Posts Tagged Matt Kenseth
A GREAT fall vacation with Chamber of Commerce weather until the last day when temperatures hit 88 at the Monster Energy Cup Series at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. It was bittersweet as NASCAR is moving the fall race to Las Vegas next year.
Last month NASCAR returned to Texas. The first sign of life at the track was the miniature city of RVs and tents which spouted up around the perimeter starting the week before. Wednesday night found the haulers for the truck series scheduled in followed by the ones for Nationwide the next morning — or so the published schedule claimed. I camped out on the pedestrian bridge early Thursday to gets pictures and hear the toot toot of my friend Eloy’s hauler. After an hour of no movement from the staging area, I texted Eloy asking how much longer it would be — I needed a bio break! He texted back, “LOL — well, I’m going to Walmart to do a little shopping – go ahead and pee.” It turned out the times had been changed to the evening. The wait was worth it as we watched the parade of lighted transporters against the backdrop of the setting sun and later the darkness.
Friday’s fun included watching practices and qualifying. With the purchase of our pit passes, we had a pretty good view as the cars zoomed out of the garage area and onto the track. However, as the day went on, the crowd cloned. Grown men literally knocked over women to get a look at their driver. On tippy-toes, I finally found safe haven and a good view from atop a barricade. Speaking of barricades, one separated me from one of my favs, Brendan Gaughan. “Hey! Brendan!” I shouted. When he saw it was me, he backed up and reached across the barrier giving me a bear hug. “Did you get a picture of my bear hug?” I excitedly asked my husband. “No, I was waiting to take one of Matt’s car. It was then I discovered we had way too many favorites.
The fun of race weekend is meeting other fans. While watching the cars practice, I chatted with a photographer standing next to me. I detected a Midwest accent so I asked him where he was from. “Hi… Larry…east side of Cleveland, “ he replied as he extended his free hand. I laughed and pointed at my husband. “Meet Rick….west side of Cleveland. They proceeded to talk Buckeyes and Browns football with Larry photographing the cars at the same time. There also was an “older” red-head who I spotted chasing down a golf cart containing Carl Edwards. Upon meeting her the following day, I found that Shirley was just as avid a motorsports fan as me. She was thrilled when I told her I had captured a pic of her with Edwards. My favorite fan was a little boy named Landon. I asked him who his driver was. “My uncle,” he replied. The uncle turned out to be Nationwide driver Jamie Dick who came over and gave him a hug. Since the race was during football season, there was a mix of fans wearing their favorite team or player jersey. Although, Jerry Jones claims to own “America’s team,” Cowboy fans were outnumbered by the Saints, Broncos, Texans, Bears, Packers and Steelers in the apparel wearing department. Those most fun to view were the couples who wore different NASCAR drivers apparel. Interesting combinations made for jabbing at their spouses in the stands. Although Rick and I are miles apart on football teams, we do like the same drivers.
Prior to the races, I talked to pit crews and officials as they set up and prepared their areas. As I entered pit row, I spotted my Twitter friend Chris Taylor, rear tire changer for Matt Kenseth. Despite being entrenched in a sea of tires, he snuck in a cute grin as our cameras clicked away. Further down, I spotted a female checking tires for the #66. During a quick chat, I learned from Liz that she was the only female on a Cup pit crew. A few yards away from her, I met up with Kevin, an official in a bright orange jumpsuit. He camps out at the pit in case of fire. I told him about witnessing a fire last year when Kenseth’s car had one during a pit stop. Yes, Kevin has job security. An interesting stop was at a computer display lined up with the start/finish line. NASCAR official Dona Harris explained that the equipment measured where each driver was in the race. She said it was the equivalent of a photo/finish shot at a horse race. Towards the end of our pit row stroll, I had my “This could only happen to me” moment. I got to a pit area which had a smaller number of tires and I turned to Rick and said, “This is one of the smaller teams not in the limelight.” A nice-looking tall, lanky guy approached us so I said, “Now, what is your job on the team?” He smiled… “I am the driver….” he replied. I composed myself. “Are you going to be changing into a racing uniform?” I asked while pointing at his black slacks. Hello to #33 Timothy Hill. Needless to say, the other crew member was amused. The rest of the day I kept thinking to myself, “Where do I know that Hill guy from?” (Upon googling I found that he had rear-ended MY driver during a caution earlier in the year!) On the way to our seats, I passed a display of the bracket for the Chase. The drivers’ names and numbers had Velcro backs so fans could post their individual predictions. After I reset the display, I posed for Rick. He handed me the camera saying, “Did the picture come out?” As I looked at the picture, up walked George Reba, sports with WFAA TV. As the cameraman filmed, Reba questioned me on how the bracket worked, and then asked me my favorite driver. Meanwhile, I still had Rick’s camera in my hand behind me frantically waving it to Rick in hopes of getting a picture with George! After the interview, George said he planned to run the segment on the late sports.
