Hollywood Semester Student Has Thrilling Experience at Las Vegas NASCAR Race

March 14, 2012

By Alan Fuehring '12

The beginning of spring break for many college students means heading to the beach and a temporary escape from the real world. It is a time for rest and relaxation. However, I did the opposite during my spring break.

While spending the semester in Los Angeles as part of Bradley's inaugural "Semester in Hollywood" program, I wanted to take advantage of a rare opportunity to work in a sport that I love the most"_ NASCAR.  Therefore, on the Friday before spring break, I headed inland to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to join the Rick Ware Racing crew and driver Timmy Hill as a marketing assistant for the weekend.

First, I should provide some context. At the age of four, I fell in love with racing when my dad took me to my first stock car race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Since that day, I have followed NASCAR religiously and always told myself that one-day, I would work in the sport. Last semester, that opportunity presented itself.

I had the pleasure of meeting Suzanne Richey '87 and car owner Larry Gunselman last September when they visited the Bradley campus and added the Bradley logo on their #37 Ford Fusion in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. In exchange for the publicity, seven students and I agreed to help the team with its PR and marketing efforts for the race at the Chicagoland Speedway. That weekend proved to be one of the most exciting of my life.

Over the offseason, I kept in touch with Suzanne and in mid-February, I reminded her I would be spending my final spring semester of college out west. I asked if the team needed any help for the Las Vegas weekend and she decided they did. In exchange for a hot pass, which grants access to the pits and garage area, I agreed to write bios on the crew members, take pictures for the website, and do whatever else they asked of me.

I left my apartment in Burbank, California around 4:30 a.m. on March 9 and headed east towards Las Vegas. Four hours later, I passed the Vegas strip on I-15 and arrived at the speedway. I picked up my credentials and entered the garage about three hours before the cars hit the track for the first practice session.

Upon arriving, I met the crew and began taking pictures of each member working on the car including pictures as the crew pushed the car through tech inspection, a mandatory event for all NASCAR teams to ensure that each car is within the strict specifications. 

When practice began, I walked around the speedway to get a variety of shots of the car in action. I followed the car as it went in and out of our garage stall, walked out to pit road, and climbed up on top of the hauler to take pictures of the car going down the backstretch. All of the while, I was being surrounded by 44 other cars that were taking to the track including five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and my childhood idol, Jeff Gordon. 

When 3 p.m. hit, I put down the camera and helped the crew push the car through tech inspection again and out onto pit road for qualifying. Because our #37 Ford is not in the top-35 in points, driver Timmy Hill had to have a better time than at least two cars that were also not guaranteed a spot and he managed to do just that. 

Timmy took to the track and laid down a fast enough lap time to put our team into the race, and to mark Timmy's Sprint Cup debut. When he pulled back into the garage, the crew was ecstatic with high-fives, knuckle-bumps and smiles all around.  I also had the opportunity to interview Timmy for the website to ask him what was going through his mind and what it was like to finally be a Sprint Cup driver.

My day started bight and early Saturday as the pit team continued to work on the car in the garage stall.  When Sprint Cup practice ended for the day at 2 p.m., I had the opportunity to sit on the pit wall less than 100 yards away from the track and watch the cars race by for the Nationwide Series race.

Saturday night was the time to gather my microphone, recorder and interview the crew pit for the biographies I was writing for the website. Many had interesting stories about working in the sport for an extended period of time, especially our hauler driver, Frank Earnhardt, a first cousin to NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Sr.

The big race day finally dawned on March 11, and I arrived at the speedway at 7 a.m. ready to experience the thrill of NASCAR.

Attending the driver's meeting with Timmy Hill and other drivers was the coolest part of the weekend for me. I found myself sitting a couple feet from Dale Earnhardt Jr. and legendary car owner, Roger Penske. Sarah Palin was also in attendance and sitting two rows in front of me.

When the clock struck noon, our team racecar was pushed through the tunnel of fans for the starting grid in the 42nd starting position. The grandstand was filled with fans and each team and driver crowded pit road for the start of the race.  Hearing the national anthem and flyover for the start of the race gave me goose bumps.   The start command was given and all 43 starters fired up their engines.   Watching the race from the pit wall was a dream come true.

Timmy Hill finished 42nd in his race debut, but that was not indicative of how good the car ran over the course of the weekend. It was tire trouble early in the race that put a damper on things.

For me, I returned to Los Angeles with about 650 photos to sort through, six bios to write and send to the race team website, a handful of new contacts and relationships in NASCAR, and memories of an unbelievable experience that I will never forget.  Oh, and I was also invited to do it all over again in a couple of weeks when NASCAR visits the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California March 23-25!

I can't thank Suzanne, the entire race team, and Bradley University enough for this incredible opportunity.  I look forward to seeing what the future has in store.

Readers can listen to Fuehring's interview with Timmy Hill by following this link:

http://alanfuehring.com/interviews.html