Tuesday, November 12, 2013

NASCAR Next: Meet Ben Rhodes

          The Charlotte race weekend was a big one for me as I experienced NASCAR’s past, present, and future! In one weekend, I had the opportunity to interview one of NASCAR’s greatest legends-Richard Petty- and some of NASCAR’s future stars – Ben Rhodes, Gray Gaulding, and Ryan Gifford. Ben, Gray, and Ryan are involved in the NASCAR Next program, a program that features race car drivers who have a promising NASCAR future ahead of them and promotes these drivers to fans and teams. One of my goals as a teenage journalist is to promote the sport to my generation. I think one of the best ways to do this is to feature young drivers that people my age can relate to and follow their development in the sport. After all, these are the drivers that are our sport’s future and we will be able to say, “We knew them when…”
          Ben Rhodes is a 16 year old Louisville, Kentucky native who had a busy year in 2013, driving both the #41 Alpha Energy Solutions car in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series for Hawk-McCall Motorsports and K&N Pro Series East car for Turner-Scott Motorsports. Along with 6 victories in the All-American Series, he finished third (behind Kyle Busch and David Ragan) in the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown. He also finished in the top-10 in five of his seven K&N East races. Ben plans to race full-time in the K&N series in 2014, running for both Rookie of the Year and the championship.
          Here’s a chance to get to know Ben!

ML: Tell me a little bit about your racing career up to this point.

BR: I started out racing go-karts when I turned 7. I raced those for about 6 years, and then moved on to Bandolero, then Legends. I won about 43 races in 2011 in Legend cars and then moved into Late Models. I had zero wins my first year in Late Models. My second year-this year- I have 5 wins and I’m racing part-time K&N. A lot of progress and a lot of work to get where we are now.

ML: What are your plans for next year?

BR: Next year we are going to drive full time K&N for Turner-Scott Motorsports and a few truck races are on the radar. I’m looking forward to it!

ML: What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in your racing career?

BR: Really there’s been a challenge in every series I’ve been in. In go-karts there was always somebody that I kind of became rivals with. In Legends cars I had a big rival. Every track we went to he was just as fast as me. I’ve learned a lot from every person I’ve raced against. It made me a better person and better on the track too. For example, they would try to hang me out to dry on the outside. They would try to set you up so you would fall to the back. I had to learn how to set them up and counteract it. It was cool to learn all that.

ML: Where were you and who told you that you were a NASCAR Next driver?

BR: (looks at PR representative, Stix) What was it? A week ahead of Iowa when we found out we were on NASCAR Next? (Stix nods) About a week ahead of the first Iowa race, which was an East-West combo, so the majority of the NASCAR Next people were going to be there. They told us a week ahead of time, we showed up, they had the announcement, then it was official. We got all the goodies! We got the shirts, a couple of hats, and our schedule later in the mail-where we were going to go and all the cool events we got to take part in.

ML: What is your favorite opportunity you’ve had as a NASCAR Next driver?

BR: Probably the Chicago trip! That’s been our biggest and best event so far. We got to look around the city a little bit, then we went to the track and met some of the firemen and safety crews. We went to the Contender’s Live Event (an event in Chicago with all of the Chase drivers). That was pretty cool!

ML: What Sprint Cup or Nationwide driver do you admire and look up to the most and why?

BR: Growing up it was Jeff Gordon because my family knew him. My uncle worked on his sprint car growing up, building engines and stuff.

ML: How do you balance school and racing?

BR: I go to a small school so that helps! Everybody knows each other. I know all the teachers. They’ll send me emails. They will give me my work ahead of time if I ask for it. I can really go up to them and ask them about anything and they’ll be there to help. It’s really great people at my school. They help out in any way that they can. They support me one-hundred percent. I can miss 30 days like I did last year and as long as I keep my grades up they’re okay with it.

ML: I don’t think I could miss that many school days and get everything done to pass all my classes!

BR: Yeah, it was kind of rough!

ML: Do you have time for any other hobbies?

BR: Not really- between getting home after long weekends and trying to make up my school work from missing Thursday and Friday of the previous week and everything else that happens during the day. I go home, I work out, do my homework and if I’ve done all that I like to spend time with my family-even if it is late at night. 

ML: What’s your favorite TV show?

BR: (thinks for a minute, then laughs) Oh man….I don’t know! Anything to do with racing!

ML: Favorite singer or band?

BR: I can give you a genre! Hard rock- stuff I listen to when I work out to get me pumped up!

ML: Favorite junk food?

