The privilege of covering a Phoenix race

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).

— This was the first place I traveled for 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,,,, NASCAR Wire Service, and And me.

So I’m pretty happy to be here. It’s another special weekend, and I don’t take it for granted.

12 Replies to “The privilege of covering a Phoenix race”

  1. We’re in the grandstands right now, watching Cup final practice. Near start/finish line, baking in the brutally hot sun, but I love it! I’ve been to a handful of NASCAR tracks and Phoenix is my favorite.

  2. Phoenix is awesome – something magical about that area. It also has the best sunsets!!!!! Have a blast and keep doing what you do. Wow – twitter in 2009? I don’t know when I heard about twitter, but I know it was years later. Then again, technology is passing me by these days.

  3. You KNOW howI feel about your journalism!!! Best NASCAR coverage, and so respected. I’m so happy to call you a friend.

  4. It seems like you have had a good journey up to where you are now. I hope it continues for you so we can all benefit from it. Its just too bad that Manzinita is gone. Phoenix was more fun to visit when Manzinita was around.

  5. Jeff, I didn’t realize you hadwent out on your own. I will support you 100%, I took a step back from the sport when Jeff Burton retired but am reengaged now that Bowyer is in the 14. Are you still doing Tweet-ups? Not sure I will get to a race this year but I will be back soon.

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