Our seats were in the center of the row and the people on each end were not very accommodating. One time I was forced atop the seat panel and I teetered with uncertainty with each step I took over the jackets, blankets and food on the bleacher. One guy reached over to help me and caught his heel in the bench, then fell into the next row. It’s probably the last time he will ever come to anyone’s rescue. The race itself was rather boring until the last five laps when Brad Keselowski wrecked crowd favorite Jeff Gordon. This led to a brawl on pit row with the two drivers and their crews after the conclusion of the race and our seats were right across from the melee! When I got home, I stayed up until after midnight to watch a rerun of the sports. Alas, the clips with George were axed to cover the fight on pit row.
It seemed ions ago that I had my accident. I’ll never forget the day. It was hours from the Super Bowl of NASCAR and my driver had a chance to pull the upset for “The Chase”. Poor Rex, my youngest Boxer, got so much bad press as being the cause of the accident. Since moving to the house, Rex had been apprehensive even going off the back porch. What happened on this beautiful day was, Roxie was out back with Rick and I decided to take Rex for a walk. I saw Shelley who works at my doctor’s office unloading a moving truck with her husband. I decided to go over and welcome them to the neighborhood. While I talked to them, Rex appeared fidgety. As I left, Rex walked faster then broke into a run. I couldn’t keep up. I finally let go of the leash and fell over the curb and into the street. I saw the back of Rex’s legs running away as I screamed, “Rex! Come back! Wait!” After I hit the street, I felt intense pain in my left arm and saw bulges below my elbow. I also felt pain in right arm. I smelled blood and found out later I had busted my chin open. Images of people standing above me and homes were faint and the horizon turned white. Shelley and her husband were trying to secure my neck with a box and keep me conscious. I just wanted them to find Rex. Shelley ran to our backyard, introduced herself and quickly updated Rick. Rex was found on our porch shaking. It seemed like forever for EMS to find the new street and get me loaded. I understood the definition of excruciating pain. It was another forever for the painful ride across the back roads to the hospital as we hit every pothole enroute.
Once at ER, details were sketchy as I drifted in and out of consciousness. I asked Rick to find The Chase on the TV. I remember a voice saying, “I need to cut off your shirt” and heard the snips as the scissors destroying my lucky black ‘Lotta Sports T-Shirt. I was wearing it that day since Matt Kenseth, my driver of choice, had won several races when I wore it. At one point Rick said, “Matt’s in second” and the announcers were talking about Jimmie Johnson much further back. There was hope for an upset! I was whisked away to X-ray. I am screaming in pain as X-ray technician positioned both arms. What part of broken did the radiologist not understand? Following this fiasco it was back to ER. A voice said they were starting morphine. I begged them not to as my mom died at that same hospital after having morphine administered. I drifted off and on. “We need to move you to another hospital in Plano. “ “That’s so far for Rick! Can’t I go to Grapevine or Southlake?” “It’s a sister facility.” I looked up at the TV and Jimmie is celebrating a sixth Chase Championship. More sleep until I was awakened by people repositioning me to a board and gurney. It was dark as they loaded me in an ambulance. Another long ride but this time, it was all highway. I missed Sunday Night Football. I awoke the next morning. A doctor was standing at my bedside and said that they were waiting on parts for my elbow. The surgery wouldn’t be until the next day. More sleep. I woke up and Rick updated me. They had located the elbow parts. The left elbow was shattered, the right shoulder was broken, I had stitches in my chin and three fractures in my jaw. Surgery was scheduled for three that afternoon.
