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Memorial Day – Coca Cola 600 – Take 2 May 25, 2009

Posted by claireblang in 2009 Season.
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Standing By In the LMS Garage

I’m here in the Lowe’s Motor Speedway garage talking with team guys about the chances that we’ll get this race in and that it will indeed be the Coca Cola 600 and not the 500 or less. The weather is teasing us with moments that appear brighter with dark clouds on the horizon and green blobs on the weather radar. Many of the team guys told me that they were to be working Monday anyway so they might as well be at the race track. Others were planning family or team cookouts and several said that if this race gets done soon enough they are going to head to cookouts that will be several hours delayed. Several team guys told me that their marriages depended on days like this Memorial day off to hang with the family. Instead, they’ll be racing because that is what they do.

Tuesday NASCAR Meeting – R&D Center

Everyone here is talking about the Tuesday meeting that NASCAR has called with primaries on the teams. While everyone is talking about what the meeting might mean related to tweaks to the car of tomorrow there’s no indication that has anything to do with the meeting. Crew chiefs are not a part of the meeting because it’s not about nuts and bolts. The meeting’s to be held at 10 and 2 p.m. will include drivers, team owners and team general managers if they’d like to come. It’s an open forum and the conversation in the garage is who might speak up and who are the leaders in the sport who might stand up and express their thoughts openly. Names in the garage being brought up, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton and Michael Waltrip. Some drivers told me that they do not feel it is their place to stand up and that they will go and listen but that they miss a guy like Dale Eanrhardt who would have NASCAR’s ear. With E it was a two way street – he’d not only go tell NASCAR what he thought – they’d come to him to solicit advice. Let’s not forget though that NASCAR has had these meetings several times a year recently when they feel it just might be a good time to lend an ear and an open forum to the teams. NASCAR has always said that their door is open and that drivers do come in and vent and offer suggestions. From within the garage – there is conversation today that they miss Dale Earnhardt at times like this because they trusted him to speak up on their behalf behind closed doors.

H.A. Humpy Wheeler – “It’s just how you treat people”

I was on the air with “Dialed In” for the rain delay coverage here at LMS and talking about some of what Speedway Motorsports CEO Bruton Smith had to say in a sit down with the media here on Saturday. You could have heard a pin drop in the room when he addressed the controversial topics of the day and talked about why he and former track president H.A. Humpy Wheeler and he parted ways on the worst of terms.

Humpy, who retired, had been invited by Tony George to go to Indy for the Indy 500 this past weekend….and there was word that Humpy had not been invited to attend the 50th running of the Coca Cola 600 here at LMS.

While discussing what Bruton had to say my cell phone rang. I was on air – which makes answering a cell phone difficult but managed to get the phone answered off air while on air which is kind of like walking a tightrope while dancing. It was Humpy Wheeler, calling and I asked him if he’d come on air with me and open up about his side of the story. He agreed and I appreciate it.

For 45 minutes, Humpy answered my questions and talked about not only how he felt about not being invited to LMS for the 50th Coke 600 (Bruton says he does not invite people and that Humpy has a NASCAR hard card to get in) but also how he felt about other issues of the day.

Humpy Wheeler is the real deal. I got laid off of a job at one point in my career and it was not easy. Funny how your phone rings when you are all that – but when you are down and out for one brief moment in your life (even if it lasts an hour a day or a month)- the phone calls come only from those who really are your friends. You never forget who it is that is there for you in tough times.

Humpy called me at my house while I was languishing in self pity and feeling pretty down and out the day after I got laid off. I had no idea that he even knew how to reach me. He talked me through the time in his life when he lost his job through no fault of his own (because of tough economic times) and how it felt and advised me to never look back. I had never figured a guy like Humpy would have had that sort of moment in his life but he did.

This rift between Humpy and Bruton is sad and private, because none of us knows what actually goes on behind closed doors. Both of these guys love racing and the two made magic together. Bruton is a hugely successful man who has always been kind to me on his property covering this event and Marcus Smith is working hard to carve his own niche as president of this track and to serve the fans in a way that will make the guests to his dad’s track proud.

But Humpy should not feel that he is not welcome at LMS (whether it’s intended or not) and Humpy Wheeler is valuable to the sport.

I will tell you one thing – Humpy taught me a valuable lesson – I now call everyone I know who is laid off, fired, or looses a job due to the economy or for any other reason if I have their number. We often feel the person will be bummed out and that they will not want the call – but I have never found that to be the case.

