Category Archives: Interviews

For Danielle Trotta, dedication and mentors paved way to success

Danielle Trotta is the perfect role model for those trying to get into NASCAR and broadcasting. (Credit: FoxSports.com)
Danielle Trotta is the perfect role model for those trying to get into NASCAR and broadcasting. (Credit: FoxSports.com)

Danielle Trotta never backs down from a challenge.

She is known as the smiling co-host on NASCAR Race Hub, but the Westchester, New York native climbed to the top with determination. She knew early on what she wanted to do and how to achieve it.

“I just got really lucky,” Trotta told Up Top The Pit Box over the phone. “I did TV in high school. [Carmel High School in Carmel, Indiana] had a broadcast station, a radio channel, everything. It helped me get a huge leg up because I was doing reports at 16.”

Moving with her family landed her in Charlotte, where she attended college. She obtained a Journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and became a sports intern at WBTV, the local TV station. That’s when it became cutthroat.

Trotta said, “I worked really hard. That was probably the most work I have ever done. I was an editor, a photographer, and I eventually became the weekend reporter. The slot opened up, and I walked into [her boss’s office] and told him I wanted the position. I knew I could do it. He said, ‘But you have no experience.’ I said, ‘I’ll do it for free!’ So he let me do it.”

Three months later, she landed the job—and got paid for it. Those beginning years are where she learned some of the best tips and tricks. “[Being a sports intern and a weekend reporter] really taught me everything I use to this day. It was me and a few interns…you have to learn how to keep it together…and make it all come together.”

She covered various sports—including NASCAR—while at WBTV, and the SPEED channel hired her in 2010. To say she was nervous would be an understatement.

“I didn’t know the intricacies of the sport. Every night, race fans tune in, and they’ve been race fans for 20, 30, 40, 50 years. I felt vulnerable and overwhelmed. I cried in the bathroom during my first week.”

Eventually, Trotta realized “it just takes repetition” and found her place while co-hosting Race Hub. It’s been five years since she joined the program, and she’s happy with her job—but still seeking more. Hosting the pre-race show for the NASCAR XFINITY Series races was the answer.

“It was important to me in 2015 to move up and get into the garage. I had to be where the sport is [to report on it]…this is my dream job, and I’m excited to grow with FOX. I always like to challenge myself—and my bosses—to give me new sports.”

That determination burned within her since the beginning, but it took two special people to help unleash it. One of them was Delano Little, the sports reporter and news anchor at WBTV who acted as her “cheerleader and motivator.”

“[Little] brought me into the business and raised me from a little puppy,” she said with a laugh. “He was the man who helped build that foundation [for my career]. He showed me that, if I wanted to be in this business, I had to really work for it.”

Her other mentor was Steve Byrnes. The two worked together on Race Hub, where her co-host helped her learn about NASCAR.

“[Byrnes] really took me under his wing when he didn’t have to. I was always able to call him and ask about the business and the sport. He taught me that there are always ways to grow and better yourself.”

Byrnes passed away in April 2015 after a long-fought battle with cancer. The entire sport—including Trotta—is still trying to cope with his absence.

“It’s been tough to lose him,” she said, adding, “He was a great dad and husband, and he was always happy to help others. Every time I talk to someone, they mention that Steve helped them with this or taught them that. It really speaks to the kind of person he was.”

That helpfulness is something Trotta tries to carry within herself. Her years of experience provide her with advice worth sharing.

She encourages young people to start early, saying, “I was in TV competitions at 15, where I had to report stories against other high school students. It’s never too early. Go to a college that sets you up for success. It is crucial to get an internship at a TV station. I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I didn’t have that internship [at WBTV].”

Her other tip is to take risks, noting how she got her weekend reporting position at the Charlotte TV station.

“I walked into that office and said, ‘Give me a shot,’ and they did. There were hundreds of audition tapes of people who wanted that job, but I got it. That’s the power of getting your foot in the door.”

With persistence, Trotta worked hard and burst onto the NASCAR scene—and she’s here to stay.

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The King talks progress, race team, and NASCAR’s future

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 03:  NASCAR Hall of Famer and team owner Richard Petty looks on during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 3, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
DAYTONA BEACH, FL – JULY 03: NASCAR Hall of Famer and team owner Richard Petty looks on during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 3, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Although the sun set on Richard Petty’s racing career 23 years ago, he is still The King.

It is a nickname he carries with pride. His thoughts hold weight in not only NASCAR but the entire racing community as well—and for good reason. In an ever-changing sport, the seven-time champion provides a steady voice flanked with wisdom.

