I have just returned from a weekend of fine dining with Kasey Kahne, rubbing elbows with Tony Stewart, and getting up close and personal with Jeff Gordon.
Sounds pretty glamorous right?
It was an extraordinary circumstance that was nothing short of ordinary.
I stood next to Kahne in the buffet line at 12:30 in the morning, fighting for the last bits of stale Chex Mix, literally bumped into Stewart on pit road as he made a mad dash for his car prior to the race and was one of many "photographers" with a camera shoved in Gordon’s face during an on track interview.
When it comes to covering a NASCAR race, there is really very little glitz and glamour at all. The drivers are there to do their job and as a member of the media, we are there to do the same.
Long hours are spent in the sun and rain waiting for something big to happen. Multiple trips in and out of the media center to check out the latest stats or listen into what the drivers have to say about the upcoming race and what their Chase expectations are. Fighting for an Internet hookup in the photo trailer and repetitive meetings to remind us of why we are there in the first place.
For an amateur writer there is little glory. No reserved spot in the media center, no paycheck at the end of the day, no swanky hotel accommodations, and no daily per diem.
It’s loud. It’s dirty. It’s exhausting...it's awesome.
Nice work if you can get it.
Take everything that you imagine it would be and dump it right in the trash. Within moments of entering the infield the shimmer wears off pretty quickly. Unless you are in a driver’s suit or photographer’s vest, it is hard to differentiate between who’s who.
The only thing that separates the media from the fan is a simple turn of the plastic credential holder around the neck from “hot pass” to “press member.”
We are nothing short of ordinary, which is appropriate since our heroes…well they are ordinary too.
Beyond the fanfare and the TV coverage they are just like you and me. It’s hard to fathom that from afar, but after the initial shock of seeing Carl Edwards hobble by on crutches wears off, it all becomes very clear.
The definition of hero includes, “a person recognized for his brave deeds and distinguished courage.”
On the weekend of the eighth anniversary of 9/11, we were reminded of what true heroes are made of. Ordinary men and women who risked their very lives, not for a medal or a trophy at the end of the finish line, but simply because they were just doing their jobs. For me there is no higher honor than to risk life to save another’s.
Heroes come to us in all forms.
While it takes a certain amount of courage and bravery to get behind the wheel of a 3400 pound stock car and drive at speeds upwards of 200 MPH, does that a hero make?
NASCAR drivers could easily fall into the second part of a hero’s definition,” a man admired for his notable qualities.”
It takes skill and determination to be one of the Chase’s finest. All 12 drivers earned their way in by driving hard and thinking smart. That is pretty notable.
Heroes are seen as men standing tall with colorful capes flapping in the wind. It’s the “Superman” persona. But without Clark Kent, an ordinary man with extraordinary powers, there would be no Superman.
Drivers are often seen in the same heroic light. They don flashy suits, start their engines, and fly at record breaking speeds. But what happens behind the scenes when the crowd has gone and the lights have dimmed?
Even on a night that propelled these 12 Chase drivers into the limelight, ordinary aspects of their lives went on.
Kurt Busch casually stood on the Chase stage before the post-race celebrations began eating a homemade sandwich and drinking an ice cold can of Miller Lite.
Carl Edwards took a load off of his broken foot by perching himself onto a small step stool.
First time Chase contender Brian Vickers drank an obligatory Red Bull while getting some advice from Chase veteran Tony Stewart.
Mark Martin relaxed on a common chair in the media center foyer watching the world pass him by for a change.
Kasey Kahne waited in a buffet line for a midnight snack with us commoners.
Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson shared everyday stories about what they were going to do with their time before next weekend’s race.
Ryan Newman gave props to his boss and the organization that he is proud to be a part of.
Denny Hamlin gushed about his “Virginia pride,” while Juan Pablo Montoya shared his excitement, “for the Hispanic media and fans,” with NASCAR spokesman Kerry Thorpe.
Greg Biffle took a deep breath, exhaled, and just relaxed.
Even the larger than life Speed TV broadcasters sat back to enjoy a bit of the simple life after a long day.
Jimmy Spencer appreciated a good cigar in between commercials while Kenny Wallace was quick with a smile or a wink for anyone in his sights followed by that characteristic laugh that we’ve come to know so well.
Every one of them were exactly as I’d hoped and nothing as I had imagined.
"There goes my hero, He's ordinary."
-"My Hero" Foo Fighters
Photo Credit: Kara Martin
* Many thanks to David Yeazell for the camera use and the crash course in photography 101!