Humpy will survive – he doesn’t need an invitation to LMS to continue to be called on for quotes and respected for what he accomplished in this sport and Bruton says he doesn’t invite folks and that Humpy could come with his NASCAR hard card. Maybe so.

Like I said – no one knows what actually went on behind closed doors and we’ll never know for sure.

All I know is that these are two powerful guys in the sport and I wish they could get along.

I also appreciate the call from Humpy.

Claire B

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Happy Memorial Day- Coca Cola 600 May 25, 2008

Posted by claireblang in Drivers, NASCAR, Teams.
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Hey!
 
I’m here in the deadline room at Lowe’s Motor Speedway – and I figured I’d drop you a line. John Force and the NHRA racers just left the deadline room. I interviewed him yesterday – but Force was in the media center today and he had the group, as always, In stitches. I’ve never known him to be less than entertaining in all the years I’ve seen him and interviewed him off and on at tracks and events, even in private when the cameras and microphones are not on – but it was classic Force today. I swear the man looks better since he’s been through his injury than he did before his accident – He’s amazing.
 
Soldiers are everywhere. I have never seen so many soldiers and God bless them! There are like 1,500 soldiers here at the track who will participate in pre-race activities and I never saw so much young promise in uniform – or told so many young people thank you as I have this morning. They are everywhere – it’s totally cool.
 
Hey the Coca-Cola Olympic promotion brought Yao Ming to the race today and he is the largest human being I have ever seen. He was in victory lane this morning shooting basketball with drivers Kyle Petty, Michael Waltrip, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Burton and others. After the basketball demo – Yao and two-time US Olympic Taekwondo gold medalist Steven Lopez took their turn at a pit stop with the Kyle Petty team showing them how to change tires and jack the car. Yao Ming jacking a NASCAR race car..now that is a hoot.
 
Note: I am doing a “best of” show tomorrow on Memorial Day! It will open with a live to tape (recorded) intro that is fresh and I did my best to say what I really meant to the men and women in uniform. It’s the one real way that I can give back is to say thank you on air for those who wear the uniform or who have worn it in years past and have been in harm’s way to protect  us. I will have a debrief of the Nationwide Race and the Nascar Craftsman Truck Series race on Monday taped – but with some interesting audio – and then will dedicate Tuesday to the debrief on the Coca- Cola 600.  I needed a down day before picking it all up again and heading off on the circuit. So, I wanted you folks to know that I will not be taking live calls on Monday. I’ll miss you but the couch has been a stranger – and I plan on camping out on it on Monday.

Happy Memorial Day!
 
News in the Garage:

I was the first one on the scene yesterday when the Haas CNC cars were parked at the entrance to the garage and then declared to have illegal rear wing mounts. It was actually another team that alerted me to what was going on and I went over to check it out. I called a reporter or two and said “get down here” something odd is going on. I went over to the NASCAR hauler and waited for Series Director John Darby to come out of a meeting -but the meeting continued so I left.  Later, I went back to the other NASCAR hauler and there was John Darby sitting on the stair of the hauler with Haas Crew Chief Booty Barker and driver Scott Riggs in deep discussion. A source on the team told me that the teams had used the brackets all season – and that the timing of getting pulled for them now was wild. NASCAR says that’s what they all say when they get caught, basically.
 
POST NATIONWIDE SERIES- Pit Road Riles Up!
 
I was on pit road when the scuffle happened between the pit crew members of the Brad Kezelowski team and the Denny Hamlin team post race. I saw a whole lot of people standing like billboards trying to protect their drivers and I also saw an official being carried away limping after having injured his leg. I saw no actual punches thrown but it was hard to see beyond the crowd of team members that I was surrounded by. I literally could not move – and was being pressed into the bodies that were making the situation tense. Security was everywhere – and on top of the situation.  I went to the Nationwide hauler after the race and Denny, Brad, JD Gibbs, Kelley Earnhardt Elledge were all in the hauler. Later Coach Gibbs came up and had a discussion with JD – and later with Elledge.  I’ll detail more of this on Tuesday but Keselowski is not backing down – and cannot be pushed around even by a veteran such as Hamlin.  The media corps was impressed that even when he was seated next to Hamlin in the deadline room and Hamlin critiqued him – Keselowski didn’t crumble.
 
