We take an entire lap around the Charlotte Motor Speedway in our rental car before realizing that we are definitely in the wrong place. No people, no cars, no dirt track. Hmm.
Success! Dirt Track at Charlotte located. We park the car and head to the media credential pickup. There is an awkward moment when Nelson Piquet Jr. tries to get someone a pass, and the woman working the counter has no idea who he is. Poor thing—someone should give her a face sheet of all the drivers. Reminds me of my first race two years ago, when I accidentally congratulated the driver who came in dead last. Sorry Timur.
Media passes secured. Time to trek uphill to the entrance...
The front gates are locked – naturally. Kristen Kenney from NBC is here as well, also trying to figure out how to get in. At least we’re in good company. We act like real professionals and make for a gap in the fence.
Made it in! After walking nearly a mile with all our gear, we’re already ridiculously sweaty. Aaron, our videographer, has the tripod and most of the camera equipment, so he has the worst of it. But I’m carrying a 25 lb. box of posters for Joni Wiman, the driver we sponsor, and it may be the death of me. Resolve to start working out immediately upon return to LA.
The media meeting (a.k.a., How to film the rallycross cars without getting hit by them) closes with the distribution of insanely attractive neon orange safety vests and a final warning from the Race Director: “Watch your step around the track, because there can be snakes under foot.” SNAKES. I immediately become nostalgic for the Vegas race, where the most we had to worry about was being hit by mobile stripper ads.
We catch up with Joni and our friends from Olsbergs MSE (OMSE) at their paddock. Last night’s rain splattered mud all over the paddock, and the OMSE team is hard at work cleaning the space to get it ready for fans.
Practice laps start, and we see some gnarly wipeouts – some of the drivers are definitely still getting used to a mostly dirt track. This course is being advertised as 70% dirt/30% tarmac, but it looks like Mother Nature made some renovations with the rain—the track looks completely covered in red clay dirt. A lot of drivers seem to have a hard time finding traction.
It’s the middle of the afternoon. It must be 90 degrees out. Aaron and I are both sweating our faces off, which is a problem for me since I need to look presentable on camera. Megan Fox made the whole hot-and-sweaty-leaning-over-a-car thing look so sexy in Transformers…where’s Michael Bay when you need him?
Day 1 down! We captured some great driving footage, as well as interviews with Brian Deegan and Joni, so we leave happy, but starving. Cut to us collapsing in a diner called “Cheddars” and proceeding to eat half the menu (though strangely enough, nothing containing cheddar) before returning to the hotel and face planting into our beds.
Day 2! Let’s do this.
First, interview Rhys Millen. Between taking interviews, meeting with fans and, you know…racing, these guys have packed days.
The cars carve away some of the excess dirt from the turns, leading to faster lap times. Filming the track from the turns is incredible – after the cars pass by, a wave of red dust engulfs the media behind the barricade. We’re covered in so much dust that I actually look tan.
Time for the main – the final race!
Ken Block takes the lead and, after a bit of shuffling, Joni gains second. I scream my head off – he could take another podium!
Argh! Sverre Isachsen passes Joni. Double argh! Nelson Piquet Jr. uses the Joker to overtake him as well.
The race is over! Block wins, with Isachsen and Piquet Jr. taking second and third respectively.
The media storm the track and head to the podium. The winners are given their medals and proceed to shower themselves and each other in champagne. Fancy. We just need one great closing statement and we’re done.
We’re two takes in. Oye. Third time’s the charm?
We’ve probably done 16 takes at this point. My mouth is dry, my brain is tired, and I’m screwing up every single take. If we don’t get this done in two more takes, I think I’ll just lay down in the track and allow myself to be eaten by the SNAKES.
Finally get a take we can use. We head over to the autograph session to say goodbye to Joni and the OMSE team.
Cameraman Aaron refuses to get on a plane back to LA covered in dirt, so the hunt for showers begins.
We find an RV park with showers! No towels to be found, but the nice man at the park registration desk gives us a roll of those giant blue paper towels used to dry cars. YOLO.
This giant showering compound is completely deserted…and free of charge? This seems too easy—maybe it’s a trap. Spend shower listening for serial killers.
Hallelujah – we’re clean! Aaron and I drive 30 minutes from the track to a hidden gem of a restaurant called Savor Café on the outskirts of downtown Charlotte, where there’s cobbler for days. We may have died and gone to heaven.
Charlotte was a great race – can’t wait for Daytona. Hopefully, there won’t be any snakes there. Just alligators. Eff.