BR: There’s so many! Does Taco Bell count as junk food?

ML: Sure!

BR: Taco Bell, doughnuts, Little Debbies!

ML: What’s your favorite movie?

BR: It’s hard to pick favorites! I have a selection of favorites!

ML: What kind of movies- funny, scary?

BR: Funny movies and action movies I guess!

ML: What car do you have in real life?

BR: I got an old F-150 when I turned 16. It’s not bad! It gets me from Point A to 
Point B.

ML: What’s your favorite fast food?

BR: Probably Subway. I eat Subway all the time!

ML: Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram?

BR: Twitter. That’s the only one I really know! (laughs)

ML: Favorite app?

BR: Oh, this is hard! I look at iFunny a lot!

ML: What’s one thing about yourself that would surprise most people?

BR: I’m a relaxed driver on the streets. I’m a racecar driver so I like to go fast, but I go the speed limit on the street!

ML: Do you have a Sprint Cup driver that you pull for every weekend?

BR: I like a lot of drivers. I like Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Marcos Ambrose –I used to drive for him in late models and he’s hilarious!

ML: Do you follow any other sports? Football, baseball?

BR: Nope! Just racing!

I enjoyed getting to know Ben in person after following his career for the past year! I have a feeling that we’ll all be cheering for him in NASCAR for many years to come!

For more on Ben Rhodes, follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, as well as on his website, benrhodes.com!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

NASCAR Royalty

Whether you know him by the dark sunglasses and cowboy hat, his warm smile, or his famous Petty blue paint scheme, Richard Petty is a true American icon.While my generation of NASCAR fans was not even born when he took his last green flag, any true fan of the sport knows that NASCAR would not be where it is today without the contributions of Richard Petty.  
I had the honor to interview The King at during Charlotte Motor Speedway’s October race weekend.   

QI started attending races when I was 3 years old. You had already retired, Dale Earnhardt had died, and Jeff Gordon had already won all five of his championships. I love learning new things about what NASCAR used to be like! What are some things you think someone who wants to really get into NASCAR should know about the history of the sport?
RP: (laughs) You’ve got to go all the way back to 1949, when the cars were strictly stock cars. And then,after a period of years, stock cars weren’t good enough to race anymore so they had to keep building them better and better. If you look back at history, about every ten years, we have a new group of drivers coming through as the leaders. To begin with, you go back to Lee Petty, Fireball Roberts, or Junior Johnson,then you had David Pearson and Cale Yarbrough, then (Darrell) Waltrip. You have (Dale) Earnhardt come in and lead the pack, then Jeff (Gordon), and Jimmie is there now. So you have a supporting cast of 8 or 10 drivers that lead the pack at a time. These drivers that are winning races now aren’t always going to be here.It’s an important thing to look at and say, ‘Okay, this is how it is now, but it is going to change.

Q: You see lots little kids with their parents and lots of adults come to races, but you don’t see as many teenagers. What do you think NASCAR can do to get younger fans involved in the sport?
RP: When kids get into their teens or early 20s, you’ve got so much begging for their attention, so much begging for their extra dollars - how you get them to spend it to watch cars, I don’t know. I’ve thought about it a lot. You used to have football, baseball, basketball, and racing. Racing is way down the list now as to what people walking up and down the street get interested in.

Q: NASCAR has been through a lot of changes since you first started racing. What is one change you’re glad has been made, and what is a change you wish had not been made?
RP: The thing that I see is it’s basically toocommercial now. Everything has gotten computerized. In other words, the guys working on the cars now don’t have to have an engineer to tell them what to do because that’s what the computer does. I don’t like that.All that takes so much more money now that it’s hard to get new owners to come in. It used to be that if you had a little bit of money or a little bit of a sponsor, you could come in and race. Now, when you start, you’re years behind the computer system that the other teams have so it makes it tough for other teams to come in.

QWhat made you want to own a team?
RP: Driving the car was my hobby. I worked on the cars because that was my job. On Sunday, I buckled myself in the car and it was just me and the car. I didn’t have to listen to somebody hollering at me. Then when I quit driving, that part of my life, my hobby, went away. I’m still looking for another hobby.  

Q: I’m sure a lot of aspiring drivers have come to you for advice. What you told them probably applies to life in general. What pieces of advice have you given over the years?
RP: I tell them to go get a job. (laughsNo, seriously, racing is tough - whether you’re working on the car, in PR, working for sponsors, or driving the car. If you do the job right, it consumes all of your time. I tell the guys who are working on the cars and driving them that you have to set aside 4 or 5 years, and not look at anything but racing. Forget about everything; just think about racing 24 hours a day. After 4 or 5 years, you’re going to find out if that’s what you want to do.

