Last weekend I was invited to a NASCAR extravaganza weekend event by Mobil 1 Official NASCAR Sponsor to get up close and personal with NASCAR, Mobile 1, Penske Racing and Sam Hornish driver of the #77 Sprint cup car at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, North Carolina. The agenda included a ride-along with Sam Hornish Jr. in the #77 sprint cup car on the track and they definitely saved the best for last.
Well, first I needed to do some prep to get my nerve up for that kind of SPEED on Sunday so as soon as I arrived I made an immediate stop for a good meal at Sonny's Real Pit Barbeque, one of the best pulled pork barbeque joints in Charlotte, North Carolina. The menu includes some of my southern favorites: Pulled Pork, Sweet Potatoes with Cinnamon Butter, Cat Fish, Hush Puppies, Fried Okra and Brunswick Stew. The staff was delightful, each waitress wearing her preferred NASCAR driver shirt (40% of NASCAR fans are women, by the way), and all full of smiles and race stories excited about the upcoming race weekend at Lowe’s Motor Speedway for the Bank of America 500.
It was me and the "boys" all weekend during the amazing guided tour on Saturday morning at the NASCAR R&D Center with Managing Director, Mike Fisher and member of the press; Rory Jurnecka from Motor Trend, writer for Muscle Car Magazine and car builder Jason Lewis , Road & Track and a few others. I always wondered how NASCAR inspectors kept track of all the race car parts and pieces during tech inspections before and after races and found out each Sprint Cup race car has radio-frequency idenfication (RFID) tags installed at multiple locations all over the vehicles for this reason. Talk about a high-tech racing world, who knew?
It was fascinating learning about all of the safety requirements NASCAR enforces to keep our favorite Cup Series drivers safe even after the most terrifying crashes. After seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Dale Earnhardt was fatally injured Sunday in a multi-car accident on the final lap of the 43rd Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in 2001, NASCAR and other motorsports sanctioning bodies have worked hard together to share information and improve safety for all motorsports drivers. In October 2001, NASCAR officials mandated the use of an approved Hans Device or other head-and-neck-restraint system for all drivers racing in the then Winston Cup Series, Nasser Busch Series, or Nasser Craftsman Truck Series.
After our tour at the NASCAR R&D Center we went over to Lowe's Motor Speedway to join the throng of 150,000 + fans gathering for the race day events and got to hang out at the NASCAR Performance Hospitality area, and tour the infield track and the Penske/Mobil 1 #77 hauler where we met and chatted with crew chief, Chris Carrier.
The tour of the pit area was pretty exciting! We met with NASCAR’s Brett Bodine who is a former NASCAR Winston Cup driver and is the current driver of the pace car in Sprint Cup events. Brett is employed by NASCAR as Director of Cost and Research. Brett is the younger brother of 1986 Daytona 500 winner Geoff Bodine and the older brother of 2006 Craftsman Truck Series champion Todd Bodine. I also met a woman Official for NASCAR (yes there are a few women working in NASCAR jobs) who I am scheduled to interview for another blog post soon.
Jessica Simpson, sporting a Dale Jr. tank top and black short shorts, performed at Lowes Motor Speedway prior to the Bank of America 500 and sang the national anthem as many of the Cup Cars sporting paint themes in support of a breast cancer awareness campaigns rolled onto the track in preparation for the start of the race. There was one very cool campaign for the race fans called "Go Pink or Go Home!" where virtually anyone with a mobile phone could make a donation to Susan G. Komen for the Cure by texting in a donation. Lowe's Motor Speedway staff also sported pink lapel ribbons in support of Pink Together, a nice touch!
During driver introductions I stood next to the #77, driver Sam Hornish Jr, and his wife Chrystal with baby Addison as they prayed together before the race, a touching moment. So much of the appeal of NASCAR is the family shared values and atmosphere by sponsor's teams, drivers, and fans. They hold prayer services before every race and a prayer is said by a local minister for the safety of the driver’s right before each race as well.