Prior to surgery I was wheeled to the holding area where I met my orthopedic surgeon. I immediately liked Dr. Jeffery Lue as we shared the same goal — having surgery done by the start of Monday Night Football with New England and Carolina. Although we were for different teams, I agreed to root for Carolina since I had two fantasy football players with the Panthers. I rationalized that it made more sense to stay in Dr. Lue’s good graces. It turned out neither of us saw the majority of game. The elbow had two fractures and the bone split, now making four pieces. The second bone in the elbow was shattered and that was where the replacement part went. I regained consciousness five hours later to see Panthers quarterback Cam Newton throwing a 25-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn Jr. with less than a minute left to take a 24-20 lead. My easy-on-the eyes Tom Brady charged down the field and the game ended with a controversial interference call in the end zone. Carolina held off New England. Dr. Lue was a happy man.
For me, a tough road to recovery and rehabilitation was about to begin. I had no use of the upper limbs and simple things like going to the restroom as well as getting dressed, brushing my hair and eating required assistance. It would prove to be a challenging time finding new ways to survive with my disabilities. It would have been an opportune time to give up and just accept the hand dealt. However, I didn’t… I refused to let this sideline me without a fight. (to be continued)
Last month was the final month in the Chase Championship for NASCAR, and Texas Motor Speedway was host to the third from the last race. The two leaders, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, were tied and it was apparent that the stage was set for a showdown in Texas. A media center display of all the contenders titled DEADLOCKED with #20 and #48 barrels positioned to blow up conveyed the importance around the TMS race. Needless to say, this sportswriter was beyond “in her element” with one of her favorite drivers right in the mix!
Day 1 — Unlike June when only the trucks and Indy cars were there for the two garage areas, the trucks and their humongous haulers took over the Infield Parking Paddock leaving media parking at slim pickins’. Because of a further walk to the Media Center, this necessitated my carrying everything I might need throughout the day. Due to anticipated temperature changes throughout the day, I looked like I needed my own hauler as I started the trek from my car with my “stuff.” Once settled in my work area and after perusing the schedule, I retraced my steps to the “garage” area and watched the process for NASCAR inspection of the trucks.
There were inspectors everywhere — some measuring the trucks and some under hoods inspecting parts. Parts were sealed and once qualified the truck was impounded until the race the next day. I paused at Brendan Gaughan’s truck as an inspector finished scrutinizing a large part. “Did his engine pass?” I inquired. The inspector grinned. “This here is the carburetor” and then went into a long explanation of what he was looking for. I heard a snicker and turned to find Brendan standing there. Wanting to overshadow my naivety of car parts and knowing my favorite truck driver had played basketball at Georgetown, I switched subjects to the hoops. I was defeated there also when Gaughan reminded me about former Hoya coach John Thompson and company taking the “slamma” out of my “jamma” Houston Cougars.
Following inspections, there were two truck practices. We bailed during the second, as we needed to get home to give out the seven bags of candy to our six Trick or Treaters!
