Friday at TMS: Photographer's point of view

What an interesting day this is. Activity from 9 am till sometime after 9 pm. Busy, busy day. Today is Busch happy hour, Nextel Cup practice, and Nextel Cup qualifying. One of the many interesting things that go on when these ...

What an interesting day this is. Activity from 9 am till sometime after 9 pm. Busy, busy day. Today is Busch happy hour, Nextel Cup practice, and Nextel Cup qualifying.

One of the many interesting things that go on when these professionals practice amazes me. Maybe because I have never driven a race car, one of the few regrets I have. These guys will sometimes not even complete a lap and bring the car back in, telling the crew chief on the radio what they need or what they feel. In many cases, they will make just two or three laps and know exactly what they need to change. That takes great consistency in driving. Heck, I cannot even be that consistent driving to the grocery store.

This leads to the life of a mechanic. Kind of a hurry-up-and-wait existence. When the car is on the track, they wait. When the car comes in during practice, they work as fast as they can to make changes. This is an interesting balance since speed can lead to mistakes. So they have to work fast enough to get it done as quickly as posible yet control themselves to make sure it is done right. Talk about an adrenaline rush!

After practice, the crew does not usually have to work at the pace they do during practice. Having said that, there is no messing around. They are focused and work till the job is done.

One of the interesting things I noticed today after qualifying was that Tony Stewart's #20 was covered. The crew was done and they were gone about the time qualifying ended. Hmmm. Should the rest of the garage be worried?

When these teams finish with qualifying, they begin a laundry list of things to change for happy hour the next day. The list is amazing but most teams do the same basic things: change the transmission to a more durable one, change the rear end gears, change the rotors and brakes to race set-ups, change the oil to something thicker, change the springs and shocks. They do this since the nose will not have as much tape on it as it does during qualifying.

There is more. Most will change the spark plugs. I saw one team changing the intake manifold. Then there is the one that always makes me wonder. All the teams have some device connected to the coolant lines during qualifying. They come in all shapes and sizes. After NASCAR came up with the one-engine rule, these things appeared. Now all of you may know what this is but I do not. I have no idea of its function but I suspect it has to do with helping the engine stay cool even though the front end is taped off. If anyone knows what these are, please drop me a line.

Nextel Cup qualifying is an event all by itself. Does any other series get this many people on a Friday afternoon just to watch qualifying? I don't know the crowd size today, but take a look in the pictures section. I just managed to get half the crowd in the picture.

Qualifying is an amazing event in pitlane. Fans get to go over the wall but are not supposed to cross over the line between the pit box and pitlane. Most adhere to this. The fans are allowed to come all they way up to the wall. Hundreds of them! They love it and who can blame them? It's a chance to get up close to drivers we like. If you are lucky, your driver will walk over to the wall and sign something for you.

Many of the young guys do this since it is still new to them. I am impressed with Jeff Gordon. He always comes out a bit early, walks to wall and signs autographs for as long as he can. It can be pretty intimidating considering how the fans begin to clamour around him. He handles it very well and is pleasant. Other drivers are not unpleasant; they just don't seem to be there. Concentrating, I guess.

Some of the drivers are a crafty lot (no kidding). Everyone will be looking for them to come from the same direction as all the other drivers. Suddenly they will appear from a different direction. Makes me smile. I have watched famous drivers walk behind the crowds to where they want to cross the wall. The crowd along the pit wall are all watching the cars and drivers over the wall. They do not think to look behind them.

Well that's all for now. I need to go shoot the IROC race. Ought to be interesting.

Editor's Note: James Spires is one of's contributing photographers. Mr. Spires thought it would be fun to give our readers an inside look of what it is like to be a member of the press at an event.

Thursday at TMS

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Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart