By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
As a person who’s watched the Verizon IndyCar Series on a regular basis since 2007, I’ve always wondered what my INDYCAR experience would be like. This past weekend at Portland International Raceway, I had the privilege of covering the series return in the Pacific Northwest, but it also brought some flashbacks of my days at the University of Idaho.
Compared to my first NASCAR race as a credentialed media member at Sonoma Raceway in June, my first-ever INDYCAR experience was like jumping into a big pound, surrounded by big fishes and I’m the unknown freshman, trying to get my foot in the door without obtaining heat.
In June, I can sense the calm urgency of the competitors based on their tight schedules, which is probably why I didn’t have any clashes with people. This weekend, I experience the highest of highs, and lowest of lows in my young journalism career, different than a fellow NASCAR writer experienced earlier in the year.
Jumping the Fire
Maybe my expectations were too high as a non-regular because major auto racing in the Northwest is rare, or the tools I’ve learned at Idaho doesn’t work on a lot of situations. Case in point, the events from final practice to qualifying.
To give you a personal background, I’m a writer, that’s my main objective on any given race weekend I go to, but I’m also versatile to expand my horizons. I love taking photos. It keeps me busy, and allow me to observe the sport into greater detail. With certain restrictions of what I’ve been credentialed for, people aren’t going to be kind to those who aren’t an established media personnel. That’s when it hit me that I have to earn trust in this industry.
When confronted with angry people, I’m not the nicest person to deal with. You step over my line, I’ll probably step in yours because I’m here to get stories, positive or negative, that’s my job. Being a freshman in the big boy environment, I couldn’t afford to stir heat because I won’t last in this business.
This happened three times, two on Saturday. One was dealing with callous people when trying to capture photos, rather than just shout or cuss at the people, I left and was heated. Two, was perhaps dealing with the biggest dog in the yard that didn’t go well at all and was forced to leave the paddock.
Afterwards, I knew what a few people have said, the environment is different. However, not that kind of different where I’m not making any progress of making a name for myself and this company. I won’t say who stirred the pot and why it happened, but it brought a mean streak that I haven’t had in almost two years.
Here’s a little backstory of my life. At Idaho, I wasn’t welcomed in open arms by the tight-nit Argonaut family because I was the new guy, taking over a popular editor due to health problems. Even after graduating in December 2016, I still didn’t felt like I was ever part of that family. It brought a huge fire in my eyes, and proved people wrong with my work. I’ve done that, and whether they cared or not, I was proud of my growth.
With this in mind, my writing creativity hit its peak and the way I wanted to tell the events during qualifying, even my questions, came out well-executed and it’s some of my best work I’ve done this year. After such a down day, out of my personal control, I ended on a positive note from my work.
Seeing the Positives People Have Acclaimed
With the exception of a certain security member not doing their job right, regardless if the person has a hard card, “Race Mode” wristband or vice versa, Sunday went smooth. I cannot complain much and was able to take the grasp of what some have felt the experience was, and that’s approachable.
Just as long as I give the driver some cool time to chat with the team, it went well and got my stories that I wanted to write about, so people can learn how the driver’s day or weekend has gone. Even after the race, some drivers took the time interacting with the fans and wasn’t in a rush to leave the circuit.
Unless you’re an eyewitness, not many fans from different sanctioning bodies see or hear that, and it struck a positive cord for me.
My interactions with PR and representatives was welcoming, and in this business, that’s what I want to get out of is having those connections so I can feel like I’m a part of the INDYCAR family in some capacity. The sport has progressed over time, and a fun one to cover as a journalist. That’s what always fascinated me about the sport, and now having one race under my belt, I can see it.
Sure, it wasn’t the most satisfying weekend or portion of the season to cover my first-ever INDYCAR race as a media member, but better dealing with issues now than later in my career.
This weekend was a massive learning curve of what to expect once I get to that point of my life that I can be at the track, covering the sport on a regular basis. It treated me fairly well, it gave me some frustrations, and it brought a fire into my work that I’d love to carry into the finale at Sonoma.
It’s a huge task being credentialed for the championship battle, but there are endless stories and angles that’ll make for a opportunistic weekend to bring the best out of me in my writing, and on the side, photography. I have to say, having one INDYCAR race under my belt, it can only go up from there as a 23-year-old Idaho graduate.
Northwest Racing Shining Bright
One of the reasons I was looking forward to covering Portland was having a one of the big three North American sanctioning bodies (NASCAR, INDYCAR, and IMSA) hosting a race in the Pacific Northwest. It has been 11 years since INDYCAR has had a race there and 18 years since NASCAR held a race in that region. Let’s not forget, the folding of the Red Bull Global RallyCross, meant no racing at Evergreen Speedway in Monroe, Washington.
It’s all football and basketball in my region, to the point where fans didn’t want NASCAR, at their peak, in Washington when the proposed circuit was implemented in 2007 before it was rejected because it would cause “too much noise.”
The only thing I got are the K&N Pro Series West race at Evergreen, which I’ve covered last month, as well as Douglas County (Roseburg, Oregon), and Meridian in Idaho. NHRA holds the annual Northwest Nationals in at Pacific Raceways in Kent, Washington. AMA Supercross has recently came back to CenturyLink Field in Seattle in 2017, and held at the same weekend as INDYCAR’s trip to Portland, World of Outlaws action at Skagit Speedway in Alger, Washington.
Being the only staff member in that area and the closest major race track being Sonoma, covering races are hard to come by, so this was an enriching opportunity of doing on-assignments in my regional backyard. The end result? People showed up, and showed up big.
Just seeing a lot of James Hinchcliffe, Alexander Rossi, and Takuma Sato gear was an amazing site. Old school gear that goes from Paul Tracy’s Forsythe days to Scott Goodyear’s Mackenzie days. Even CART hats, old G.I. Joe’s 200 shirts, and a photographer had a Greg Moore memorial decal on his lens, it was an amazing site and it shows that here in the Northwest, racing is a solid culture.
Graham Rahal described this weekend it to a tee on Twitter:
Don’t go to @Portland_GP they said. Nobody will come, they said. Well, the fans have spoken and judging by the lines backed up on the freeway and the huge lines waiting to get in, they were wrong! pic.twitter.com/JgZTI51B6p
— Graham Rahal (@GrahamRahal) September 2, 2018
The Portland Grand Prix weekend was a booming success, and it can only go up from here. There’s rumors of possibly seeing NASCAR coming to Portland and Evergreen once the cut throat contractual schedule ends at the end of the 2019 campaign.
If well promoted, which Portland had a slam dunk, they will be intrigued and show up. I’m confident that next year, the race will have a title sponsor, and after seeing a huge crowd in INDYCAR’s return, companies shouldn’t shy away of being a part of the boom in the Northwest.
In retrospective, this was a huge win for the circuit, and my region because it’s been a long time coming. We do have a solid fan base in the region, and hope it proves people that racing fans are everywhere, even in areas that doesn’t get many options to attend auto racing.