Race Weekend Central

A NASCAR Reporter Invades IndyCar

This past weekend, Frontstretch sent me, a NASCAR reporter, to cover the NTT IndyCar Series at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, and the experience was enlightening.

To clarify, no, this wasn’t some type of mix-up. I went to get my feet wet in the series before going to cover NASCAR star Kyle Larson‘s efforts in the Indianapolis 500 this May.

So there I was, someone who grew up watching NASCAR and has covered maybe 50+ NASCAR Cup Series races for Frontstretch, at my first IndyCar race … ever. On one hand, I was a fish out of water. On the other, racing is racing and drivers are drivers, no matter the series or car.

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To start the weekend, I vastly underestimated how long it would take to get from my hotel room 15 miles from the course to the media center on the Friday before the race. Obviously, it takes longer to drive anywhere in Southern California, but I didn’t take into account that there would be so many people at the course on a Friday.

At NASCAR races, getting in the track and getting a good parking spot on a Friday is so easy. Plus, NASCAR media are provided parking. For Long Beach, you have to battle with everyone else to get a spot in one of the parking garages. I parked seven-tenths of a mile from where I needed to be, and the line to get past security was long.

With my NASCAR media card, I can go right past security without stopping at those races. With the IndyCar credentials I had, I went through security just like all the fans. This security consisted of cops putting bags into an X-ray machine. Then, after walking forward another 10 feet, a person in a yellow shirt would look through your bag. Because apparently a cop and an X-ray machine can’t do a thorough enough job.

Anyways, these hold-ups took so long that I had missed a press conference or two by the time I got there. The media center there was set up in a ballroom within the Long Beach Convention Center, which is just a massive, massive building.

The Convention Center also served as what you would call in NASCAR “the midway,” hosting tons of vendors, merchandise tents, a kids zone and more. It had one booth that was just futuristic-looking massage chairs (I may have tested one out at the end of one of the days).

My only knock on the Convention Center “midway” was that there wasn’t a ton of IndyCar driver merch available. One tent had more Larson Indy 500 diecasts for sale than all the full-time IndyCar drivers combined. I saw more Formula 1 merch for sale than IndyCar drivers’. NASCAR has the merch haulers — well, as far as what I saw, only Pato O’Ward had his own merch table.

The first thing on tap for me Friday was the driver bullpen, where the media gets time face-to-face with a lot of the drivers. NASCAR also does this with the top 30 in points each week.

For NASCAR’s bullpen, the drivers come in sporadically before practice or after qualifying and it’s a media free-for-all. All of the media will surround a top driver while the driver 30th in points may stand there awkwardly as only a few media members ask him questions.

As a media member, you can choose to spread your time around all the drivers or spend an in-depth amount of time with one driver while not getting others. If you’re one of the many surrounding a top driver, then you may not be able to get a question in.

In IndyCar, the drivers go through a rotation of national, digital and local media as well as TV. As a result, you get less time with a driver, but you’re more likely to have more one-on-one interactions, like I got for the Frontstretch Open Wheel YouTube channel this past weekend.

I’m not saying either series’ way of doing the bullpen is better, they’re just different. I will say some of these IndyCar drivers have more personality in their pinky finger than some NASCAR drivers. They also don’t appear to have PR hovering over every word they say or are asked. All of that was so refreshing.

I’m just shocked there were no failures to communicate between my backwoods Virginia accent and many of the drivers’ accents.

Next up was the first practice session of three. I wish NASCAR had more practice, but the amount of practices IndyCar has is entirely too much. Why can’t both series have one hour-long session?

During that opening session, I decided to walk down pit road and get social media content. That was when it really hit me just how big of a Friday crowd there was. It legitimately took me 20-30 minutes to get from one end of pit road to the other because it was so narrow behind the pit wall and there were so many people walking around back there.

On Saturday, there was another practice before qualifying. I still don’t fully understand IndyCar qualifying. They knock the field down to 12 cars and then to six, but I’m not entirely sure how. Anyways, Felix Rosenqvist seemed like a popular underdog polesitter, so I made sure to get him after the race Sunday.

By the time race day came, I had walked around so much that I had blisters on both feet. Note: a street course is not the place to break in new shoes.

The amount of access you get on the grid is just incredible, but it was so crowded. I’d be walking through a gob of people and then almost trip over a car that was minutes away from racing. Honestly, I’m shocked more cars don’t suffer damage from a klutz on the grid stepping on its front wing.

With Long Beach being a street course, there are limited spaces to actually watch the racing. There are grandstands with good views, but to cover the race, you pretty much need to be in the media center watching on a monitor.

And it was hard to concentrate in the media center because it was way louder than a NASCAR media center. Not because of the noise of the cars, but of the people. NASCAR media centers are like libraries during a race, and this media center was like a high school cafeteria noise-wise. Again, not saying one is right and one is wrong, just different.

The action was great on Sunday, and I couldn’t have asked for a more compelling race to be my first. After the race, I made my way to the paddock (not garage) to get the drivers TV didn’t get, as has become the standard here at Frontstretch. But I had a much more difficult time getting drivers than I would after a NASCAR race.

First off, the paddock is much more spread out than a NASCAR garage. In NASCAR, the 36+ haulers are crammed as tightly as possible together. In IndyCar, the teams will have their own transporters parked side-by-side, but then there will be a huge tent separating one team’s transporters from the next one. The entire field was split into three different rows of transporters, so that made it that much more difficult to see which drivers were out and about.

What also made it difficult was the huge crowd in the paddock. In NASCAR, when the race is over, the fans disappear quickly. At Long Beach, they were there for hours after the race.

I wanted to get O’Ward and Alexander Rossi to ask about their incident together. I saw both of them run into their transporters and never saw them again.

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In NASCAR, you wait outside of a hauler long enough after a race and eventually you can ask a driver for an interview. They may still say no, but at least you get a chance. This was not the case on Sunday.

There was a crowd of fans who stood outside, waiting to meet O’Ward for over an hour and a half. I don’t know if they ever met him or not as I eventually gave up. I kept walking back and forth between the Arrow McLaren and Team Penske areas, as I was also trying to get Josef Newgarden, but no luck on O’Ward, Rossi or Newgarden. I did get rookie Theo Pourchaire during this wait, though, as he was about to enter the transporter.

I talked to Rosenqvist, Kyle Kirkwood and Graham Rahal as well during my walk around the paddock, as all three were hanging around outside, talking to their teams.

I nitpicked about a lot of stuff, but overall, I really enjoyed by first foray into the IndyCar world. I highly recommend any fans of racing in general to check out the Grand Prix of Long Beach at some point because there are literally different types of cars on track from sunrise to sunset. It’s like being at a state fair while hearing the sounds of racecars roaring by.

And now, I feel better prepared for the Indy 500, even though that will probably be a totally different animal entirely.

About the author

Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.

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Thomas Astbury

Very interesting perspective! See you at Indy!

Andy Oxenreider

I think a fair amount of the issues you had were Long Beach specific. The double gate check is weird and very part of that venue, Indycar gates are usually some of the chillest around. The merch situation – while not near NASCAR levels – is better at tracks with more space. Similar with the narrow pit room and crowding there, that’s a venue problem, the pit space is tiiiiiight there.

The tents are uniquely Indycar but also so cool, it’s easy to walk around and watch them work on a car.

Overall I think you’ll find the gate and media situations are going to be muuuuuch more what you’re used to when you get to IMS for the 500.

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