Chasin' Dreams at Phoenix International Raceway

Brad VippermanCorrespondent INovember 18, 2009

AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 15:  Mark Martin, driver of the #5 Kellogg's Chevrolet, stands by his car prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 15, 2009 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

As many of you know, last weekend I was fortunate enough to attend Phoenix International Raceway.  Not only was I able to attend the race, but the credentials I was able to obtain from B/R allowed me to see some pretty amazing things.

One of the most interesting things that I saw happened on Friday, right when I got to the track. 

I was waiting in the Media Center to meet up with the Chevy people to participate in their "Ride and Drive" event.  Being as this was my first time in a NASCAR track media center, I was trying to observe, while at the same time looking like I had been there before.

When I first arrived in the main Media Center room, Jimmie Johnson was in the conference room answering questions.  Part of me really wanted to go in there and observe the press conference, however, the fact that it had already started made me decide against it.

Remember in school when someone was in the front of the class giving a presentation and some kid would walk in the room in the middle of it?  Remember how every head would invariably turn and look at that person, causing the presenter to stop talking? 

Yeah, I didn't want that to be me.

As it turns out, however, not only do people come and go from those press conferences, but the majority of the reporters in the room aren't even paying attention to what is being said!

Later in the day I attended Greg Biffle's press conference and was amazed by how casual it was.

Virtually everyone in the room was just typing away on their laptops or texting on their BlackBerrys.  Some were even talking on the phone, albeit quietly.

If a reporter wanted to ask a question, all he or she had to do was raise their hand and a woman would come around with a microphone and hand it to them.  Incredibly informal.

I didn't have a seat reserved for me in that room so I just stood in the back against a wall taking notes on my complimentary notepad, with my complimentary pen.  It was really quite interesting to see, up close, how these pre-race press conferences worked.

Another mental note I couldn't help making was the fact that aside from maybe one or two people, I was the youngest person in the room by at least 20 years.  I was also one of the only ones standing...hmmmm.

Anyways, as I was waiting in the Media Center I happened to glance to my right at  several foldout tables which track employees were sitting at taking care of various tasks.  I was almost legitimately startled when I noticed that sitting down at one of these tables, not five feet away from me, was Mark Martin!

I'm sure my eyes became as big as oranges momentarily as I processed the fact that there was Mark Martin just sitting and talking to someone, within arms reach of me.

Almost more interesting to me was the fact that there was no crowd.

I've been to tons of sporting events in my life, mostly football and basketball.  I've seen how those athletes get treated when they leave the quarantined areas of the field and the court.  They are mobbed with people and reporters.

NASCAR, at least from my brief experience, seems to be quite the opposite.  Everyone seems to treat each other politely, respect boundaries, and create an overall comfortable atmosphere for everyone.

In keeping with this, even when Martin stood up and was just standing alone, I acted casually and did nothing besides make brief eye-contact with him.  Besides, it was at that moment when I met Judy Dominick of Chevy and my Friday adventure began.

These were just several of the things that I observed during my weekend at PIR.  The entire list would be too numerous to recap on paper but allow me to highlight several others:

Watching the driver introductions and pre-race ceremonies from the press box level above the media center was quite interesting.  It was an absolutely gorgeous Arizona day, where the weather allows you to wear virtually whatever you want and remain comfortable. 

There was, literally, not a cloud in the sky and the track was extremely picturesque against the brown of the surrounding mountains and the blue of that cloudless sky.

My favorite of these pre-race events was the flyover.  Because the sky was so clear, you were able to see the jets coming from far in the distance.  As usual, they followed closely after the singing of the National Anthem.  Because of my middle-of-the-track vantage point, the jets flew right over my head, which is always something that is amazing to watch.

Also, as I'm sure many of you those cars are loud!  Because this was my first race, I was extremely intrigued to see just how loud the track would get when everyone was turned loose.  And the answer is LOUD.

Throughout the race I made a point to walk to every turn where spectators had gathered so I could see the cars coming from different viewpoints around the track.  This was one of the smarter things that I did that day because each turn gives you a different race experience.

One of the less smart things that I did was try and mosey on down to pit road to check out some of the pre-race events (I wouldn't dare go down during the race).

See, the setup for the media center had one staircase leading up to the press box level, and the staircase on the other side leading down to pit road.  I figured since my credentials allowed me up one staircase, hey, maybe they allowed me down the other.

After a brief stroll of about 30 yards, I quickly found out that, no, they do not.  But it was worth it.  I knew all they could do was ask me to exit the area.  No harm no foul.

All in all, my weekend was full of interesting adventures and new observations.  I had a great time each day and I would absolutely encourage anyone with an interest for the sport to attend a race weekend and experience all the events that go on.

As for me, I'm hanging on to my media credentials and parking pass.  Just two more things to add to my own personal memorabilia Hall of Fame.