This year marked a milestone for the Bleacher Creatures on the NASCAR page. As part of NASCAR's new Citizen Media Corps, writers on the Bleacher Report NASCAR section were permitted to apply for media credentials.
Through the efforts of our Community Leaders, Kara Martin and Kelly Crandall, and especially David Yeazell, who led the credentialing process, many of us entered the promised land of the NASCAR media centers at tracks throughout the country.
For me, being in the media center was like a kid playing in the best candy store and the pit sign pictured at the Dover track said it all. The following are my Top 10 Memories from the NASCAR Media Center.
Photo Credits: Mary Jo and Gary Buchanan
One of the most special aspects of being in the NASCAR media center was getting to know the hard-working members of the media corps. Undoubtedly, the most intrepid members of the NASCAR media is Bob Pockrass of NASCAR Scene.
Bob was most often the first person at the media center in the morning and last to leave after all the racing was long finished. I personally appreciated Bob's willingness to answer questions, no matter how inane, and his advice in following all of the media center protocol.
My No. 10 media center memory was meeting the media corps and realizing how hard they all work on behalf of all NASCAR fans.
My No. 9 NASCAR media center memory was of all of the wonderful staff in the media centers that ensure that every media member was taken care of and had everything they needed to do their work.
I especially appreciated the wonderful credentialing and media center personnel at Pocono Raceway, Dover International Speedway, and New Hampshire Motor Speedway. At Pocono, special thanks to Patti Angeloni and Bob Pleban and the wonderful staff there. At New Hampshire, it was a special treat to work with Fred Neergaard and his staff. And finally, a special shout out to Gary Camp at Dover, who rescued me after the unfortunate loss of my credentials and made my birthday celebration, cake and all, one of the best ever.
Pictured in this slide is the media center at Pocono Raceway, where Claire B. Lang of Sirius NASCAR radio was interviewing one of the fan winners of the Red Cross VIP experience at Pocono.
One of the most special memories made possible by the media center staff at Pocono Raceway was the opportunity to do a ride-a-long in an actual stock car.
Through the Stock Car Racing Experience at Pocono Raceway, I hopped aboard the stock car pictured above and took three fast laps around the three unique corners of Pocono. After ascertaining that it was my first time in a race car, the driver admitted it was his first time too (wink, wink) and off we went flying around the track. He instructed me to give the "thumbs up" if I wanted to go faster, which I did each and every lap.
It was thrilling, exhilarating, and terrifying all at the same time. But I loved every minute of it and will take that memory as one of my top 10 favorites of the 2009 race season.
My No. 7 media center memory was the time I got to spend with the Mattioli family, who own and operate Pocono Raceway as their family business.
I was afforded the privilege of interviewing many of the Mattioli family members, from the matriarch Dr. Rose Mattioli to several of the children and grandchildren who are carrying on the track traditions.
The family, pictured above as they launch the track's new green initiatives, are some of the most kind, welcoming people that I have ever met. It's no wonder that all the fans and media who come to Pocono feel like they are attending a big Mattioli family party when the come to the race track. I know I did!
My No. 6 media center memory was having the privilege of being there for Denny Hamlin's emotional win at Pocono Raceway.
Hamlin had just lost his grandmother and had dedicated the race to her memory. When he came into the media center for his victory interview, he was so overcome with emotion that he could barely speak through his tears.
There was not one person in the media center who was not moved and deeply touched by his expression of his feelings for his grandmother. Many of us, including myself, were writing our stories about the race through some tears of our own.
For many years, I have had the privilege of knowing Andy Santerre, four-time champion of the Camping World Series East. After leaving the seat of the race car, Santerre formed his own team and crew chiefed the car as well.
This season, Santerre was working with an up-and-coming driver Brett Moffitt. Because of sponsorship woes, the Dover race was the last race for Santerre as a team owner, as well as for Moffitt as a driver.
My Top Five media center moment was being able to be a part of this story-book ending, where Santerre and Moffitt won the race. This was my first time to experience Victory Lane with someone that I have known and admired, and there was truly nothing sweeter than seeing and experiencing the joy of victory with them.
My No. 4 media center memory was also at Dover International Speedway, where Ryan Truex, younger brother of Martin Truex, Jr., became the youngest driver ever to win the Camping World East Series Championship.
When Ryan came into the media center for his championship interview, many of the media had already left for the evening. But there was one very proud person, big brother Martin, who was sitting in the audience watching his baby brother with great pride as he was interviewed as champion.
That was one of the most special moments that I experienced in the media center—that true sense of pride and happiness, from one brother to another.
My No. 3 media center memory was of Juan Pablo Montoya. Pictured in the slide is Montoya being interviewed after the race at Dover.
But the best memory of Montoya came much later in the media center, when again, most of the media had already turned in for the night. Montoya came back in, dressed in jeans and a hoodie, to do a live talk show with his fans back in his home country of Columbia.
I sat right next to him as he chatted with his fans, laughed, and told stories, all in Spanish. With my college minor in Spanish, I was able to follow along for most of the discussion and at the end, even got to practice speaking a bit in Spanish to JPM and his staff.
This truly was one of my highlight memories, seeing Juan Pablo Montoya in an entirely different light.
My second most favorite memory from the media center also occurred at Dover International Speedway, and it was of Jeff Gordon's daughter, Ella.
I had decided to follow Gordon from practice, qualifying, and throughout the race, as he had set some specific goals for himself and his team. So, in addition to being in the media center, I also set up camp on the hill behind Gordon's pit box to take in all of that action.
During the pre-race activities, Gordon was joined by his beautiful wife, Ingrid, and his cutie pie daughter, Ella.
When it was time for the race, however, Ingrid was trying to get Ella to go with one of the staff back to the motor home while Ingrid watched the race from the pit box. Ella was having none of it and was very unhappy as she was carried up the steps from the track. I watched as she cried and tried to wriggle out of the arms of the person carrying her.
But as soon as Ella got into the golf cart, she immediately went from her very grumpy face to complete happiness. She sat in the lap of the staff person in the driver's seat, took the wheel and "drove" that golf cart right back to the motor home. And she had the biggest smile on her face as she drove off, making that my next to the favorite media center memory, knowing that just maybe I had witnessed another female race car driver in the making.
My No. 1 media center memory was of Jimmie Johnson at Dover. As I mentioned in the previous slide, I was on a mission to do a series of stories on Jeff Gordon at Dover.
Gordon's teammate and now four-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson actually won the race and came into the media center with Chad Knaus, his winning crew chief, for their victory interviews. Both were interviewed extensively at the front of the room, while I continued to work in the back of the media center on my Gordon story.
As Johnson was headed out with his giant bottle of champagne, he stopped beside me and one other person who was also furiously typing away on his computer. Johnson cleared his throat, but both of us remained preoccupied with our own stories, thoroughly engrossed in our own work.
Johnson continued to stand next to me and then said, "Hi guys." Both of us kept working away and said quick hello's back to Johnson.
But the champion and race winner just wanted a bit more acknowledgment, or so it seemed, and he said, "You know, I won the race." Realizing that Johnson really did want to at least be recognized for his accomplishment, I finally looked up from my work, as did the other writer, to congratulate the race winner. After getting our attention and our accolades, Johnson finally seemed satisfied and off he went to continue his celebration.
But it really drove home to me the vulnerability of one of NASCAR's elite drivers and that we all just need to be acknowledged and recognized for our victories, even if your name is Jimmie Johnson.
That most "human" moment, seeing Johnson as a real person who wanted recognition just like all of us do, was truly my most treasured memory from the media center.