Back Stage at “Sound and Speed” January 14, 2010Posted by claireblang in Off Season Fun.
Tags: Aric Almirola, claire b lang, claireblang.com, clint bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Elliott Sadler, Ernie Irvan, Hendrick Motorsports, Kerry Earnhardt, Kyle Busch, Michael Waltrip, Mike Skinner, MORGAN SHEPHERD, NASCAR, nashville, Sirius NASCAR Radio, Sound and Speed, Sprint Cup Series, Taylor Swift
Nashville, TN – 1/9/09 – Claire B. Lang
Once a year I dedicate one of my few off weekends to giving back via “Sound and Speed” in Nashville, an event that I have contributed my time to since it began. I’m proud to help in any way that the event needs. I always come away from Sound and Speed with more than I give. My heart is full when I leave Nashville after this event and it takes me to a place of a great spirit and in the right frame of mind to hit the long and winding road again to cover yet another NASCAR race season. It’s like a spa for the brain in an incredibly competitive business in an insanely competitive sport. At this event, everyone arrives and says, “How can I help?”
There’s something about Nashville, something about the NASCAR drivers all unselfishly contributing their time, about pitching in on the event not just covering it and the association with the huge hearted folks who make country music that, all together, gives me the big click. I leave Nashville full of warmth and good feelings about our sport, about the drivers and about life in general.
I thought I’d take you behind the scenes at the event and let you see some of what I saw at Nashville – in the drivers and in the sport.
Friday, I got on a 7:55 a.m. EST flight to Nashville and arrived as folks were just getting up on a cold winter day in music city. I decided to head over to the hotel to check in and get breakfast. Kyle and Patty Petty arrived a few minutes later and sat down for breakfast themselves and the staff at the hotel could not have been more excited. Kyle and Patty and their business manager had breakfast and began the task of making sure that everything would go smoothly for those celebrities who were on their way, for the stage shows that were being prepared and for the fans who were beginning to arrive in Nashville.
I headed over to the SIRIUS XM Studios in the Sommet center a beautiful facility with a picture window that looks down over the honky tonks of Nashville. If I were to compare doing a show in this studio to driving a sport’s car it would be like being given a Lamborghini to drive for the evening – it was so incredible. I got word that the fans had already arrived at the Municipal Auditorium and were planning to camp out to be in line for autographs the next morning. The officials of the event allowed the fans inside for the night because of the cold weather. I took a car over to the auditorium and headed for the basement to talk to the fans. They would have camped outside in near freezing temperatures all night long for a chance to see their favorite driver up close. Welcome to Nashville! God bless the NASCAR race fans.
As I have done for many years, I emceed on the stage in the afternoon at Sound and Speed. I met many race fans and got to meet a good number of the artists and enjoy some non- race track time with the drivers who arrived to pitch in.
Country music sensation Taylor Swift surprised everyone in the green room by showing up in the late afternoon to just say hi. She was as beautiful as ever and twice as friendly. Everyone wanted a photo. I heard she was interested in coming to get a photo with Dale Earnhardt Junior. She performed on stage at previous Sound and Speed events and wanted to drop by in support of the event. She wore a white beret and was laid back and totally cool.
The group that I introduced on stage included Chuck Wicks who into the mainstream country music world with the hit “Stealing Cinderella,” but he burst onto the national scene as the handsome guy who was paired with Julianne Hough on “Dancing With the Stars – and who was linked off stage with her too. I had forgotten that they had a personal relationship when I asked if he’d do dancing with the stars again – he replied (on stage) that he’d maybe consider it with a different partner. I said, “Come on, Julianne Hough…wow!” Later I told him I hoped talk of DWS was cool…and he was as nice as can be, saying, “Naw, no problem it’s all good.” Nice guy.
Danielle Peck was in the country group that I introduced on stage– amazing that a lot of these artist began writing music at 5-10 years of age – similar to the age the race car drivers on stage with them were beginning their driving career. I got a kick out of her – her personality was just as big as her talent. It’s refreshing to meet people like Danielle.
Just before I went on stage, on the steps heading up to emcee, I ran into the guys from Fast Ryde (“That Thang”) singer-songwriters James Harrison and Jody Stevens. They told me that I was “wearing” it –loved what I picked out for the event. Ha!. I hear they may be coming to a track near you soon for anthem singing. I kind of saw them as the Kyle Busch of Music City. They got some push back from “That Thang” (a butt song) for another junk in the trunk song. They didn’t seem to care about the push back, in fact I got the idea that they maybe even liked it. Up on stage we went – you gotta love being in a totally new environment and meeting folks from a completely different perspective. I laid back on the stairs so that the guys wouldn’t see my back side on the way up the stage, lest I have anyThang extra on the backside. LOL.