You’ll have that (In big time stock car racing). 🙂
 
This is Memorial Day weekend. Salute the troops and enjoy the day.
 
More later.
 
Claire B
XM Satellite Radio

Friday of Race Week 2008- Charlotte- Lowe’s Motor Speedway May 23, 2008

Posted by claireblang in 2008 Season, Drivers, Items of Interest, Tracks.
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It’s been “As the World Turns” type of drama in the deadline room of Lowe’s Motor Speedway’s media center this week. First, H.A. Humpy Wheeler (SMI President) retires and holds an impromptu news conference that has reporters racing to the track – with little advance warning. The word “rift” has been used in more than one story headline – yet Bruton says that Wheeler has been talking about retirement for a year. Wheeler says he didn’t quite leave on his own terms. Calling his own news conference – was a signature Wheeler move and we haven’t seen the last of H.A. Humpy Wheeler who will continue to be a force in the industry. Could he work for NASCAR? He says it’s not out of the question and he has had a conversation with them.
Humpy pic

Then, Bruton Smith (Chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc) holds a news conference and announces that SMI has purchased Kentucky Speedway. The former owner of Kentucky Speedway says he feels certain that the Speedway will get a Sprint Cup Series date – and as litigation is still in the air with the Kentucky Speedway lawsuit NASCAR says don’t jump to conclusions any realignment of dates has to have their approval and they don’t appear to want to add a date or to move a date to that part of the country at this time.

With all the SMI goings on there was little space in the daily rag to fit some of the other “good stuff” in. I thought I’d pass on some tidbits this morning on the blog before I head out to Penske Racing, Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Racing and then Speed Street where I will do today’s broadcast from the Chevy XM “Dialed In” Mobile Broadcast Unit.

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Catch some of these nuggets:

Dale Earnhardt Jr
The Role of NASCAR Villains:

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE A VILLAIN IN NASCAR? JR: “You got to wreck people. You got to be mean. You got to work the crowd and get them mad. Do what villains do, kind of like wrestling. The bad guy comes in wearing black, flipping the crowd off and cheating doing things like that.”
WHO DO YOU THINK HAS BEEN THE BEST VILLAIN IN NASCAR? JR: “It changed. Everybody had their moments. There were times when dad was a pretty good villain. Jeff Bodine turned into a villain there for a while in my opinion when I was a little kid. ’88 was a good year for that, him and daddy wrecking each other. Darrell (Waltrip) never was a villain, Darrell just whipped everybody. You know Kyle (Busch) whether he wants it or not has sort of become that. He could end up using that to his favor. There are people who will cheer for the villain. There are people who like that mentality and pull for the bad guy.”
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MARK MARTIN
On Joey Logano/DEI Mgmt.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT JOEY LOGANO THAT MAKES EVERYONE EXCITED ABOUT HIS POTENTIAL? Martin: “I don’t know what it is. Joey is magic, take my word for it. You will see soon.”

DO YOU HAVE MUCH INPUT IN TO THINGS AT DEI OUTSIDE OF THE NO. 8 CAR? Martin: “Max, Teresa and John have been more interested in my opinion than anywhere else I have ever been. It still isn’t very much, but they are very interest in my opinion. I have a great relationship with Max and respect. The same with John Story and of course with Teresa as well. It is pretty cool, it makes me feel good that they are interested in my opinion on things from time to time. But, I don’t have a big role in it. I feel really good about where the organization is today versus where it was in October. I think it is very sound and made a lot of progress from where it was in October.”
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Elliott Sadler
On Sucking Oxygen and AJ

WHAT DO YOU DO DIFFERENTLY NOW TO PREPARE FOR 600 MILES? Sadler “I eat (laughs). I make sure that I eat a lot on Saturday night. I make sure that I eat a lot on Sunday afternoon, a big lunch to make sure that my body has a lot of energy and stuff to pull from. It’s a long race. Five-hours in a race car is very long. I take car of my body this whole week to make sure that I’m good mentality and physically for this weekend. I just make sure that I’m really hydrated. I’ve got a lot of fresh oxygen in my system and everything before the race starts on Sunday.”