Day 2 — The morning started out sadly with the announcement of Atlanta Motor Speedway’s Marketing Director Marcy Scott’s battle with cancer ending in her passing. Not only had she interacted with several of my peers in the media, but at one time was Matt Kenseth’s PR person. The sharing of Marcy stories ended with the arrival of Sprint Cup driver Martin Truex, Jr. He was there to end weeks of speculation of whom he would be driving for next year — Furniture Row. The next arrival was Matt Kenseth. One of the questions asked was how he felt knowing that “some fans are rooting for you to win the championship because they’re rooting against Jimmie Johnson.” He smiled and explained that’s how sports are and went into how some fans root for a dynasty and some for the underdog. He looked across the room. The “dynasty” had just entered – Jimmie Johnson. Matt fielded some more questions, and as he left the room, the two shared a friendly handshake. Despite the demeanor some other drivers portrayed in competition, those two men had the upmost respect for each other, both on and off the track. As with Matt, the reporters’ hype with Johnson was around the “intense battle.” Jimmie assured all he and Matt were friends off the track and shared many of the same values including family, being laid back, and foremost, respect for each other when it came to racing. Following JJ was Kyle Busch. I wanted to ask him how it felt being booed during introductions but thought better of it. Instead, my fascination was on how he hoped to sweep all three races at Texas. The interviews ended just as Andy Hall, PR at ESPN, arrived to take Rick and me on a tour of the ESPN Production Complex located outside the race stands.
Our first stop was the area containing wardrobe for all the on-air personalities as well as the roving pit reporters for ESPN. Each garment bag was neatly labeled and contained different colored outfits for each day. I found out that roving reporter Dr. Jerry Punch was really a medical doctor who had saved driver Rusty Wallace’s life back in 1989. Now the two were working alongside each other at ESPN. Attached to the large tent was a hauler containing offices and a conference room. Adjacent were several haulers containing massive rolls of cables. We climbed the stairs to one of them and found ourselves inside the “brains” of the production. Lined on one wall were seventy-five monitors for HD cameras positioned for the races. These supported in-car cameras, manned cameras, handheld, robotic on-track, robotics in Pit Studio, Crewcams, pit overheads, Jib cameras, Grasscam, POV cameras including the announcing booth, race control, flag stand and Chopper Cam. Monitors were dedicated to the leaders as well as competing drivers, in-car and pit stalls. There were two rows of seats where the producer, director and staff monitored all the camera shots for their immediate use on live TV. Even though there was nothing going on while we were in there, I felt the still air of intensity in the room. Andy pointed out that the challenge in covering motorsports was that there were no breaks in the action like in baseball between innings and football with halftime. He explained that in addition to catching all the action, there had to be a balance when running ads. That is why you rarely see shots of people in the stands. Andy also explained how the sun can cause disruption with the satellites especially in the fall. From there, we headed back into the pit area to the production hauler for on-air personalities. We climbed up the stairs and entered into the actual set for Countdown to NASCAR and the race. I timidly asked if I could sit in Nicole Briscoe’s chair. Once settled in, I smiled at the three cameras positioned and felt right at home.
Andy and Rick chuckled when I offered to sit in for Nicole, who was going out on maternity leave. After the tour was a working lunch and more interviews with Darrell Wallace, Jr., Jeff Gordon, Danica Patrick and Nationwide Championship Leader, Austin Dillon. I felt the generation gap during Darrell’s interview when he shared that he didn’t even have a driver’s license when he started racing. He said the coolest thing he had experienced so far was being asked to appear on Arsenio Hall (and not knowing who he was) as well as being followed on Twitter by Tyler Bates. The rest of the afternoon was busy on the track with qualifying for the trucks, the Sprint Cup cars and final practice for Nationwide cars. Meanwhile pit row was sprouting up crew chief stands for the truck series that evening. In qualifying, the spring’s race winner, Jeb Burton, grabbed the pole for trucks. Later Carl Edwards won his first Sprint Cup pole at Texas.
A fall chill encompassed the air as the truck drivers took to the track for the WinStar World Casino race. Ty Dillon dominated the race leading all but seventeen laps. Brendan finished fourth.
Day 3 – The morning was spent roaming the Nationwide garage during inspection, watching those cars qualify and the Sprint cars practice twice. Easy on the eyes Travis Pastranais (and 17-time medal winner at the X Games) was being interviewed in the Nationwide garage area after qualifying 39th. “I really need a win” he told FOX Sports’ Herme Sadler. I am not the Einstein of racing, but I thought to myself, “He needs to quit being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” collecting six DNFs (Did not finish) this year.