“[NASCAR] wants to keep growing and keep the fans interested,” Petty told Up Top The Pit Box regarding the sport’s future. “We want to have them come to the races and watch it on TV. There is so much going on in the world for people to do and to watch. The younger generation is growing up on the X Games and other extreme sports. We want to keep their attention and have them watch us, too.”

The Hall of Fame driver competed during a vastly different era of racing, acquiring 200 overall wins, 712 top-10 finishes, and 123 poles. It’s so different that comparisons to modern day action fall mute.

Petty said, “You just can’t compare [the two eras of racing]. Today, there is so much technology and stuff like that. The cars are so different. We were racing strictly stock cars, and now we have specifically prepared race cars.”

“Everything is just different, but so is the world, too. Things just progress.”

Progress is a crucial part of sports, and it’s something the champion focused on during his career. His thought process was simple—be better than the time before.

“[I wanted] to be better each lap. If the guy in front of me was going faster, I wanted to be faster than him the next lap. And that’s really how I judged myself, how to be better than yesterday.”

When asked if any missed opportunities haunted him, Petty answered, “I’ve won races and come home and couldn’t sleep because I was thinking of something that didn’t go right or as we hoped and planned. There were other races where I finished fifth or sixth and slept like a baby…I knew I got the best out of the car that day and did the best I possibly could.”

The legend wants to instill that mindset into his team, Richard Petty Motorsports. The two-car operation is working to make The Chase, NASCAR’s playoff system that consists of ten races. Driver Aric Almirola made the cut after winning last year’s July event at Daytona International Speedway. Almirola is currently 15th in the point standings, but the team’s owner thinks a win is in the cards.

“I think Aric can win this year. [The No. 43 team] is more consistent this year, and we’re right near The Chase. We just need to give him good cars because he’s proved to be capable of running up front.”

RPM’s other driver, Sam Hornish Jr., is 24th in the rankings, searching for the winning spark. “[The No. 9 team] is getting their chemistry. We’ve made a crew chief change, and we just need to keep going. Sam did a great job at Sonoma [Raceway], and he was good [in the Daytona 500 earlier this season].”

While Almirola and Hornish compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Petty fields driver Dakoda Armstrong in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. When asked about moving Armstrong up anytime soon, the owner assured, “Dakoda does a good job for us in the XFINITY Series. Right now, we’re concentrating on being a two-car Cup team.”

The former championship-winning driver and current team owner is a trademark in the world of racing, and the sport is in his blood.

“When NASCAR started, my daddy [driver Lee Petty] was at the first race. I was going to races after that and have been ever since.”

He wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’m just too old to start something new now.”

One year after cancer diagnosis, Byrnes looks back on life

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(Credit: Fox Sports)

Cancer.

It’s a word that holds a variety of meanings to people across the world. Some associate it with fear, others think of flooding medical bills. When asked what the word ‘cancer’ meant to him, Steve Byrnes’ answer was simple: “Fight.”

Last fall, the host of Race Hub was diagnosed with head and neck cancer that spread to his throat and lymph nodes. It was a day that changed his life –and how he looked at that life—forever.

 

How Byrnes ended up covering NASCAR was a self-described “accident.” After playing football at James Madison University, he transferred to the University of Maryland, majoring in broadcasting. Charleston, South Carolina became his home when he landed a job as a sport anchor. That’s when racing entered the picture.

“One of my friends moved to Charlotte, and he called me, saying they were looking for someone to host a NASCAR program…I got the job and started working at Sunbelt Video in 1995.”

Sunbelt Video, a small company with “not even 10 people there,” went through multiple transitions before settling into its current form as the NASCAR Media Group. Byrnes and that handful of people became the frontrunners for reporting on the series and its personalities.

“Only half the races were televised,” he pointed out. “We were sometimes the only cameras there if TV wasn’t covering the event. It made for connections with drivers. You know, this was the time before motor homes, so a lot of the times, we’d share hotels with the drivers…some of my best conversations came from sitting around the hotel pool with Neil Bonnett and his crew.”

That simpler era led to a unique friendship with one of the sport’s largest personalities, Dale Earnhardt.

Byrnes said, “My relationship with Dale Earnhardt was pretty unusual…it was a much more personal relationship. One time, Dale asked me what kind of VCR to buy…I understood his personality and his friendships. With him, he could wrap his arm around you one day, and the next he wouldn’t even look at you. I accepted him and his personality, and I think that’s what made us close.”

