I was recently invited along with other entertainment executives, writers, and producers to spend the day at the Auto Club Raceway the weekend of a NASCAR race. I did not know much about NASCAR before arriving, but the energy was palpable. I arrived on a Friday morning with the main event taking place on Sunday, but already the parking lot was packed with excited fans.
We were first introduced to Zane Stoddard, who heads Internal Content Development for NASCAR and was a knowledgeable point person to act as the liaison between the organization and the group of us visiting. As an organization, NASCAR wants to create innovative and exciting content and I think many of us left excited to come up with ideas for future collaboration.
Later, we met Steve Stum, who handles Operations and Technical Production for NASCAR. It is an incredible operation that travels around the country for 38 weeks out of the year, with all of its events not only televised, but constantly trying to create new ways for its fans to view the races and also generate unique interactive fan experiences.
Michael Nelson, who manages operations for Team Penske, gave us a great overview of how a huge team functions. I never realized that these teams employ hundreds of people, deal with huge amounts of money, and are constantly innovating and improving their cars to have an advantage over the other teams. There is a lot of engineering behind these races, beyond the pit crews and mechanics, involving people who do not travel with the teams, but work tirelessly at their home offices to ensure a win in a race happening across the country.
We spent the rest of the morning with driver Ryan Newman and his crew chief Luke Lambert. Ryan has the dominant personality of the two, but the relationship between them is like they are brothers. They have not even worked together for all that long, but they rely wholly on one another and unlike some of the other teams, they both have aspects of their personal lives in common, including having wives and young children at home.
After that, we went down to the garage area to explore as the teams were gearing up for practicing on the track. It is an electric environment. It is fast-moving, loud, and chaotic, but incredible to see. The teams get only so long to practice and need to make sure their cars are ready to go. I had not thought about how immense these tracks are, but standing in the middle, watching the cars race around you; it is almost overwhelming.
While in the garage area, Davis Shaefer gave us a tour of one of the haulers that transports the cars and mobile garages these teams need to race. The comparison given by a number of the people we met was that of a traveling circus and to a large extent, that is the perfect metaphor. It is a huge undertaking to get all of these cars, equipment, and people in place each weekend. And one aspect that was explored in detail was the tires of the cars, provided by Goodyear, that Greg Stucker was nice enough to explain to us. This is a sport that really is all about the details: making sure the car is in the lines during a pit stop; the car meets specific parameters set by NASCAR, down to a millimeter measurement; and even the tires and how they are engineered specifically for these races and tracks that change week to week. It is mind blowing that something so fast-paced and insane can be decided by one-tenth of a second or a miniscule measurement.
Lastly, we met another driver, Carl Edwards, who was happy to speak to us about what his life is like, even though he had crashed his car into a wall just prior to meeting us. These drivers really do have larger-than-life personalities and face constant and countless dangerous scenarios while doing their jobs, but as the faces of the sport are more than willing to share their stories with you. All in all, I feel like I got a comprehensive “crash” course in NASCAR; met a lot of fun, interesting people; and hope that I get to find something to work on with their team in the future.