The first sounds heard Saturday morning at Phoenix International Raceway were the deafening jet dryers circling the track, to dry it off after Friday’s late night rain and wind storm. The rain stopped by morning and the morning NASCAR Sprint Cup hour-long practice session started nearly on time, and ran to the allotted time, five minutes before Nationwide Series practice.
At the moment, NASCAR is telling the teams to watch the clocks and listen up for announcements, as the schedule might be advanced to beat the expected rain, especially the Nationwide Race, slated for a 1:45pm start, local time.
For the 9am Cup practice the weather was cloudy with a gentle breeze and 63 degrees. The expected high is 72 degrees, and the forecast is dry until 11am, when the rain chances are 50 percent until 2pm, when they increase to 60 percent for two hours. At 4pm the chances are 70 percent until sunset.
Jet dryers came from several sources, including NASCAR and two neighboring NASCAR tracks, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana CA. Add to that emergency and track vehicles and the Cup cars started at 9:05am.
With this weekend’s race being the fiftieth, PIR President Bryan Sperber says we’re all in for a treat Sunday for the traditional flyover. And also in honor of the anniversary, the track is bringing back its most popular anthem performer – Trumpeter JESSE McGUIRE.
The other special choices are selected collaboratively with the race track, sponsors and NASCAR. Among the things to be chosen are trophies – which often are dictated, at least in part, by the sponsors. The anthem performers are often found by NASCAR. Other performers, such as the POD Band in the PIR infield are track choices. Grand Marshals and Celebrity Pace Car Drivers are another collaborative choice.
For this weekend, NASCAR helped find EL JAGUAR, to sing the Mexican National Anthem at Thursday night’s Mexico Toyota Series Race. American ALLEN PONCE sang the American anthem at that race.
For the NASCAR Nationwide Race, the singer will be LEE DeWYZE from American Idol.
One of the track’s official sponsors is Safeway Stores. The track has had an infield grocery store for the past 13-14 years, and Safeway came on board as the Official Store last year. It has proved to be quite popular, and even the Safeway radio adverts proclaim that this year’s store has grown in size. The big white Safeway tent can be seen from Avondale Boulevard when driving by the RV infield camping area.
In talking access excuses with some of the Gate Guards for the Cup Garage, who come from the local Sheriff’s Department, they didn’t have any specific wild or crazy stories But they laughed about their first year, as they didn’t know a single driver and carded every single one. They got a few “Don’t you know who I am.” As Sperber told me later, if a driver has to say that, he’s not as well known as he thinks.
The most common excuse heard from drivers is “She’s with me.” Five minutes after hearing this, a K&N driver tried it.