Q: How did you like working on the movie Cars?
RP: My wife and I went to California a couple of timesand it was neat being around all those people and seeing how they animated everything. They had the grand opening over here (at Charlotte Motor Speedway) in front of 30,000 people.

QNASCAR is a big family between the drivers, the fans, and everybody in between, but -
RP: (quickly jumps in) NASCAR is the friendliest sport I’ve seen. You can go up and talk to the owners and mechanics. Drivers even go out of their way to talk to people sometimes. The sponsors come in and expose the drivers away from racing. None of the other sports really do that the way we do it. Also, a majority of the drivers winning races right now have kids so they relate to kids and families and a lot of the fans see that. Older fans that have kids of their own know that they can take their kids to the racetrack and meet their heroes. At a football or baseball game they’re sitting in the stands watching them, but they can’t talk to them. It’s easier to have a hero in racing because you can meet them at the track.
QThat’s one of my favorite parts of NASCAR. The drivers are so accessible and easy to talk to. Like you said, you probably can’t go to a football game and get an autograph from your favorite player right before the game.
RP: You can’t get on the sidelines at a football game either. Here, you can get down in the garage, rightwhere everybody is working. No other sport lets you this close to the players during the games or after a win.
QSpeaking of wins, what was your favorite race or championship you won?
RP: We were fortunate enough to win so many races that a lot of them got lost. One of the most exciting dealsone of the ones I can still remember, was the last race I won. It was at Daytona on July 4th in front of the President of the United States. But it was no more important than my first race, or my 14th, because if I had not gotten them I wouldn’t have gotten 200. All of them- whether they were big races or small races- were still important.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Girl Talk with Kim Coon and Jaclyn Roney-Miss Sprint Cup

Most people recognize them from the yellow and black firesuits they wear in Victory Lane interviews, but the job of a Miss Sprint Cup is much more than just celebrating with a team after the race. They serve as ambassadors for NASCAR and are involved in many activities both on race weekends and throughout the week. Recently, I had the chance to catch up with two of the current Miss Sprint Cups- Kim Coon and Jaclyn Roney!

Q: When did you first become interested in racing?  Did you grow up watching it?

KC: Kind of a mix!  Growing up in Orlando, I lived about 45 minutes away from Daytona.  I watched racing, but I wasn’t an avid fan.  When I got older, I had friends that worked in the sport so I was familiar with NASCAR and I’d been to a lot of races.  After I got this job, I have so much more respect for the drivers, the teams, and the sport in general.

JR: I first got into NASCAR about ten years ago so I didn’t grow up watching it. I went to Indianapolis Motor Speedway and saw my first race there. Once you go, you get sucked in.

Q: When did you become Miss Sprint Cup?

KC: This is my third year.  2011 was my first season as Miss Sprint Cup.  I thought every year would be the same, but each year I’ve gotten to do something different. 

JR: I got this job in the middle of 2011 so it’s my third season wearing the firesuit.

Q: What’s your favorite part of being Miss Sprint Cup?

KC: My favorite part is probably meeting all the fans from all over the world.  When you go to the (Atlanta) race you think it’s just going to be people from Alabama, Georgia, or somewhere from the region. When we’re out at the Sprint Unlimited Fan Experience, we meet people from Japan, Australia, or Germany who want to see their favorite driver. They’ve planned their trips to America when there’s a race so they can see one.  Seeing how passionate NASCAR fans are about the sport is really cool.  NASCAR fans aren’t like fans in other sports.

JR: When we are able to do things that we get to everyday, but those same things would make someone else’s day. When we give away tickets or give away a meet and greet with someone’s favorite driver, something they woke up not thinking that they were going to do that day and we are able to make that happen, those are the days that I’m really thankful for my job.

Q: Do you have any Victory Lane celebrations that you remember as the messiest or the most exciting?

KC: The 2011 Daytona 500 when Trevor Bayne won was my very first victory lane for a points race. It was so cool because it was history making and that moment was so incredible. You could hear him over the radio saying “Am I dreaming?” There are some pictures floating around from last year in Kentucky when Brad Keselowski won and the Miller Lite guys just annihilated me. I looked like I had jumped in a pool! I really had a lot of fun two years ago at the fall race in Phoenix when Kasey Kahne won for Red Bull right before Red Bull left the sport. I had a lot of friends on the pit crew so it was fun to get to share that with them. At Dover, Jimmie Johnson won with Madagascar car and the rainbow wigs awesome. For the Championship Victory Lane my first year, I don’t know how you could have chosen a better ending between Carl Edwards and Tony Stewart. We rode the stage out at the end of the race with about 10 laps to go to crown the champion. The race hadn’t finished yet so we didn’t know who the champion was yet even while we were riding out!