WHY THE OXYGEN? Sadler: “There are a lot of guys out here that do (oxygen). Different guys either do it with the mask or in the (oxygen) chamber. It’s something that I learned from Dale Jarrett six or seven years ago. I take in a lot of fresh oxygen. I’m in a car for an hour-and-a-half today and another two or three hours Saturday. By the time Sunday rolls around on the weekend, you’ve got three or four hours of carbon monoxide in your system. So I try to take in some fresh oxygen Saturday night and definitely Sunday morning before the race just to make sure that my blood cells are as pure as they can be. When you’re in a car for five hours, you’re definitely going to get some carbon monoxide in your system. I’m just trying to take care of myself for longevity in the sport.”

DO YOU TAKE IN THE OXYGEN WITH A MASK? Sadler: “I do it with a mask because it’s just easier for me. I don’t really want to lie in a chamber; I’m kind of claustrophobic so I do the mask thing.”

HAVE YOU TALKED TO A.J. ALLMENDINGER THIS WEEK? Sadler: “I’ve got better things to do and more things to worry about than talking to him (Allmendinger). The Coca-Cola 600 is a big race here in NASCAR and I want to be focused and ready to go. Let’s just try and qualify and worry about that, I’ll worry about him another time.”
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Coca-Cola Pole Sitter Kyle Busch:
On Stuff:

What have you done this week racing so close to home? Busch: “Fortunately I have had a little bit of time off. I went out on the lake yesterday and finally got to enjoy my Centurion boat for the first time this year. The water is still a little cold, but it felt nice. I was able to do some wake boarding and was able to have some fun. I’m sore as all can be right now and I’m hoping that will be better for Saturday night. Other than that, it’s been a pretty calm week. Fortunately they haven’t had me doing too much stuff. It picks up now with today ………and Saturday and Sunday again. I get a day off on Monday and then we go test Tuesday and Wednesday in Pocono so back to it.”

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Jeff Gordon:
OK Fantasy Racers – His Chances for A Win on Sunday

DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF ON THE SHORT LIST OF FAVORITES FOR THIS RACE ON SUNDAY? Gordon: “I wouldn’t even put myself on the list. I think that we’ve got some work to do, performance-wise, but we’re such a good team that anything is possible. So I guess maybe you could put us way at the bottom of the list. When I think of favorites I think of people that show dominance or a lot of speed. To me it’s a very short list of people that are on the list that can win.”

THIS WEEK WILL BE THE LAST RACE HUMPY WHEELER IS IN CHARGE AT LOWE’S MOTOR SPEEDWAY. WHAT’S THAT GOING TO BE LIKE FROM A DRIVER’S PERSPECTIVE? Gordon: “That’s huge. To not really hear anything about it and for that to come out like that, I’ve never thought of this sport or Lowe’s Motor Speedway without Humpy Wheeler. He’s just constantly pushing the envelope. All the creativity and excitement and entertainment he’s brought for the competitors as well as for the fans, is definitely going to be his legacy. He’s set a high bar, for sure.”

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE HUMPY PROMOTION?
Gordon: “Oh, man. I can remember back when I was a rookie in the Cup Series, he used to use us rookies quite a bit. I can remember we did human bowling up there near the Speedway Club one time (laughs). Probably the one that stands out the most was when we did a stagecoach thing where we came out in a stagecoach in a Western theme and there were like bank robbers and we were shooting little cap guns. I would have never done that today (laughs). Back then it was pretty comical.”

DO YOU EXPECT DALE JR. TO WORK MORE CLOSELY WITH YOU NEXT TIME (Restrictor Plate Racing)?
Gordon: “Not at all. I don’t expect him to. I’m not asking him to. It’s just that we have a better understanding. My goal as a driver is, I don’t car if it’s my teammate or not, to not allow them to make the pass. My job is to make sure my line is going forward and I’m using my mirrors. I’ve always said that. I did expect for that type of move to maybe happen later in the race; not at that point in the race. So now I know and it just allows us to work together and know that when those things happen, don’t take it personal. It’s just part of the way the race is unfolding at that point. And we’re competitors who want some position and sometimes that means working with your teammates and sometimes that means not working with your teammates. I’ve been in this thing long enough to know that I haven’t always made my teammates happy by everything I’ve done. But I think I’ve gained a little more patience over the years and know how much I want to have those guys on my side towards the end of the race. That’s way I try to make as many friends as I possible can If it’s possible.”
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That’s a wrap for this blog. I had better get up and at it. It’s going to be a busy day – and while there’s no action on the track at Lowe’s Motor Speedway I’ll be checking on the trucks at Mansfield Motorsports Park and spending the day kicking around the race shops in Charlotte.

Enjoy the day!
Claire B