The Writer’s Roundtable is the weekly column to where our writers discuss one of the trending topics right now in the sport.
After a successful discussion last week about our racing beginnings, the journalists decided to share more of their racing history. This week, each of them shared the first race they attended, and the first event they were a journalist at.
First Race Attended
Mitchell Breuer: My first race was way back in the summer of 2002 at Chicagoland Speedway. I was five and to be honest, I don’t remember much about it.
One thing I do remember (and am often reminded of by my family) is when we were walking to the track and Ricky Craven was doing an autograph session. My mom (bless her heart) noticed that there wasn’t a lot of people in line and it would be a great chance for Mitchell to meet a NASCAR driver. Know it all Mitchell had other ideas.
I don’t remember why I wasn’t a fan of Ricky Craven but, as soon as my mom asked if I wanted to meet him, I responded with “Ricky Craven? He sucks!” very loudly for everybody to hear.
Ricky if you are reading this, I am a sorry, you don’t suck lol.
Cole Cusumano: The first race I attended was the semi-finale race at Phoenix Raceway in 2008. With the exception of my father, this was a completely new experience for my family and we had no idea what to expect.
I remember all six of us packing up the Toyota Sienna bright and early and then making the 45-minute trek to Avondale. Seeing as my brother and I had gotten very invested in NASCAR by this time, it felt like it took 100 years to arrive.
Once we got to Avondale Boulevard and saw the grandstands from the road, it felt like seeing the massive gates in ‘Jurassic Park’ for the first time. That’s what I’d equate the initial wonder and amazement to.
I remember being totally invested in the fanfare walking around the track. We went to all the booths to take pictures with the show cars, get promotional items (one being a Geico gecko toy my dog still plays with) and race the simulators in the Sprint Cup area (which my brother and I kicked butt in). I thought it was so cool seeing people decked out in different gear, smelling the carnival foods and watching the live recording of NASCAR Race Day for SPEED.
The actual race was pretty awesome. Jimmie Johnson started from the pole and won after leading 217-of-312 laps. I remember being a little bitter, because my brother and father were No. 48 fans, but I was happy with the sixth-place finish by Dale Earnhardt Jr.
It was a very eventful race and probably the best one you could attend as a newcomer to the sport. There were 10 cautions, including two red flags — one for a minor shower and the other for a nine-car pile-up. I remember seeing David Gilliland’s No. 38 propped on top of Scott Speed’s No. 84 and the track crews having to work hard to get them separated.
This experience only fueled mine and my family’s passion for NASCAR. The next race weekend in April, we rented a RV and camped out for the first time in the dirt lots about a mile from the track. This was where we met, what I call my “NASCAR family” — our fun group of 30-plus people that camped at the track for close to 10 years before renovations jacked the prices up in 2018. Even without camping for several years, we remain in close contact and make it a point to get together throughout the year.
Ashley McCubbin: So my first ever NASCAR race happened on the fly, honestly. Darlington – May 2010.
I never envisioned being able to go to an event in the near future at that time. It just wasn’t something thought of budget wise, or travel wise with my family. Dreamed? Absolutely, but actually happening – nah.
Someone was doing a giveaway on twitter and I wish I remembered who. But you could win tickets, or a hat, or a shirt, a variety of things. So I entered and boom – Darlington Raceway tickets for two. Now, I got these on the Wednesday before the race weekend. I was all prepared to send a message, give them up, or pass them along to a friend.
In the quick whim, it was my uncle who then said, “Where is it?” I told him. “How long to get there?” 15 hours. “Let’s do it.” So yes, we took the drive down, leaving on Friday night and arrived a couple hours before the event on Saturday.
I remember being in complete awe – from the size of the track, to the different activities and fun that was available in the fan zone. Anybody remember the Sprint Cup girls? Better yet, NASCAR Raceday is a whole different level experience that it sucks fans don’t get to experience that now.
The actual race was a whole level experience in seeing the speed up close for the first time, combined with the nice and excitement that you get caught up in while in the stands. I admittedly halfway through was like, “Holy crap, this is damn long…” but maybe that’s because my drivers weren’t having the best of night haha But I remember getting back into the spirit, totally set to enjoy the experience.
