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2001 Sneak Preview Diary: Day Two
Cold Weather and Friendly Drivers.

Fontana, CA, January 17 After living in California for all or most of our lives, Jeff and I sometimes take terrific warm weather for granted. So, Wednesday was another beautiful day. Yawn. As we left the coast on our way inland to Fontana's California Speedway, we noticed that the winds seemed to be picking up. Talk about understatement! The winds were close to 50 miles per hour and icy cold by the time we got there. Since Jeff and I are both beach rats, we froze in spite of wearing layers of warm clothing.

Teeth chattering, we easily located the Speedway, which is about a mile off of Interstate 10. It's a lovely facility, distinctive in its use of colors. It's neutral grays are contrasted throughout the complex with bright red roofs on the all the buildings. Our first stop was the credentials building. If you can imagine a small building with pickup windows just like those used as a movie theater, that's Credentials. We went right to the A - D window. At the next window, marked "Teams/Sponsors," we heard Team Player's/Forsythe honcho Neil Micklewright's request for his credentials. Whether a team member or a member of the media, everyone had to have a credential, which are worn around one's neck, just like race tickets on an event weekend.

Jeff's assignment was fairly straightforward both days. The teams and drivers were divided into two groups. On one day, the drivers were out on the track for photographs, and on the other day, they were brought into the media center along with team officials for press conferences. This order reversed itself on Thursday. Wednesday, Jeff was shooting Team Ganassi, Newman-Haas, Team Kool Green and others both at the start-finish line and in victory circle. The drivers were all decked out in their driving suits, posing on the podiums and in or near their cars. The only exceptions to this were Alex Barron, who didn't officially have a ride, and Zakspeed/Forsythe, who didn't have cars there nor a second driver announced, at least on the day of the photo shoots.

The other photographers were a mostly friendly bunch of guys, and Jeff had a lot to tell me by the time he met me at Honda's hospitality motorhome for lunch. I found out, for example, that Cristiano da Matta is like a human spark plug, and moves around so fast that taking his photo is incredibly difficult. Paul Tracy, who is chunkier than many of the drivers, is incredibly photogenic, with or without artificial hair coloring.

Honda's lunch was held in a tent about the size of a large patio. Most of the media were there (it was the only place where lunch was served on Wednesday), and all of the Honda drivers attended. While there were no drivers at our table, we were surrounded on all sides by the likes of Andretti, Zanardi, Fernandez, Nakano, Franchitti, Tracy, and Kanaan.

It was at the lunch, which included chili, shrimp and chicken skewers, that it struck me. In a very short time, I had gone from being a little bit nervous to being completely comfortable being in close contact with the drivers. For me, that's good news and bad news. There is a much deeper appreciation now for how difficult it can be to be objective -- and for Deep Throttle in particular -- in expressing honest, straightforward hardcore opinions.

The friendliest of all the drivers -- at least from my perspective -- are the Canadians. I enjoyed a leisurely walk back from Honda to the Media Conference room following behind the magenta head of Paul Tracy. Right after I arrived at the Conference room that morning for its round of press conferences, my cell phone started ringing. Loudly. Panicked, I received timely assists from Player's drivers Patrick Carpentier and Alex Tagliani. All in all, I found Canada's CART contingent to be very down to earth and pleasant young men.

The press conferences I attended on Wednesday were about 20 minutes each and followed the same basic format. The drivers would enter, along with team officials, and take their seats on a dais set up against one wall of the conference room. Questions began with CART's T.E. McHale, and after these were answered, he opened it up from questions from the assembled media, at least those he knew by name. Of course, not all of the drivers and team officials are skilled at press relations. Some are definitely better than others are, and it becomes immediately apparent after the drivers start talking which category he falls into.

Two of the most skilled that day were Alex Zanardi and CART's new CEO, Joe Heitzler. Zanardi was late to his press conference, but as soon as he walked in and smiled, no one seemed to care, myself included. Alex is a shameless charmer, and I noticed reporters leaning forward to take in every word he said.

Heitzler was someone who few of us had met previously, and certainly part of the interest in him was that he is a new guy. I found Max Pap incredibly adept with the press, and ditto Jimmy Vasser. Michael Andretti is the most thoroughly professional of all the CART family; no surprise there.

Of course there were bumps and lurches throughout the day. Sigma Racing, who are rumored to be signing Oriol Servia, having unceremoniously dumped Max Wilson earlier that week, was a no show. We were finally advised they were not coming because their driver situation was "unresolved."

I also got the feeling that not all the teams and drivers were necessarily "sold" on the idea of the Sneak Preview. There was a certain sense of going through the motions that I couldn't shake.

Many of the press got up and left during the press conferences for the Indy Lights and Toyota Atlantics. In my opinion, they missed a great chance to get to know these very young drivers, who are mostly very committed young men just starting their careers. I might add, also, they are not stupid, and several of them took notice of this very obvious "brush off."

A visit to the Media Lounge and Conference Center completed our day. Snacks and beverages were laid out in the former. The latter is very state of the art, and includes docking stations. I looked out the window onto the track and into the empty grandstands.

I found my thoughts going back to Greg Moore, who died at the Speedway. I was thinking in particular about safety due to some remarks that Zanardi made, which will be the focus of an upcoming article from me on this site. Greg was not far from Patrick Carpentier's mind on Wednesday, either. Strangely though, no one else talked about him, and no one mentioned the passing of Carl Hogan. Very strange indeed.

We met quite a few colleagues from the print media and not a few from Internet sites. I suppose the strangest aspect of all of this is that there was no actual driving by the drivers. Too weird! It was terrific of CART and California Speedway to include Deep Throttle, and through our coverage, all of our readers in the Sneak Peak.

Oh, and we did finally get warm. Jeff spent some thawing time in the conference room, but we both headed outside when the winds died down completely for a few hours in the afternoon. I also soaked for an hour in a hot tub when we got home. Our day together at the California Speedway was interesting and fun, and Jeff was looking forward to getting back there for the final day on Thursday.

Copyright © 2001 by Lisa Davidson and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

 
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