow NASCAR
NEXTEL CUP baseball caps. Other people were already gathered near the pits.
Suddenly the race was over and a mad stampede
of people, some pushing carts stocked with bottles of Gatorade, started running
across the track towards Victory Lane. I must have been distracted by the sight
because by the time I started to move, it was too late. Security workers wisely
stopped me and others from crossing because racecars were coming off of the
track and driving towards the garage area. I impatiently waited, but by the time
they released us to cross, the initial volley of confetti had already been
fired. I missed it.
Jack Roush gets doused with champagne during the ‘hat dance’
I did, however, get plenty of opportunities to
photograph the traditional ‘hat dance’ – where the members of the victorious
race team line up for group photos. After each set of pictures was taken,
everyone would change to wearing another sponsor’s cap. Luckily for me, another
brief volley of red, white and blue strips of confetti was fired and I was able
to capture it with my camera.
That was pretty much it. About the only thing
I didn’t do was try to make my way from Victory Lane over to the post-race Press
conference. No doubt some members of the teams of photographers shooting for the
major publications were there to cover it. Tired from a good day’s work, and
with hundreds of photos filling my cameras’ memory cards, I returned my Press
Photo armband, walked back to my car and headed out into the slow-moving river
of cars, trucks, motorhomes and racecar haulers. Next stop – San Diego and home.
Picture perfect pit stop
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the race
from a people perspective. The next time you go to a race, be sure to look
around – not just at the cars but at the people, too.
As always, please share
your stories and send your comments to
AutoMatters@gmail.com. Enjoy the
archives and more at
www.AutoMatters.net. Drive safely and do join me again next time.
Copyright © 2006 J. R. Wagner – #180r1