I’ve been coming to Phoenix Raceway for 12 years now, and there’s something about this place that feels special for me.
That’s not sarcasm, although I could see why people would think that — since I’m always ripping on the awful facilities like the media center (they’re fixing it!).
But in all seriousness, Phoenix always makes me stop and reflect. Why? Check out this list of personal firsts:
— It was my first racing assignment for the Inland Valley (Calif.) Daily Bulletin in Nov. 2005. My main job for the newspaper was high school sports, but sports editor Louis Brewster generously allowed me to cover the Phoenix race because he knew how badly I wanted to go.
During that first weekend, Brewster assigned me a story on our local driver David Gilliland, who was in his second career Busch Series race. It wasn’t much of a story at the time (he start-and-parked), but it was Gilliland’s first race with car owner Clay Andrews — a pairing which would pull off the famous Kentucky upset a year later.
— It was my first on-the-road assignment for NASCAR Scene magazine in April 2007. I’d left the Daily Bulletin for my dream job in early ’07, and Phoenix was my first race after a few weeks in the office. I was absolutely on top of the world. Getting paid to travel full-time to NASCAR races? Are you kidding?
Plus, Scene was rolling in cash at the time (it was still the glory days of print advertising) and they paid for FIVE Scene writers to fly out a day early so we could “adjust to the time zone.” Gotta be fresh for the weekend and all that, right?
So we had two days to lounge by the pool at a fancy hotel and eat good food on someone else’s dime. Plus, all of the other writers were guys I practically idolized as a subscriber of the magazine, so I didn’t think it could get much better than that. I wore my Scene polo shirt to the track with pride and beamed when I saw crew members reading it in the garage.
— It was the first race I ever live-tweeted in April 2009! Scene had each of us create Twitter accounts in March of that year, but they wouldn’t let us start tweeting until a sponsored deal with Sprint kicked in. The first race was Phoenix, and we had to tweet #SprintRacing after every tweet. Anyway, I sat up in the press box and tweeted, connecting with some of you for the first time. Much has changed in the time since (or not).
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) April 19, 2009
— This was the first place I traveled for JeffGluck.com. Thanks to your early surge of pledges, I had enough money to go cover testing in January. That was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had, because I was only there because you wanted me to be there.
Anyway, perhaps in part of all these firsts, I always feel like it’s a privilege to come out to Phoenix. If you’re a NASCAR beat writer who makes it out this far west, you’re fortunate to either work for a large outlet with a travel budget or you have the resources to make it on your own.
There aren’t a lot of us left. The only traveling beat writers here this week are from ESPN.com, FOXSports.com, Motorsport.com, NASCAR.com, NASCAR Wire Service, KickinTheTires.net and Catchfence.com. And me.
So I’m pretty happy to be here. It’s another special weekend, and I don’t take it for granted.