Also, during my garage visit, I met the oldest active driver in NASCAR, Morgan Shepherd. The rough faced seventy-one year old looked discouraged as he climbed out of his #89. Unless there were a couple of wrecks during qualifying, he would not see action in the race. Back at the media center, there was a collective gasp while we were monitoring on TV the practice session as Jimmie Johnson’s car brushed the wall. I bolted out of my chair and back up to track to assess the damage. The champion had dodged a bullet.
Thank goodness the Nationwide race was in the afternoon, as I was already worn out trying to keep up with who was doing what and when. Several drivers were participating in both the race that day and the Sprint Cup the next day. Last year’s cup winner, Brad Keselowski ,a participant in all three Texas races, won the Nationwide race later that afternoon.
Day 4 – Despite gaining an hour of sleep with the time-change, I didn’t get much rest since Rick had to be back at the track early for his pace-car ride with Landon Cassill, a driver for both car series. Claire B Lang of SiriusXM rode in the front seat interviewing Landon as they did laps around the track. Unfortunately, there were cables crossing the track for the pre-race ceremonies so they did not get up to the high speeds I experienced in the spring. I found a crew member setting up the crew chief stand for Matt Kenseth. I always wanted to sit in one. The next thing I knew I was climbing the vertical ladder with the guy pleading for me to be careful. All I can say is the view is much better from Jason Ratcliff’s chair!!
We headed next to the Sprint Cup garage where inspections had started. Surprisingly, many of the crew chiefs and crews were approachable. I had my picture taken with Jason Ratcliff and several of the cars waiting for inspection. One thing I discovered was that the headlamps and taillights were actually decals instead of the real thing. Multitudes of fans were gathering in the garage area and NASCAR rep Laura Finley was caught in the middle of the crowd control. “Please, if you’re not with the team, stay behind the yellow line.” As I started to step back, she said, “You’re fine.” I thought to myself, “I love this job!” The next hour was spent back at the media center posting pictures and updates on Facebook and Twitter. It was then I found out that Claire had aired my post-race question to Brad the night before on SiriusXM. I was so glad that inquiring about changing shadows and the setting sun on the track wasn’t such a dumb question after all! It was soon race time so it was back out to the track for pre-race ceremonies. Rick positioned himself at the photographers’ well at Turn 1 while I wandered up and down the pit. During the race, I ventured up to the grandstands to look for Hill Country’s Denise LeMeilleur attending the race.
Out of breath from the long climb to row sixty, I reached her row to find she was not there! On the return trip, I ran into Denise coming from her car carrying blankets. Yes, the cold front had arrived! Back in the warm media center, I watched the rest of the race. The media center crowd is supposed to remain unbiased during the race, but it was hard to miss the massive groan when contender Kenseth received a speeding penalty on pit row on Lap 175. This meant him repositioning to the end of the cars on the lead lap. This would come back to haunt him by race’s end. Despite his fast car, Matt could not make up the lost time the rest of the race. His fourth place finish saw him plunge to second place in the Chase, making strong finishes and preferably wins imperative at Phoenix and Homestead for the Chase title. Jimmie Johnson won the race.
How does the story end? Brendan & I are now twittering back and forth about college basketball, Travis “retired” from his brief stint in NASCAR and Jimmie added another title to his racing resume, never looking back after leaving Texas. A disappointed Kenseth ended up the bridesmaid and left his fans thinking “What Ifs” around the Texas race. I am still eating Halloween candy. And Nicole’s vacated ESPN chair? <sigh> Mike Massaro sat there instead of me.
I am officially pumped. Both my NASCAR drivers are on a new team! Both look like fast cars! ‘Gonna be a fun season, I hope. Today I ordered our seats and pit passes for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series Race on April 12th at Texas Motor Speedway. We’re on turn 4, lower part of upper section 429. Last year I had a blast in the pit watching time trials. Already have several friends also here for race weekend. Rick still needs to get the day off and I might have a job which works Fridays until 6PM….but its located in Roanoke which is minutes away from the track. Minor details… LOL…
PICTURES FROM LAST SPRING