Life in the fast lane: My weekend getting the inside scoop in the world of NASCAR

Sophomore Joseph Passero was invited to Charlotte Motor Speedway to shadow a team of media specialists during Memorial Day Weekend. The experience included observing discussions about race regulations between drivers and teams and being able to see drivers strap into their cars as they prepared to start the Alsco 300.

By Joseph Passero

I have been a NASCAR fan since I was about five years old, and it’s been a dream of mine to land a job in the sport. One night, while watching a race, my dad threw out a crazy idea — “Why don’t you see if you can get media passes?”

I laughed. He’s got a lot of good ideas, but, at first, I didn’t take this one seriously. However, the more I thought about it, I didn’t think it was so bad. It would give me an up-close and personal experience to see what the rest of my life could be like. 

After failing to communicate via phone and email, I took to Twitter in a last attempt to catch NASCAR’s attention. And something I didn’t expect to receive came a day later: a message from NASCAR President Brent Dewar saying “Joe ­­— send me a DM message and we can connect.” 

He quickly granted my wish by providing all-access hot passes, and over the next few weeks, I communicated back and forth to get ready for my visit to Charlotte Motor Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina, over Memorial Day weekend to shadow NASCAR media for the Alsco 300 and the Coca-Cola 600.

Saturday was the big day for me. The team I shadowed, led by Alex Moore, had me observe them during the Xfinity Series race, the Alsco 300, to make sure I was given proper attention and to answer all of my questions. They didn’t have a whole lot of time to answer questions that Sunday, due to the Cup Series race, the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR’s longest race, being one of the most popular on the schedule, especially for the media.

 I was given a “hot pass,” which grants access to the garages where teams work on their cars before the races, as well as access to the pit road and onto the track itself. I was granted special access into the media center, where I met Moore and her team around 11:45 a.m. She introduced me to her team, consisting of the integrated marketing communications division Ccoordinators Dejah Gilliam and Jasmine Neely, director of media relations Matt Ciesluk and an intern with the Quinnipiac University team Kirby Paulson.

The first task I had came as a surprise, as I was not told prior that I would be partaking in the event. I sat in on the drivers and their crew chiefs meeting, where rules are reminded, the race is explained and questions are answered. 

Following the meeting, the team met to get radios and then split up to conquer their respective jobs. I went with Neely onto the race track, where driver introductions were beginning. I shadowed her on the track and pit road until the command to start engines was given. For the opening laps of the race, I stayed in the media center before heading to a roof of another building that was still on the infield of the race track to take some nice pictures and make notes of the race.

With 30 laps to go, I headed back to the media center to reunite with the team. Unfortunately, as I walked into the media center, the race was stopped because a vicious downpour had made the driving conditions dangerous. I sat with the team during the rain delay and got the rundown for post-race procedures.

The race would eventually resume and finished at 5 p.m. Brad Keselowski captured his second Xfinity Series win of the season. I was taken out to pit road once more with Paulson and Gilliam to ask drivers to participate in extra post-race interviews. Drivers Cole Custer, Christopher Bell and Brad Keselowski agreed. Custer and Bell were asked questions first while Keselowski was busy celebrating his victory and fulfilling other media obligations. Keselowski came into the media center and was interviewed shortly after, and that was a wrap on the day.

The team let me keep my hot pass for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 so I could venture into some areas inside the track’s infield which had been shut off on Saturday, like the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage area. 

The inside approach and attention to every detail of the race went beyond what I had always imagined, and it has given me an increased respect for the work done every weekend to create content for fans and sponsors of the sport. 

As much as I hate rain delays, it was a blessing to have one. It gave me an opportunity to see how, as part of the media, people must adapt quickly to situations that are out of their control to continue to appeal to their audiences. 

Aside from personal appeal, it was incredible to see firsthand how the drivers and crews give fans their time and make them feel a part of the sport the grassroots way— genuine face-to-face interaction.

Two other significant lessons in this whole experience stick out to me. One is to take chances. If you don’t, you’ll never know what could’ve been. Two is don’t be afraid to ask for help, because sometimes, a little help can go a long, long way.

 

Published in the 09/05/18 edition.

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