Inside reflections/stories/catching up:
Former NASCAR great Ernie Irvan was at Sound and Speed and I spent some time catching up with him in the green room. He’s never been better. He and wife Kim moved to Charleston – but Ernie says they Miss North Carolina and are going to move back as soon as they can. He moved there to support his wife’s desire but seemed thrilled that now they both want to move back.
Kerry and Renee Earnhardt were at Sound and Speed and we had fun catching up behind the scenes. I wish more folks could meet Kerry and Renee –in person as they are an incredible couple. Kerry is the kind of guy who is extremely sensitive to others feelings and he’s about the most down to earth person I know and I’m not just counting racers. I hadn’t seen the two of them for a while so it was fun to sit around in the green room and laugh, which we did. When he arrived, Kerry left the green room to go say hi to the show car drivers out in the main arena area. He did this on his own – said they had driven long distances to get there and that he wanted to go meet them. That’s just like Kerry. The show car drivers were beyond thrilled that Kerry Earnhardt would come talk to them – almost speechless. People still come up to Kerry and, because he’s an Earnhardt, just want to hug or touch him. When I spilled a cup of coffee, it was Kerry who went to get the napkins, helped me not worry about the stain on the leg of my jeans and helped me figure out how to get it out. I asked him where he got that sensitivity – he smiled and said honestly, my dad.
Kyle Petty took to the stage at the Ryman Auditorium and sang several songs he had written himself. Earlier in the day he told me that he had not practiced much with the band and that he wasn’t sure how good it would be. He was definitely being humble because the man is a born entertainer who rocked the house. Watching him perform I wondered how the Opry band could play with him as if they were regulars when the songs were songs written by Kyle and they had very little practice time. He described the process for me in which the band sat with him and in a matter of minutes while he played, they assigned number categories to each cord and in minutes sounded as if they were a band who had traveled with them for years. Amazing, that’s why at the Opry no matter who was performing the band and the artist had the big musical click. “The King” Richard Petty who has been a part of this event in years past was not in attendance this year.
Michael Waltrip said on stage that he wasn’t trying to make a fashion statement with his calf length coat – he was just trying to keep warm. Fans told them they loved his new hair cut (short) and he told them how excited he was to be heading to Dubai to race. Waltrip told me he was thrilled to meet Hank Williams Junior in person back stage at the Opry.
Dale Earnhardt Junior seemed to enjoy the visit to Sound and Speed this year – and, as always, got a lot of attention from fans. One thing struck me as I stood in the green room and a local media person, accompanied by his son approached Junior for a photo back stage. The boy was about 12-13 years old and had long hair that swept around and covered his eyes. Junior was kind in posing with the boy and his dad for the photo, even when the first take didn’t happen. Junior had his arm behind the kid for the photo. I was standing behind them and noticed as he patted the kid on the back after the shot, as if he understood what it was like to be a 13 year old kid back stage with his dad and in that awkward stage of life. For a guy who gets so much attention you could just sense how nice he was to the kid, making him feel comfortable. I know it’s a small thing but to a kid that age it means a lot. These sorts of things never show up in print or on camera but when you’re there back stage you notice them. Even the country music stars wanted photos with Dale Junior.
NASCAR (racing) News Notes from Sound and Speed:
Here are some comments from some of the talk from drivers at Sound and Speed that I thought you’d like to read:
MORGAN SHEPHERD/on 2010 and a new car coming into Nationwide and how that affects him: “…..We operate with a very small amount of money. The race fans help us. Of course, Tony Stewart helped us last year. He won’t be able to do that this year. He bought us tires and all. We’re going to go out with the same goal of going and making every race. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. So we’ve got the will, and we’ll find the way.”
ELLIOTT SADLER/ on the possibility of going back to blade spoilers, doing away with the double yellow line at Daytona and Talladega, and any other changes that might be coming down the pike?
“Going back to the spoiler, if that happens, I’ve heard the same thing as you have, I would be happy to see that as a driver. It will give us more vision, especially on restrictor plate tracks and things like that. So I think it will help as far as the racing is concerned.
As far as the look of the car, I think it will bring some identity back to the manufacturers, identity back to NASCAR racing. It looks more like a NASCAR if it has a spoiler on it. So when I heard the news that might be happening, I was
Dale Earnhardt Junior ( Hendrick Motorsports)/ Do you think Danica Patrick is going to struggle? Do you think she’s going to adapt? Will it take her long? Are you the perfect person to be a car owner for her because you understand the attention she’s going to be getting?