JR: They are all pretty messy, but I think the coolest was my first Victory Lane because I didn’t know what to expect! You watch it on TV, but once you’re in it you realize they are smaller than they appear. My first one was Michigan with Kyle Busch. That was a lot of fun! I remember his whole team was dousing me and they were saying, “Welcome to Victory Lane rookie!”

Q: How do you get all of that stuff out of your hair?

KC: A couple showers and you have to shampoo quite a few times! Beer smells, but the worst is red Gatorade because it stains. My hair will be pink!

Q: What other Miss Sprint Cup responsibilities do you have during the week? I know you do the victory breakfast at the shop for the winning driver.

KC: Oh goodness, so many! We do have Victory Lane at the shop. It is a lot of fun because there’s hundreds of people that work at the shop that don’t come to the track on the weekends! A lot of people do not realize what it takes to, not only get to Victory Lane, but also just to field a car every weekend. It takes so many people We do have a few office days here and there where we catch up on fan mail and different office duties. We do an average of 600 interviews and appearances combined each year. We do an appearance for each track during the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. We do filming for Rowdy.com each week where we choose our fantasy picks for the weekend. We do work with the Hall of Fame and at the different race shops. When the race comes to Charlotte in May and again in October, the shops will have us come to do Q and A’s. Our work could be anyone from a track to a sponsor to just anyone who wants us to make an appearance.

JR:  During the week, we have an office where we answer fan mail and plan what we are going to do on social media throughout the weekend. There are a lot of us that work in this program. We do anything that can help our team. We do Victory Lane in the shop every week. This is where we bring breakfast to everyone in the shop of the winning race team. Most of the time we leave to go to a race city on Wednesday or Tuesday (depending on where we are flying), so our week flies by pretty fast.

Q: What is your favorite experience you’ve had as Miss Sprint Cup away from the track? Someone you’ve gotten to meet or somewhere you’ve gotten to go?

JR: At Indy 2011, where I met some Make-A-Wish Foundation kids with Richard Petty. That was the coolest thing because these kids have such a positive outlook on life. It was very life-changing and fun!

Q: At the track, you see a lot of little kids that come with their parents, but you don’t see as many teenage fans. What do you think the tracks or NASCAR can do to keep teenagers interested in NASCAR?

KC: I think NASCAR and the tracks are doing the best they can to attract all different types of fans. I think the drivers help push that, too. Young drivers like Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Danica Patrick, being a female driver, will help expand the type of the fans coming out to NASCAR races, whether it’s by age or gender. As the sport gets a little more competitive and a little more exciting each year, I think it will continue to increase the number of teenage fans.

JR: That’s a great question because it’s kind of that window between little kids that get brought and then the teenage, even into college age, fans. I’ve been seeing a lot of them this season come in big groups. I think some of the younger drivers coming into the Sprint Cup Series, like Kyle Larson getting a full ride for next year, is going to bring a new level of fans. He is a fresh face, but well accomplished driver. The tracks have done a really good job at making the drivers accessible. You can’t go to a basketball game or football game and go meet the players like you can here. NASCAR does a lot of meet and greets with the drivers. Our job is all about being accessible. We’re kind of the fans’ friend on the inside. I think they’ve done a great job so far and it can only continue to get better.

Q: The next few questions are going to be then and now questions. Think back to you high school days. What was your favorite junk food then and what is it now?

KC: Then-probably those ice cream sandwiches and now-I try to stay away from it now but anything dark chocolate!

JR: Pizza then and pizza now. It hasn’t changed. (laughs)

Q: What was your favorite TV show then and what is it now?

KC: Probably Friends in high school. I still watch that now. But now, I really like Homeland. It’s filmed in Charlotte, which is where I live, so it’s cool to watch a show that’s filmed in my city!

JR: Then-it was The Hills. Now-The First 48 which is a murder mystery/reality show. They say if you haven’t solved a murder in the first 48 hours after it happened, the chance of solving it is slim to none. The show follows the first 48 hours after a murder.

Q: What was your favorite song/group then and what is it now?

KC: In high school, Blink 182 was probably my favorite band. Now, it’s a mix of stuff. I really like The xx, Say Anything, or anything that has a good beat because I’m a dancer.

