After spending my morning overlooking Grandview Point at the Grand Canyon, I drove the four hours down to Phoenix International Raceway, parked up (which was easy enough, Phoenix seems quite organized), and headed into the circuit.
The Xfinity race had just started, so I picked up my Hot Pass (a pass that allows you to be in the pits and garage while cars are actively running/racing) from the NASCAR hauler, and headed into the infield, dropping off some rFactor 2 hats for our driver and crew before going to watch the race. After the race I walked back out to my car and loaded up the GPS, finding a hotel with a room just a short drive away. I booked for two nights, including that one.
I got up and got to the track early the next morning, hoping to beat the rush into the track and also spend some time talking to our driver for the Sprint Cup race. My expectations weren’t overly high as I understand the sport fairly well, was roughly aware from experience of the funding level the team had, and knew that although he’d be trying to finish as high as possible, Joey’s main goal would be to bring the rFactor 2 Ford Fusion home in one piece.
I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t know much about Joey Gase before our sponsorship deal, I just wanted to make sure we weren’t paying to be a start and park. I knew that this sponsorship would expose us directly to the other drivers, teams and their sponsors, thereby increasing the potential for commercial licensing (my main role with our company), as well as other ventures we’re involved with. It seemed like an obvious decision, and by the race morning, it had already paid off.
The weeks before the race, I set about learning as much as I could about Joey, the team, and other sponsors who would be alongside rFactor 2. The more I looked into it, the more positive I felt about our involvement. Joey lost his mother very suddenly when he was a young man, her organs were donated and saved tens of lives. He and the team work hard to bring awareness to organ donation in many ways, so by the time I had figured out who everyone was, it left me with a good feeling just being involved.
One of the first things I saw in the pit was this picture; I think this says it all about this team…
I wandered around the garage, pits and track, taking photos as I went. Eventually the cars were pushed out to the end of pit road and I saw the front and sides of the car for the first time… She just looked fantastic! I think we easily had the best looking car in the field.
rFactor 2 #32 Ford Fusion Sprint Cup car.
Unfortunately, fate didn’t want us to race on schedule, so along with everyone else I had to wait out an extended rain delay. The biggest issue I had with this was in keeping my phone charged!
The ‘Air Titan’.
NASCAR did a pretty good job of drying up the track, but rain shower after rain shower re-soaked the track. By the time things got underway, it was dark. I was a bit disappointed as I knew this would make it a lot harder to get some nice photographs. I think I did a decent job though:
During the race I spent some time on the war wagon, but most of it walking around in the infield. I could hear very early on that the car had brake issues, so much so that Joey had to nurse the car and adjust his driving to suit. Eventually, with his foot to the floor and no brakes, he came into the pits to fix the issue, returning to the track quite a few laps down.
Still, determined to finish the race, he pressed on… Until Ricky Stenhouse lost control with our car on the outside, sending us slamming into the outside wall.
How did I feel when this happened? Well, I was stood with Joey’s father, so initially the only concern was whether he was okay? I walked towards the hauler and got there to see our car being pulled in on the back of a truck… It looked ugly.
I managed to find Joey pretty quick, and he seemed fine. He didn’t yet know what had happened, so I told him it just looked like Stenhouse got loose inside him, kind of a racing deal. It dawned on my pretty quick that this team really didn’t need a wrecked car. It was such a great looking car!
With the race done for me, and the rain starting to fall again, I quickly looked at the radar on my phone and realized it was about to start to rain very heavily… So I started my walk back to the car. I heard Earnhardt Jr. be announced the winner, then the heavens well and truly opened up just as I got to my car.
I got back to the hotel a short while later and reflected on the day. For us, wrecking out wasn’t a hugely bad thing – we got some TV time we might not have had if the car had finished with a top-30. Still, I felt bad for Joey and felt bad for the team.
The next day I intended to explore the Phoenix area a little bit. Went to bed thinking it was just one of those racing deals… On the plus side, I now have a NASCAR Cup car door on my office wall.