“Yeah, I’m kind of going into it with an open mind. I mean, it’s going to be an uphill battle for her to do well. But I think she can. She’s a racecar driver. She should be able to adapt and do whatever she needs to do.
We’re going to give her the best tools we can. I don’t know if there’s a perfect owner or whatever. But, you know, we’ll just do the best we can for her. She has been in a car. Pretty happy with how that’s gone. Pretty happy with what we’ve seen. I love her attitude. She gets along great with Tony, Jr. All that stuff is going better than planned. We just need to get to the racetrack. I mean, she’s been around Daytona. Went to Orlando tested. Need to run some laps.
I hate testing myself. But, you know, the policy as it is now, it’s difficult for someone like Danica to come in and really try to understand the cars, get to know them. We’re going through that challenge, trying to help her as much as we can.
But feel pretty good about it. I don’t know what she’ll do. I wouldn’t even know where to begin to sort of guess on how her performance will be or what her stats will look like. We’ll just have to see.”
MIKE SKINNER (Camping World Truck Series)/ With your record of poles in the Truck Series, Mike, what is the secret to being a good qualifier? What gets you up on the wheel? What do you do different that’s better than other guys? What does it take to make one perfect lap?
“I think the desire and the willingness to scare the hell out of yourself for two laps comes into play. You know, when they came out with I call ’em restrictor plates, but we run a spacer plate under the carburetor now that takes about a hundred horsepower or so out of the engine. We got to making so much horsepower, these trucks got to running over 200 miles an hour at some of these places. They’re just not aerodynamically sound for that. NASCAR slowed us down to keep us from flying up and hurting somebody in the stands or hurting ourselves.
Nowadays, these big tracks like Texas, Atlanta, places like that, a few years ago, there might have been only three or four of us in the field that was crazy enough, brave enough, stupid enough, I’m not really sure which, to try to hold it wide open all the way around of the racetrack. I’ve been blessed to have the ability to be one of those people that has been able to do that.
Nowadays, everybody holds it wide open qualifying. So there’s no real advantage to being a great qualifier any more in this day and time, except when you get to places like Martinsville, Virginia, Bristol. Anywhere you have to lift off the throttle, then it’s really still important. But a lot of the racetracks we go to now, everybody runs wide open.”
MIKE SKINNER Have you pleaded with NASCAR to take the taper spacer out of the Nationwide and Camping World trucks and cars?
“Yes, we have. I have to say that I would hate to be in NASCAR’s position because it’s a double edged sword. They take those plates out of there, we put a truck up in the grandstand somewhere and harm our fans, now we’ve got a really big black eye in our sport. You know, we go out, a couple drivers lose their lives, we’ve got a huge black eye.
It’s a double edged sword. I totally understand NASCAR’s position, but I do think we need to put recovery and acceleration back in these things. I still think that the Camping World Truck Series is the best show in NASCAR as far as the time of the race. It’s about half the distance. We race every lap from green to checkered. But we’re still the third tier series, and that’s okay. I enjoy it. I enjoy it just the way it is.
I would vote for putting the horsepower back in the motors, though.”
Aric Almirola (racing in the 09 Phoenix Racing car in Sprint cup in 2010/Aric, is that a full season in ’10?
“Well, I talked with James (Finch) about it. I mean, his plan is to go full time. Still working on a lot of things. At this point, when I got off the phone with him just the other day, it was, We’re going racing, and the rest will take care of itself. Hopefully we can get everything situated in the next couple weeks. But, yeah, I mean, we’re going to go to Daytona. I’ve asked them, Are we going to race, start and park? What’s our plan? He told me, Just get in and drive it. So I’m excited. I’m looking forward to 2010. I’m ready.”
Clint Bowyer and Michael Waltrip/on the possibility of NASCAR eliminating the yellow line rule?
Bowyer: “It’s a mistake. The yellow line, like he said, at the end of the straightaway, there’s 10 foot of runoff over there between the yellow line and the grass, say. You get down there and you don’t get back up before the bank starts again, you’re just gonna launch up there. You’ll turn right, wipe everybody out.
At least the yellow line keeps everybody on the bank as you get into the transition of the corner. I think it’s important. It’s a good rule. It’s tough. Like David Ragan or whoever it was that lost that race, you know, got blocked down there. Probably if that yellow line rule wouldn’t have been there, he would have won the race.
It’s unfortunate, but I think it’s a good cause. It’s done its job, what it was intended to do. I hope they keep it.
MICHAEL WALTRIP: By the way, that was my idea, too, the yellow line.
That’s just some of the conversation with the drivers and behind the scenes at ‘Sound and Speed”. I’ll catch up with you later. I can’t wait to go back racing in 2010.
Enjoy the day!