“The thing with Earnhardt was…his big thing with him was respect. In his mind, respect on the racetrack was earned. In life, it was the same way. [Earnhardt] had this big regret about not finishing high school. So, the way he looked at people had nothing to do with education or profession. He treated everyone the same.”

It is advice that Byrnes thinks about every day while doing his job. Being the face of Race Hub isn’t easy work. Juggling that with his new role as a NASCAR Camping World Truck commentator? It’s a trip.

“When Rick [Allen, FS1’s lead NCWTS commentator] left, it was difficult because he was so immersed in the Truck series. He’s a great guy, a good friend of mine, but it just got complicated [for him to balance responsibilities].”

Allen was doing juggling of his own; along with his Fox obligations, he began hosting NASCAR America on NBCSN. Signed on to join their NASCAR on NBC coverage in 2015, it soon turned into a hassle. Byrnes stepped in, splitting the race load with fellow FS1 broadcaster Adam Alexander.

His transition was more about the content than the dynamic. “It was a huge transition in not covering [the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series]. In 1995, I was at the first Truck race at Phoenix. I remember I really enjoyed it, and I was a Truck reporter before I moved to Fox in the late ‘90s. But [being in the booth] requires a different skill set. When you’re doing play-by-play, you see the entire track, the race as a whole. The other thing is that, on Race Hub, the time for each segment is very restrictive. During the race, things are pretty organic.”

It is a role he is thrilled to take on, even after a difficult year.

 

“One day, I was on Race Hub, and one day, I wasn’t.”

Cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes requires immediate attention, and that’s what happened; Byrnes took chemotherapy and radiation simultaneously. It resulted in his wife, Karen, becoming his caretaker.

Despite the rigorous treatments, his faith never wavered.

“I wasn’t going to let cancer take away my happiness. I went to every one of [his son] Bryson’s football games. It didn’t matter how sick I was, I wanted to be there. There were times me and my wife would just sit on the couch and watch funny movies all day. [Cancer] puts perspective on what is and isn’t important.”

Everything in his career –pit reporting, hosting, things that took over his thoughts constantly—paled in comparison to his family. Out of the bad came something good, and he wants to share that good with other survivors. “I want people to know your biggest resource is people who have fought the same battle. It’s not a death sentence.”

“You have to be grateful for every single day. I felt that way during treatment, and I still feel that way now. It’s about having a grateful heart.”

Steve Byrnes fought hard and came out victorious, returning to TV and taking on an extra broadcasting position. Though it may be overwhelming at times, there’s no doubt that he’s thankful he has the opportunity to take that on.

Cancer. It changed him for the better.

With a determined spirit, Vincie climbed to the top and reached ultimate goal

Kaitlyn Vincie's story began in a basement, yet her ultimate goal recently became a reality. (Credit: KaitlynVincie.com)
Kaitlyn Vincie’s story began in a basement, yet her ultimate goal recently became a reality. (Credit: KaitlynVincie.com)

Kaitlyn Vincie doesn’t quit.

The pursuit of her dreams began in a basement, where she filmed herself reporting the NASCAR headlines. She worked for famous Langley Speedway and became the face of their TV updates. Once she was recruited by SPEED, she absorbed lessons about social media and being a road warrior. Race Hub gave her more experience with reporting. She jumped into lighthearted Trackside and focused on drivers’ Twitter and Instagram updates. Now the Virginian blonde is delving into the new challenge of garage reporting on Fox Sports 1.

Life doesn’t slow down, and the fact isn’t lost on her.

“There were a lot of changes out of the gate,” Vincie said in a phone interview. “With the switch [from SPEED to Fox Sports 1], they were trying to find out where to place people. I’m now doing garage reporting throughout the season, and it’s helping me work towards my ultimate goal of pit reporting during races. The thing about pit reporting is that you’re there at the racetrack, and that’s what’s best for me.”

As fans see more and more of her work, it opens up the door for more interaction on social media. The mentions that flow in are a mix of positive and negative.

She is acutely aware of both. “Well, the pro is that it gets my name out there more. There are more fans and viewers reaching out on social media, and they do say some bad things, like, ‘Wow, your hair looked bad on Race Hub today.’ I think it comes with the territory. I try to show no negativity [on Twitter], and there were times I considered deleting. That’s not really an option; Twitter opens the opportunity for promotion.”

Another pro? It linked her to @Nascarcasm, a Twitter humorist who specializes in racing comedy. The two were introduced at Texas Motor Speedway. He, along with three other funny account holders, was contacted by the track to attend the race as a special guest. SPEED put the four behind a curtain, and the Trackside crew interviewed them for a segment.

