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Racing not a favorite, but appreciative of opportunity

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By Kristin Beck

I will be completely honest with you: I am not a car racing fan.

The words “Let’s go racing” do not make my blood pump or my stomach churn with excitement and nervousness for my favorite driver. Now, tell me the Dallas Cowboys are on TV, and I become an absolutely elated and tense stress ball, determined that I have the power to will “America’s Team” to victory.

No, instead, watching a car race sounds just about as exciting as watching paint dry – something many people have also said about soccer. I can’t say that I watch much soccer on television either, but it is a fun sport to photograph. And I have been learning more about the sport after covering it for Carroll County the past four years.

My dad raised me on a healthy dose of football and basketball, and I picked up watching baseball along the way, although the Chicago Cubs is the only team I really follow. My dad would watch the occasional NASCAR or IndyCar race on TV, but mostly would ‘channel hop’ with something else. Unlike football or basketball games, I would sit on the couch for about 10-15 minutes, get bored and leave and come back later to check on Dad.

I never learned anything about cars growing up nor did I have an interest in them. I knew who some of the “famous” drivers were and crowned Jeff Gordon to be my favorite at a young age, but that is probably because he was the up-and-comer then. I picked up some of the rules here and there from Dad, but did not develop a complete understanding for the sport.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against the sport of car racing; I just don’t understand it. I don’t know all the strategy that is involved or how one small adjustment on a car can make all the difference.

When I start thinking about the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400, I think about a long, hot day in my jeans, wishing I could wear shorts like a normal person. But I also think about spending the day with some of my photographer friends and meeting new people every year.

I think about the long 14-hour day spent in Sparta, but when I see all the fans from across the area flocking to the merchandise haulers and crowding up against the fences to catch a glimpse of a racecar or a driver, it reminds me how lucky I am to be on the other side of the fence.

Working for the newspaper, I have one of the best seats in the house for the race: inside the turns and, this year, in the pits.

This was the first year I have been lucky enough to be given a “Hot” pass for the race. This allows you to be in the garage areas closer to race time and to be in the pits during the race. The chief photographers and the Speedway decide who gets either a “Hot” or a “Cold” pass depending on availability, so I was very excited for the opportunity because I didn’t know if I would ever have the chance again.

After shooting Thomas Rhett’s pre-race concert and the driver introductions, I found a spot in turn four and photographed the first 100 laps there. Even though there were two cautions, neither one happened near me. I fought off the boredom by thinking about my trip to pit road.

I’ve been told that if I had a scanner to listen to the race it would be a whole lot more exciting, but I can’t justify the purchase for just one race every year, and I always forget to look into renting one. Maybe I’ll find a friend that will let me borrow theirs…

When the race reached 100 laps, I followed fellow photographer and friend Tony Bailey to pit road. Since I had never covered a race there, I asked him to show me the ropes. We walked along pit road and photographed the race teams watching the monitors, checking tire levels and making other preparations for the next pit stop. We shot the first pit stop in an open stall, and it was exhilarating watching the crews work at lightning speed to change four tires, fuel the car and do other checks before the driver sped off.

After another pass through, I settled in and shot the rest of the race from Kyle Larson’s pit stall after the No. 42 Target car went out of the race in Lap 78 after cutting a tire coming out of a turn and making contact with the wall.

While racing still isn’t my thing, being on pit road was an amazing experience, something that could be a once in a lifetime occurrence depending on how the credential situation pans out next year. Covering the Quaker State 400, especially on pit road, goes on my list of major events I am lucky to have had the opportunity to be a part of because of my job, and I am very grateful.

 

Kristin Beck is the news and sports editor for The News-Democrat and resides in Carrollton.