Shortly after Saturday night’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, I posted this tweet with a picture of Brad Keselowski’s damaged car:
If you watched the race, you know that information is completely wrong. Not even close! Keselowski didn’t get the damage in the garage; it happened on pit road when Tony Stewart backed straight into him.
And trust me, I got dozens of replies telling me what really happened. They’re still trickling in today.
In that sense, you probably already know what I’m about to tell you: Reporters in the garage often have absolutely no idea what happened after the race.
Someday, I’d like to wear a GoPro or something similar so you could see what the garage is like after the race. Being right in the middle of the action can be very cool — beat-up cars are roaring in, emotions are high, there’s a lot of adrenaline — but it also leaves you hilariously uninformed in the times when drama happens.
I’m sharing my ignorance with you so we can laugh together. Here’s how things went down after the race from my view (the actual version can be found here):
— With about 10 laps to go, many reporters get their equipment together and leave the media center for the garage or pit road (it depends on your assignment). In this case, colleague Mike Hembree headed for pit road — where NASCAR requires second through fifth place to stop — and I headed for the garage.
— When you leave the media center, it disconnects you from the TV broadcast. As much as people criticize TV, they have the most information because they have cameras and replays and reporters all working in sync. You rely on TV way more than you realize. I still had my scanner, FanVision and phone, so I was aware a caution came out for Brian Vickers. That set up a final restart. I listened to the finish of the race on PRN and watched it on Charlotte’s mega screen on the backstretch.
— My first priority was to interview Dale Earnhardt Jr. He had practically guaranteed victory, then had a broken shifter and ended up with a miserable night. Clearly, his last hope would be Talladega Superspeedway; we needed his reaction to all of that. I stationed myself by Earnhardt’s hauler because drivers are supposed to drive their cars back to the team transporters and park them in front of the lift gate. A ton of other reporters had the same idea.
— Earnhardt pulled up and got out of his car. The media surrounded him and waited for ESPN to conduct its interview (live TV gets priority). Jimmie Johnson also pulled up — which surprised me because I thought he was in the top five — and left without talking to anyone.
— Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye on Charlotte’s mega screen, I saw images of a skirmish happening. It was Keselowski and…Denny Hamlin? Huh? Why? I could see they were at the other end of the garage, so I ditched Earnhardt’s interview and sprinted down to where the action appeared to be taking place.
— By the time I arrived, it looked like Keselowski had just walked away. But the next thing I knew, people with yellow uniforms started yelling and running toward the middle of the haulers. Wait, were Hamlin and Keselowski fighting in there? I ran after them. By the time I turned on my cell phone camera, this was the scene:
— Someone said Kenseth and Keselowski got into it. Kenseth? Why, because of the restart with 63 laps to go? I had no idea. I walked around to the back of the hauler. Someone said Keselowski and Hamlin bashed into each other in the garage. The front of Keselowski’s car was smashed, so I incorrectly assumed it was from Hamlin (hence the tweet).
At that point, I had no clue about anything that happened after the checkered flag or on pit road. I knew people were mad — I didn’t know why. And I didn’t know Tony Stewart was involved at all (which is why you didn’t see any interviews with Stewart).
So what do you do in that situation? Wander around and talk to people. Paul Wolfe said he didn’t know what happened (and I didn’t realize he was in the fight until after the interview). Joe Gibbs said he didn’t see it. Finally, Denny Hamlin came out of his hauler and ripped Keselowski. And I heard Kenseth interviewed on PRN.
I scrolled through Twitter and saw bits and pieces of what happened. A couple people posted Vines off TV. Thankfully, my girlfriend texted me a video of the TV broadcast — and that was the first time I saw the whole sequence.
Here’s the funny thing: I was far from the only person in the dark. I showed the video to about a dozen reporters in the garage when we were waiting outside the NASCAR hauler, and most of them hadn’t seen a single clip of what happened — this was probably 30 minutes after the race!
Finally, once we sorted it all out, I had a better understanding of what happened and returned to the media center to file my story.
So there’s the truth: You would think reporters at the racetrack know more than fans sitting at home, but that’s often not the case when there’s post-race drama. Once we step away from the TV, you probably have more information than we do.
TV broadcasters don’t get everything and sometimes get criticized, but they do a better job than you think. Without TV, sorting out the information while in the middle of the chaos can be pretty damn confusing.
Photo below: People in the garage gather around a portable ESPN monitor to watch the replay of the fight and pit road bumper cars.