It may have been a crazy decision at the time, but damn, it’s certainly not something to forget as I haven’t done a NASCAR top-three event across the border since.
First Race You Covered
Mitchell Breuer: First weekend I covered as a journalist was the Chicagoland race weekend back in 2016.
There were so many things that stood out and ironically, none of them were about the race. I remember sitting down in the media center for the first time, not too far away from the likes of Bob Pockrass and Jeff Gluck and just thinking man, I am in over my head. Never have I ever felt like a small fish in a ocean.
I also remember the first press conference I sat in on, where it was promoting NASCAR’s partnership with Nickelodeon for the weekend. Danica Patrick was one of the people answering questions, and it was just crazy to me. I was a media member at press conference with someone who was one of the sport’s biggest stars at the time.
My favorite part of the weekend though was my first in-person interview, Ben Kennedy. I didn’t know the post-race etiquette at the time, so I was just wandering when I ran into Kennedy.
He was frustrated because if I remember correctly, he was running well in the truck race and got involved in accident. I asked him if he had time for a quick interview, his PR person said no, and he said walk with me and I’ll do a quick interview. So I did, and got a good three minutes of quotes from him, and he answered every question without being rude or short (which, he had every right to be). I’ll never forget that.
Ashley McCubbin: Flash forward three years later after my first NASCAR race, and it’s time for a great opportunity – time to attend a race as a journalist.
I had been writing for OnPitRoad.com for a while and had attended the Honda Indy Toronto the previous couple years as an event volunteer – for the record, those people do not get enough credit. The amount of training behind the scenes needed for certain tasks, and the dedicated time is amazing.
The 2013 racing season, though, saw me hand-in the volunteer credential to tackle the journalistic side for the first time. While I felt I was prepared through time in school combined with doing some reporting at my local track and advice from those who had gone before me, it’s never enough to prepare you for the weekend. I probably missed out on some great opportunities by simply being in awe of the access level, trying to take everything in all at once, while trying to land certain interviews. I mean, this was all about getting used to where you should be, wanting to experience it all, and not sure on how to go about the process in other times. But hey, there was some great memories.
The conversation with James Hinchcliffe was one of the most memorable. Who gets five minutes with the hometown star, and sees a down to earth side of him in that spell? It’s crazy to think he recognizes people each and every year since the first meeting, too.
But the top of the list was Robby Gordon. It was the inaugural season for the Stadium Super Trucks. I had just began to learn a little in the days prior, and was very interested. So I went up to Robby and asked for an interview because hey, here’s a cool opportunity. He absolutely accepted, welcomed me in the hauler, and spent 10 minutes spreading everything that you need to know about the trucks. Needless to say, you can see why he’s a great promoter and there’s been success for SST in the years to follow.
The first NASCAR event that I attended as a journalist? The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series inaugural trip to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.
I was more prepared for this compared to the Honda Indy, pre-book pre-race interviews with Joey Coulter and James Buescher. I took the lessons learned from the Honda Indy to prepare myself to ensure that the content got delivered. I ensured to talk to those, while watching the road course from several angles. Now mind you, I made sure to take in this experience but who knows the amount of times you get to do this again over.
Everybody remembers how the event ended with contact between Chase Elliott and Ty Dillon. There was also the slap delivered to Mike Skeen, which trust me – front row seats for that were everything. The prepared-ness this time around allowed me to ensure the content was there for the writers afterwards, from the disagreements to the winner’s thoughts.
Seeing this event fall off the schedule for 2021 & 2022 is certainly a disappointment. But I can safely say that for the seven years prior, it has always delivered. There are plenty of memories that will live with me forever now. I will never forget the first event there. I will never forget standing on pit road with Daniel Hemric ready to speak with him as Cole Custer tackled John Hunter Nemechek. I will never forget the ThorSport teammates tangling, and speaking with both afterwards. Hopefully we see the Trucks come across the border once again in the future.