JR: Instead of a song, I’ll say Garth Brooks. He’s my all time favorite and I got to see him after the NASCAR banquet in 2011. After the banquet, everyone elsewent out to industry parties, but I went and bought a single ticket to Garth Brooks. Since I bought a single ticket, I got 4 rows back, center stage. It was amazing!

Q: What was your favorite fashion trend then and what is it now?

KC: When I was in high school, the backless shirts were really popular. I like the floral trend a lot right now!

JR: I like the flare pants back in my high school days. Now, I like the peplum tops!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Girl Talk with Danica Patrick

“Embrace what’s different about you.” This wise advice comes from Danica Patrick, someone who has done just that.
Danica has embraced what makes her different from her competitors instead of letting it stop her from chasing her dreams. The driver of the #10 Go Daddy Sprint Cup Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing is the only female driver in the NASCAR’s top series. Although the 2013 season is Danica’s first full season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, she is no stranger to racing since she has raced against the boys in multiple series since an early age. In the Daytona 500 earlier this year, Danica became the first woman to both win a Sprint Cup Series pole position and lead green flag laps.
Recently, Danica returned to the track where she made history just five months ago and I had the chance to sit down for “girl talk” with her! As a 14 year old passionate NASCAR fan who wants to pursue a career as a NASCAR journalist, this was an amazing opportunity!
During our interview, I talked with Danica about her advice for girls and her life off the track.

Q: As you’ve pursued your dreams in a traditionally male dominated sport, you’ve shown both confidence and courage- two character traits I feel are essential to success. What advice would you give to young girls who may face similar circumstances or obstacles in their way?

DP:  It’s about not feeling different than anyone. It’s about feeling confident that you can accomplish anything. Just believe that you can do it and embrace what’s different about you.

Q: Some girls try to be the person everyone else wants them to be instead of being themselves. With you being in the spotlight, it’s easy for people to be critical of you. How do you stay true to yourself?

DP:  I would imagine you’d probably get a lot of people in general saying that confidence is really the most attractive thing -  that’s about being comfortable with yourself.  It’s just about finding things that make you feel good about yourself and feel confident. So whether it is a talent that you have, or something like that, just focus on those things.

Q: I’m sure there’s times where it feels like it’s you against the rest of the world. Do you have a quote or song you go to when you’re feeling down?

DP:  I have definitely always gone to the saying “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” and I really believe that’s true. No matter how hard things get, if it doesn’t kill you, you’re going to be better for it. I also like the one —“Tough times don’t last, tough people do.”
I like that one!

Q: You are focused on your job and I know you have a busy schedule between racing and sponsor commitments. I have noticed on Twitter that you like to cook.

DP:  (flashes a big smile) I do!

Do you have any other outlets?

DP:  I like to travel. I like to get a pedicure. I like to go shopping. I like to plan vacations. I even like to workout.

When you’re shopping does anyone ever come up to you and say “Hey, you’re Danica Patrick!”

DP:  Only if I stop or if I am by myself.   I suppose it becomes more and more common all the time. If I am by myself, I am a little bit of an easier target.   If I am with other people, I guess I would appear a little less approachable maybe.

But I guess from Twitter, your favorite thing is cooking?

DP:  Yeah, I would say. I like that. It’s fun.

What’s your favorite thing to cook?

DP:  I like anything dinner oriented, but I love breakfast!  If I’m going to make a production of it, I like dinner.

Do you like to experiment or just follow the recipe?

DP:  I think the best way to learn to how to cook is to use a cookbook to learn how to cook things you’ve never cooked before.  That kind of allows you to be able to make it again without the cookbook. I’m not a baker so I feel like you always need a cookbook for that. I like not having a cookbook, but the way you learn how to make good things is with them.

Do you like making desserts?

DP:  No, mostly just dinner. I’m not a dessert person. I will, but let’s see one of the ones I made recently. (pauses to think)  I made a bread pudding with brioche bread and I didn’t follow (the recipe).   I mean, I looked at the recipe, then I just started pouring things in.  I didn’t worry about the exact portions and stuff like that. I didn’t have the right ingredients either.  I was using vanilla creamer for coffee as one of the ingredients to flavor it. (laughs!) I was thinking it would not turn out and I just lapped it all in.  It seemed very wet and like it was just all going to be mush.  Then I made it and it was absolutely delicious!  So sometimes things turn out, but I’m sure there was just as much of a chance of it not.

