Las Vegas Diary, Part 1
The Race, Mr. Wilson, and Me
Las Vegas, NV, September 26 — We start our Las Vegas race weekend out early. We are the first people in the media center on Friday morning, so we stake out our workspace with ease. Jeff Davidson and I have an appointment with Conquest Racing at 10:30 AM, and I hope Julie is not caught in traffic, because she’s the one who usually does driver interviews. No such luck.
I am plunged unprepared into a short interview with Justin Wilson. Nelson Philippe is supposed to be there also, but he, like Julie Andre, is a no show. Justin Wilson is a very polite young man. Too polite to say, why in the blazes aren't you better prepared for this?
In addition to this being Mi-Jack Conquest Racing’s first year with Justin Wilson – and Nelson Philippe for that matter – this is the team’s first year with a Lola chassis. So, it’s like starting from scratch for the team. Justin tells me that they did get some data from their test, but he is concerned that the driver’s skill is so unimportant on a superspeedway. Personally, I tend to disagree with this, but I am too polite to debate this with a 6’6" driver who I am having trouble looking in the eye – as I am just barely 5’3".
Jeff shoots us as we talk, so I start worrying about the lighting, and how is poor Mr. Wilson going to look while being photographed talking to a Munchkin? Justin is certain that Champ Car is the right move for his career. For a young driver, Formula One, where Justin drove last year, is simply too expensive – even $150 million is not enough money.
Nothing about Champ Car has come as a surprise – it’s exactly as he expected. He is disappointed about not getting better results after having such a strong start, but it’s the starting from scratch business that’s giving him trouble. That and plain old racing luck – or the lack thereof. But, he clearly tells me that Champ Car is where he intends to make his career – it’s no stepping stone. I wish him the best in the race and let him get back to the hundreds of "to do’s" that occupy a driver on a race weekend.
When Julie finally arrives, we discuss how to get 18 interviews back to back in the space of about an hour. It is indeed challenging. Julie has her questions, her voice recorder, and microphone ready. We have to head out of the air conditioned Media Center with bottles of cold water – also ready – as we are herded, along with SPEED Channel’s Robin Miller and a couple of other sports writers into an area known as "The Bullpen." As each driver qualifies, he is interviewed by Jeremy Shaw, and then brought into the "Pen."
It’s about 95 degrees as the drivers start coming in, one by one. My job is to make sure that each driver gets to Jules and that she gets her questions. This involves lots of smiling, a little coaxing, and sympathizing about the heat. We get 17 out of 18. One driver’s publicist insists that we cannot have even 30 seconds with her driver, so we very reluctantly see him leave the "Pen."
Race day is also an early day for us – we arrive around two in the afternoon. All the NASCAR show components arrive, including the NASCAR press. People always have a pecking order, and it is made clear to us that the NASCAR folks have dibs on just about everything at the race. We understand to a degree, and most of the Champ Car journalists are shuffled to less desirable or accessible spots in the Media Room.
I have been asked how this "doubleheader" is working. My first comment is – it seems as though we are here as a support series, not the premiere race. However, looking at what was accomplished in such a very short time period, it’s easy to put these thoughts aside. There are about 75,000 people there to see the races, and a show is a show.
Julie and I head out onto an adjacent patio to watch the NASCAR Craftsman Truck race. We don't like the sounds the engines make, and the fumes from the gasoline leaves us less than comfortable. The race itself is moderately interesting, and it’s always fun to see someone – in this case Shane Hmeil – win their first race in a series. But, as an open wheel person, I am really unsure what is supposed to be interesting about this kind of racing.
The Champ Car race gets no national anthems, but does get its own invocation. It is after 10:00 P.M. before the race gets started and everyone is a little punchy and tired.
Copyright © 2004 by Lisa Davidson and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.