They say you can never go home again. That is not always true. You can go home, only things have changed. Home for me is Portland International Raceway. For 23 years I was involved with the Indy Car races at PIR. In 1984 I volunteered as a technical inspector. My job was to help weigh and measure the race cars. Another part of the job was to keep track of the pop off valves for the turbochargers of the car I was assigned to. As an observer I had the privilege of going just about anywhere. This included the paddock area, the pit box and even the race team tent and trailers.
During the race I was in the pit box, off to one side, out of everybody’s way, observing the pit crew in action. During the pit stops, I would be checking the number of crew over the wall, number of tires that were being changed, fuel and several other things, for instance if the race car runs over the air hoses.
I had a great time over 23 years meeting crew members and owners and drivers. The only thing I regret is the rule I was not allowed to have a camera, so no photos.
Fast forward to 2018. I am at home again at PIR this time with a camera. I am here as reporter and photographer for Roddin’ and Racin’ NW Newspaper. As a photographer, I had just about the same privileges as before. I could not go into the race teams trailer and tent area without permission from the team. That also goes for the pit box. However, I could go anywhere else. The main rule was not to take any photos of the race cars if certain body parts were off the car, unless you get permission from the team.
My plan was to do a follow up story about Alexander Rossi, the NAPA driver. I did a story earlier this year when Alexander visited the World of Speed Museum in Wilsonville. Alexander was, of course, much busier preparing for the race than he was at the museum. So I concentrated on his pit crew.
It was great watching these guys in action. Just like true athletes they would stretch and limber up before pit stop practice and before the race. I asked nicely and got permission to be in the pit box. Here I am 11 years later, standing in the corner of the pit box at the pit wall. It felt great, just like old times. As I stood there I watched them remove a coil over shock, take it apart and change the spring in less than a minute. Amazing!
During the times of hot pit practice, Alexander would bring the car in at full pit speed, just like during a race. The pit crew jumped over the wall, changed 4 tires, got a full tank of fuel and then off he would go. It was like watching a ballet, the smooth fast motion, every crew member on their toes doing their jobs precisely. As Alexander took off out of the pits, it reminded me of how Little Al would leave the pits in a cloud of tire smoke.
In the time leading up to Sunday’s race I have never seen such a large crowd in the paddock area. It was very much a family event. Parents and their children were looking at the race cars and talking to crews and drivers. I even saw one of the drivers kneeling down to talk to a little guy on his level, face to face, and autograph the hero card. It was great.
While going through the paddock area I talked to one crew member about the body part that covered the front shocks. The cover was made of carbon fiber and the vinyl decal weighed just as little as the body part, they are that light.
Sunday, I was invited to the NAPA hospitality chalet. I took photos of Napa guests with Alexander. As he was leaving, I had a moment to ask a few questions. Simple questions, such as how do you like Oregon?
“I love it.”
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
“I don’t know.”
Who is your favorite driver?
“Lewis Hamilton and Kyle Bush.”
Now that is two different ends of the spectrum: Nascar and Formula 1.
As I watched the race from the chalet I thought you can go back home. The view from the chalet was great, but not as exciting as being in the pit box as the cars come in for a pit stop as I did 11 years ago. I want to thank the guys from NAPA and Alexanders pit crew for a great weekend. Alexander weekend was not so good. He finished eighth after leading the race. Yellow flags did not help him. Takuma Sato was the winner of the race this time.
Oh yes, you can go home again, as long as you expect things to be different.