Q: Since we’re at Daytona we have to take a spin around the track. It’s a fun Then and Now question for each turn. Think back to your high school days!

Turn1: What was your favorite junk food then and what is it now?

DP: I’ll just go back to what comes to mind first. It wasn’t high school that I ate this because in high school I was eating a little bit more healthy. I remember coming home, getting dropped off at 3:00 from the bus, grabbing a soda, and making a microwavable pizza. That’s probably not the best snack!  I also loved to cut up a whole box of strawberries and pour some white sugar on the side and dip each one in.

That’s what I like to take to lunch at school! It’s so good!

DP: Oh it’s delicious!

Turn 2: What was your favorite TV show then and what is your favorite TV now?

DP: When I was a kid, let’s go like mid-years, I liked 90210. Awesome. My parents let me watch it. Now, my favorite show? Probably Dexter. That’s a great show. I missed last season so I have to catch up on that one, but I’ve watched every other season. It’s a great show.

Turn 3: What was your favorite song or group then and what is it now?

DP: Let’s see, my boy band back then was  Backstreet Boys, because they were to me the first boy band. ‘N Sync came after them, but I was loyal to the originals-- the Backstreet Boys. (looks at PR rep, Joe Crowley) Right? Do I have this all right? Who played in the Backstreet Boys? Who were the singers?

JC: Nick Carter was the lead singer.

DP:  Nick Carter? Yeah, that’s right! Good job! Aww, that was awesome! (big smile)

JC:  I cannot believe I just answered that! (shakes head)

DP:  I’m definitely going to tweet that Joe’s favorite band growing up was the Backstreet Boys! My favorite band now? I’ve been listening to a lot of country lately…so probably Miranda (Lambert).  I love her music. She’s great. All time favorite-- I love Alanis Morissette, always have since I was a kid. But I’d say Miranda is a new favorite.

What is your favorite song by her?

DP:  The House That Built Me. It’s a pretty good song. I was in her music video for Fastest Girl in Town.

Oh I didn’t know that! I’ll have to go watch it!

DP: Oh yeah, go watch it. It’s cool.

Turn 4: What was your favorite fashion trend then and what is it now?

DP: Oh my gosh! (smiles) With socks, I used to roll them and scrunch them, but we’ll go with the rolling. I would wear white (socks) and then I would wear a color that matched my outfit and I’d roll them down.  It had to be absolutely perfect! So that was my favorite fashion trend then. And now, (thinks for a while) I wear a lot of t-shirts and jeans. Let’s see—a fashion trend? I don’t know. What do I wear that’s trendy? I guess in the moment you don’t feel like anything is all that trendy, you just kind of feel like it’s you.

JC: All I see you in is firesuits and golf shirts.

I like skinny jeans!

DP:  Yeah, I always wear skinny jeans. I suppose that’s it…between skinny jeans, Havaiana flip flops, and my James Perse t-shirts…that’s pretty much what I wear most of the time.

I guess you don’t really get a chance to dress up that much.

DP: I do, but I don’t really feel like I’m being trendy. You know what?! (slaps leg as thought comes to mind) Colored jeans!  I wear a lot of colored jeans. I love your red jeans. I had some blue ones on yesterday. Colored jeans-- I’m into them! I have just as many colored jeans as I do regular jeans.

Yeah, I love colored skinny jeans!

DP: I feel like I’m dressing up without actually dressing up. You wear colored jeans and a tshirt you’re like, “Woah! I look different!’

Thank you so much!

DP:  No problem! I had fun!

Danica Patrick is embracing what makes her different, but she is also similar to many girls and young women. She likes good food and good music. She’s fun to be around.  She has her own sense of style. Most of all, she’s not just following her dreams…she’s chasing them.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Getting to Know Brad Sweet

Brad Sweet drives the #5 Great Clips Chevrolet for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. While waiting for qualifying for the Firecracker 250 at Daytona, he was nice enough to grant me an interview. Hope you enjoy getting to know him as much as I did!

Q: NASCAR is a sport that is full of tradition. Do you have a favorite NASCAR tradition?

I grew up racing dirt cars, but everyone always dreamed of making it to NASCAR so some of my first memories were getting up every year in the morning to watch the Daytona 500 in February. That’s something that was always like a party. Seeing Jeff Gordon win Indy was cool, because I was always a fan of his. I was just always really in to NASCAR and watched it grow.

Q: Have you gotten the chance to meet Jeff Gordon? What was it like?

Yeah I’ve met Jeff Gordon. I think I’ve met just about every driver now. It was pretty neat. As you grow up as a kid, you watch them all, then you’re able to come in here and actually become friends a lot of them.

