While working the Route 66 Classic, Brandon Brown and Sam Martin broached the idea of going to Road America for this race. I had been thinking about it, but it never got passed the idea stage, so I was excited. Many are stunned to learn that with my lifelong fandom and working in the business over the past twenty or so years, I have never attended a road race. Second, it may surprise some that in all my years working at NASCAR racetracks, I have never been to Victory Lane. Its not so strange when you realize, I've always worked in the Media Center and post-race is the busiest time for us during an event.
This is not going to be a normal race report, stating statistics, ie, laps lead, leader changes, etc. However, it will be my impressions of my first attendance at a road course race.
The first thing I want to do is say thank you to John Ewert and the staff at Road America. The hospitality extended by everyone was top-notch. As we drove around the facility, I was surprised by how spread out the track was. I really didn't know what to expect, maybe, the track would wind around and be somewhat more compact than the four mile distance it actually is. Like almost all road courses, you can only see part of the racing surface at any one time. The track is laid out in a forest similar to a forest preserve. When walking around it's like a walk in a park.
I was very impressed with the infrastructure. Road America has two Media Centers. One is for photographers and is located in what could be called the infield, directly behind Victory Lane. The Deadline Room is in a large building on the main straightaway centered on the start/finish line. While both are not overly large, they are capable of handling what they were designed to do. Speaking of Victory Lane, their's boasts something I had not seen before. The VL backdrop was a large television screen where the fans can watch the race and is visible from several areas. At the conclusion of the race, the screen switches to be the race backdrop for the VL photo-ops.
After getting set-up, I thought I would scout the track to look for good shooting positions. Primarily, I was looking for angles, action spots and lighting. I try to do this at tracks I have not visited before. The thought was to use the Trans Am, Xfinity qualifying and Stadium Super Trucks Series as practice for the Xfinity race. That was very much a rookie mistake! Trying to walk around Road America with the length and elevation changes was not my smartest move. While I did get some shots I liked, it did take its physical toll!
I got so engrossed with the what I was seeing that I kept walking to find the good shooting positions. Before I realized it, I was no longer in a position for the Stadium Super Truck race. They were using a shortened track. By the time, I could get back to an area to view the SST race, it was over.
It was time to formulate a new plan. The three of us, Brandon, Sam and I, decided we would roam pit road during pre-race and then jump in the car and drive to the spots we had identified or looked good on the map.
And the flyover...
After pre-race, we were off to the roof of the building to shoot the start...
Off to the car to head to the Carousel...
This was as the cars were coming under the Johnsville Bridge coming into Turn 9.
I'm not quite sure which turn these next shots were taken, however, after a restart, there was some great racing!
We started to drive over to Turn 1 when we spotted a photo-op at the Sargento Bridge looking back at Turn 3. As Sam and I were shooting, Brandon took a shot of us. Below is that shot, along with the shot I was taking at that moment.
As we were at the Sargento Bridge, I saw a car slide off the track surface into the gravel pit! Then another and another!! It became obvious there was some fluid on the track.
While the clean-up was ongoing, we headed over to Turn 1. It was here that I personally think Justin Allgaier won the race. At the restart, Christopher Bell was behind him and coming out of Turn 1, he got under Justin and to his quarter panel. They came together and Justin's car turned sideways! He kept control and motored to the win. I'm not sure if Christopher backed off which allowed him to catch it. It was an exciting moment!
It was off to Pit Road for the finish...
After Victory Lane, Justin heads to the Media Center for his post-race interviews. He was there with his crew chief Jason Burdette.
There is a backstory to this trip to Road America. Everyone who knows Janet (my wife), also knows she adores Justin. They met when he was just starting in ARCA and have remained friends. When the thought of going to this race came up, obviously I cleared it with her to go. What I didn't realize, she didn't know this was an Xfinity only race. She thought this was a Cup race. When she realized the mistake, she was upset she wasn't able to go. Being the dutiful husband, I did poke her during the race to remind her I was here. After Justin's media obligations he was kind enough to record this message to her.
Thank you Justin!
To put a cap on our trip to Road America, I can only sing its praises. It is a beautiful facility, staffed with great people and provides great racing. If the NASCAR Cup Series could ever find its way to Road America, it would be worth their while. Again, I want to thank John Ewert and all the Road America staff for a great racing experience.