During the race, one of my most exciting moments was being on the wall in pit lane row in the #77 pit box during the race taking picture of the race and hot pit stops! Now that is one way to prepare for a ride at 175 MPH for Sunday...I was so close to the action I was almost knocked over as pit crew members in the next box for the #24 DuPont / Jeff Gordon team scrambled over the wall for an unscheduled tire change. My adrenaline was pumped and I shivered as I anticipated my ride-along with Sam Hornish Jr in the #77 the next day at those speeds! The cars were going by so fast, it blurred my vision to keep track of them so close up, geeeeezzz what was I getting myself into?
Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the Penske Racing # 77 Mobil 1 Dodge in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, finished the Bank of America 500 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in 22nd place after starting from the rear of the field due to the team’s use of the backup car. The Mobil 1 team worked methodically to improve the balance of the No. 77 machine throughout a race filled with obstacles, resulting in the team’s best finish in eight weeks. For his performance, Hornish received “Rookie of the Race” honors after finishing one spot in front of Regan Smith. What an exciting race for me!
Roger Penske , owner of the Penske Racing organization discovered his niche in life early, when, as a teenager, he began refurbishing and racing cars and selling them for profit. Basing his achievement on his stringent guidelines for setting goals, Penske made race-car driving an obsession that eventually earned him a driving record held by only a few talented drivers. After retiring from driving, Penske became one of the most successful and best-known car and track owners in the history of motorsports. I went on an amazing Sunday morning tour of the $25 million dollar 400,000 + square feet headquarters for the Penske Racing teams with Tim Cindric, President of Penske Performance, Inc.
This amazingly "eat off the floor clean," facility got my Good Housekeeping Seal of approval and then some! It is is one of the most technologically advanced race car manufacturing facilities in the world. They build every car from scratch here down to the minutest specifications to enhance race performance for each car type and for each race. They even have a fan bridge that overlooks the race shop floor that is open to the public and allows fans to watch the crew work, and a gift shop that gets visitors from around the world on tour buses daily. NASCAR fans are some of the most dedicated, loyal and enthusiastic of all sports.
We also learned during a lunchtime round-table session about how Mobil 1 and Penske Engineers work together to increase engine performance and more about the racing technology of NASCAR, American Le Mans, Twelve Hours of Sebring, Porsche Super Cup, AMG - Mercedes DTM and Formula 1 racing.
During the Q and A at the end I posed one loaded question on what Penske is doing along the green front, to which Tim Cindric, President Penske Performance Inc., replied: "It is a sensitive topic. We are participating in green initiatives like our Penske Porsche RS Spyder team win of the 2008 inaugural Le Mans Green Challenge October 4th 2008 in Atlanta." The American Le Mans Series is the only major race series in the world in which all cars race on not one, not two, but three alternative 'street legal' fuels: clean sulfur-free diesel, E10, and cellulosic E85. "Street legal" refers to fuels that are virtually the same as the consumer purchases at the fuel station. An electric hybrid is scheduled to make its debut shortly, perhaps at the season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, October 18. Many believe the Green Challenge represents a real game changer within the motorsports and automotive industry and the Penske organization is at the forefront.
I also learned about Mobil 1 0W-20 Advanced Fuel Economy oil which is engineered to deliver outstanding engine protection and to offer improved fuel economy in vehicles where 0W-20 or 5W-20 oil is recommended. This low-friction, fully synthetic formula increases engine efficiency and offers the best fuel economy in the Mobil 1 line. Over the life of your vehicle, Mobil 1 Advanced Fuel Economy claims it can save over $400 in fuel costs.
To calculate your fuel saving potential, use the Mobil 1 Savings Calculator.
My next post will be about my experience going 175 MPH on my ride-along at Lowe's Motor Speedway with Sam Hornish, Jr. in the #77 Mobil 1 Dodge and with Andy from the Richard Petty Driving experience in a 2009 Dodge Challenger ..so stay tuned...and check out my Flickr photostream from the entire weekend.
A BIG thanks to Sean Hixson,Weber Shandwick Worldwide, Mobil 1, NASCAR and Penske Racing for inviting me to join this event and your warm southern hospitality!