Q: Do you have a favorite quote or song you go to when you’re feeling down?

Not really, but I’m a pretty positive person, so when I do get down, I always think positive and think ‘there’s always another race’. I always think there’s a lot worse things in the world than having a bad race or getting in a wreck. So as long as I’m okay and my family is around me, I’m happy.

Q: You have a busy schedule with sponsor commitments and your race schedule. What do you do as an outlet when you have time to get away?

The weekend when you come to the track, you’re at work. Sundays and Mondays mostly I go out on the lake, that’s kind of like my weekend. That’s when I hang out with friends and other drivers. I think that’s why a lot of the drivers end up hanging out, because we’re all on the same schedule. It’s different than everybody else that has a normal job, but it works out.

Q: Since we’re at Daytona we have to take a spin around the track. It’s a fun Then and Now question for each turn. Think back to your high school days!

Turn 1: What was your favorite junk food then and what is it now?

I remember a lot of days, at lunchtime, they’d have a slab of beef jerky and I’d get a Cherry Coke. That was just something I’d pretty much have every day. It’s so bad for you! (laughs) I would never do that now, but that was my favorite junk food. And now, I try to to eat better, the older you get the healthier you try to eat. I still end up having a ton of my mom’s cookies because she’s always making them. We’ve actually got some over there (points to cookies on the counter)

Turn 2: What was your favorite TV show then and what is it now?

I’ve always watched so much racing stuff so I’m trying to think. (thinks for a while) I was always just in to watching racing and I’m still into watching racing. I’m a little more into watching movies and stuff now. Back then, I’d just turn on SPEED channel or whatever channel racing was on. That’s all I can really remember watching all the time. Otherwise, I was doing sports. I was really active so I didn’t watch a ton of TV

Q: What other sports did you play?

In high school, at one point I wrestled and at one point I played basketball. We were kind of into farming and I raised an animal one year! I kind of had a lot of different things that I was into in high school. I always went to every football game to watch. I went to almost every basketball game to watch. I was just really into all the sports. I was racing in high school, too, so a lot of weekends I was at go-kart races early in high school.  Later in high school, I was at sprint car races.

Q: Did you have anything in high school that you missed out on because of racing?

I didn’t go to a lot of dances. I did some of them when I could in the winter time. I didn’t go to prom, so I missed all that stuff. I probably just missed out on college. Right out of high school, this was what I wanted to do. I hear a lot of good stories about college and I think you learn a lot of good life lessons in college, but I think I’m just going through my college years in a different way, at the racetrack.

Turn 3: What was your favorite song or group then and what is it now?

I’m really in to country music so a lot of my favorite singers are 90s country singers or modern day country singers. I really like Blake Shelton. I’ve met Blake. He was really cool and that just made me like him even more. I’m pretty into everything that he sings right now.

Turn 4: What was your dream car then and what is it now?

I’ve never been like I need a Corvette or anything like that, because I always just had my racecar. I definitely started out in a piece of junk van when I started driving.  Actually about three years ago,  I was able to buy my first brand new truck. That was really nice for me because I always kind of had “whatever.”  It was never a big deal to me to have a nice car so it was nice to finally be able to get to that point where I was having something brand new.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Daytona Days

My four days at Daytona International Speedway last week were incredible! From Having my own desk in the media center to sitting on James Buescher’s pit box during the Firecracker 250 to being in Victory Lane while Matt Kenseth celebrated his win to seeing the view from the press box, my trip was filled with experiences that most fans only dream about! I also got to tour the NASCAR headquarters, meet many of the talented people who make the sport so enjoyable, attend the Daytona Rising groundbreaking, and even interview several drivers!

Nationwide Dash for Cash Kickoff: Between rain showers Wednesday, three of the Dash for Cash drivers-Brian Vickers, Elliot Sadler, and Austin Dillon- painted their numbers in the grass of the Daytona infield. Afterwards, everyone gathered at the backstretch to see each driver shoot off fireworks just like the ones that are shot off after the race! (see Fast Cars and Fireworks for more!)

Austin Dillon painting his number in the grass

Learning about fireworks 

Interviewing Austin Dillon

NASCAR Headquarters: The Daytona NASCAR headquarters building is an AMAZING! Each floor has an racing related item to go with it. The 5th floor has pit crew gloves on a wall because they have 5 fingers. The 6th floor has lugnuts on a wall because each lugnut has 6 sides. There are also lots of pictures from NASCAR history on the wall that were fun to look at! I even got to meet Mike Helton while I was there!

View from the 8th floor--not a bad view huh? :)

Gloves on the 5th floor

NASCAR headquarters building

Media Center:  The media center was where I spent a lot of my time-it was a busy place! This is where the drivers do their press conferences and the media can ask them questions. Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Carl Edwards, Elliott Sadler, Tony Stewart, and Kyle Busch were some of the drivers who had press conferences in Daytona. I even asked Matt Kenseth a question during his press conference!

Dale Earnhardt Jr's press conference

Daytona Rising Groundbreaking: We know NASCAR drivers can drive race cars, but can they race tractors? That was put to the test Friday morning! Three pairs of drivers- Jeff Burton and Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle and Trevor Bayne ad Darrell Waltrip and Larry McRynolds- raced tractors for a chance to break ground on Daytona Rising. The race was just like a real NASCAR race complete with driver introductions, the National Anthem, and even a Victory Lane celebration for the winners! I even snagged some dirt from the event (hey NASCAR Hall of Fame! Call me if you want some historic dirt!)

2 of the tractors that were raced

Greg Biffle and Trevor Bayne holding up their trophies

Brad Sweet: My first one on one interview of the weekend was with Brad Sweet, one of the drivers for JR Motorsports. He was really nice! I was nervous beforehand but I had fun! We did the interview inside his hauler. I’d never realized how small there are! There’s not that much room to move around! (Did you know his favorite junk food used to be beef jerky and cherry Coke?! Check back in a few days for the full interview!) Thanks Kelly Lumsden for setting that up for me!

Interviewing Brad Sweet

Danica Patrick Interview: I was a little nervous before but there wasn’t any reason for me to be! She was so nice! I had hoped for a good way to break the ice with her and it came the day before at her press conference! You may have seen that Danica started her press conference off with “Happy 4th of July!” but what you didn’t read is she also said, “First off, the 4th of July attire award goes to you.” And guess who she pointed at! Me! So on Friday before we started the interview, I gave her the Best Dressed Driver Award!

Yesterday during your press conference I was the one-
DP: Oh yeah! You had the outfit on! And you have the next best outfit on! Girl you got it going on!
So I brought you an award for the Best Dressed Driver! ( I gave her a little pink card with Best Dressed Driver written on it)
DP: Ohhh! (laughs and sticks it on her shirt) Thank you! (talking to photographer) You tell me when you have enough pictures of the Best Dressed Driver!
The rest of the interview was so easy and I loved every minute of it!
Photo Credit: Chris Graythen, NASCAR via Getty Images

Danica and me

Interviewing Danica

Pit Box: Ever wondered what the view from a pit box looks like? I got to see on Friday night! I sat on James Buescher’s pit box for the whole race. Being so close to the pit stops was really cool! It was a different view than I had ever had before and it was one of my favorites! Thanks so much to James Buescher and his crew for letting me sit up there!
Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton, NASCAR via Getty Images

Watching the race

View from the pit box

Victory Lane: After the Nationwide race I got to take a trip to Victory Lane! Matt Kenseth almost over me when he was driving into Victory Lane, but I got out of the way just in time! Victory Lane was cool! I watched Matt Kenseth climb from his car and get a Gatorade shower before he did interviews and started his hat dance!

Matt Kenseth celebrating in Victory Lane

Press Box: I think the press box at Daytona and the pit box are tied for the best view I’ve ever had at a NASCAR race! In the stands, it’s hard to find a seat where you can see every part of the track, but that’s not a problem from the press box! You can see all four turns, the backstretch and the tri-oval all from one seat!  I could also see the two boxes next to the press box. One was where MRN called the race from and the other was race control!

View from the press box

Daytona has been one of my favorite racetracks since my first race there in 2010. Not only is there lots of action on the track, there’s lots of activities to do off the track! Just like every other track the merchandise trailers are parked outside the track, but unlike any other track, Daytona has a place where fans can go to get closer to the action! In the infield, there is a Sprint Fan Zone where you can look through windows and watch what happens in the garage, see the cars go through both inspection stations, and  even watch the race from on top of the garages on the fan deck! There is a stage where drivers make appearences and music groups perform. You can even go out on the infield grass for driver introductions, sit on the track, and sign your name on the Start-Finish line! There’s so much to see and do and it makes your race experience so much fun! If you ever get the chance to go to Daytona, GO! You won’t regret it!

This experience would not have been possible for me without some special people in NASCAR. I would like to thank them for all the opportunities and supporting me in my dream to work in NASCAR!