“He has the NASCAR humor down pat. He’s so funny, a hard worker, definitely found his niche. I’ve met him and his wife, and they are amazing people.”

Then, while in New York, Vincie went to a live taping of David Letterman’s show and got an idea: to add the sarcasm to NASCAR reporting. She contacted Nascarcasm and asked him to do the writing, and the pilot was filmed at her house.

“I wasn’t sure of the response it would get from Fox, but then they liked it and put it on the website. [Nascarcasm] deserves eighty percent of the credit. It’s a tough balance with the serious and funny. You just have to hit it right, and that‘s what he does.”

The endeavor, coined The Mock Run, started earlier this year and was met with praise. Due to Vincie’s dive into garage reporting, the Internet show is finding a new host to carry the witty humor along. Focusing on her day job of feature reporting isn’t a picnic, either.

“There are a lot of moving pieces on Race Hub. It’s a grind. It’s hard to put together a daily show. People really rely on it for their NASCAR news. We have a very diverse group, a very great group.”

When asked about her favorite interview, she noted a July feature with Chris Clayton. The former Army sergeant served six tours in Afghanistan before following his dream of becoming a NASCAR pit crew member. Now, he works for Hendrick Motorsports on the No. 88 car.

“It’s a fantastic story,” she said. “It made for this really inspiring piece that caused you to really reevaluate your life. It’s quite the American dream.”

If anyone knows dreams, it’s her. If anyone knows how difficult it is to get into the business, it’s her. Her success is well-earned, and she learned some advice along the way. “Do not give up on your ultimate goal. The right door will open at the right time. I knew I wanted to be in broadcasting. I knocked on a lot of doors. There will be a point where the right person will believe in you. You have to articulate what you want to the person who can make it happen.”

Kaitlyn Vincie doesn’t quit, and it worked out for the best.

Pockrass shines light on NASCAR’s condition, future, and fans

Sporting News writer Bob Pockrass is a known figure in the NASCAR world. Typically the first person in the media center, he is dedicated to informing fans about notable storylines about the sport they admire. There is nothing more important to him.

“I have a commitment to readers,” he said. “My passion is readers.”

Growing up in Indianapolis, Indiana, it was IndyCar that caught his eye. The idea of becoming a sports reporter came to him during high school; he loved what sports did to its fans, and he wanted to help add depth. He attended Indiana University, where he majored in Journalism and minored in Business. The Daytona Beach News-Journal picked him up in 1991 after he graduated, and he spent 12 years at the paper. That’s when NASCAR and the Daytona 500 came into the picture.

“All sports have passionate fans. Most people are fans of teams, but [NASCAR fans] root for drivers no matter what. They have such a personal relationship with their driver,” he said when asked what separates NASCAR fans from those who follow other sports. “The good thing about sports is that we can predict, but we don’t know until the green flag falls.”

That made NASCAR his main focus. In 2003, Pockrass went to NASCAR Scene, which turned into Scene Daily. He then transitioned into Sporting News, where he currently resides. He is now a significant member of the traveling media, recently receiving the 2013 George Cunningham Writer of The Year Award from the National Motorsports Press Association. However, the highlight of his career is much more simple.

“When you are listening to the radio, and you hear them talk about something you wrote, that’s always a good thing. People read, and you leave an impact. That’s the highlight.”

The conversation turned to the state of NASCAR and its future, and he had a lot to say on the matter. “It’s a challenge. I think they’re working on it. There are three major players: teams, tracks, and NASCAR. The business model isn’t good for teams. When something happens, one benefits while the other two may not. To me, it’s going to be a challenge [going into the future]. Fans are watching more on TV. With this new TV contract, later on, maybe it will help drivers break into the sport.”

“When the level of competition on-track goes up, so does the number of eyeballs on the sport. TV ratings are stagnant, and I like the fact NASCAR is looking at [the competitiveness]. They need to find selling values for sponsors that also help young drivers,” he explained when talking about what he would personally change.

“They have the right people in the right positions, they just have to find a selling point. [Also] there needs to be point systems in [the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series], even out the field, best of both worlds. Limit Cup drivers to one-third of races in other series. If the team runs with a sponsor or shares the ride with other developmental drivers, limit them to only half. You have to give [the up-and-coming drivers] opportunities, give them opportunities to win. Then, it comes down to seeing a guy in victory lane and sponsoring that guy.”

NASCAR has already made tons of changes, including the off-season tweaks to The Chase. The new format makes predicting championship contenders quite difficult.

“You’re not going to know, and that makes it so hard to predict. Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon…Joey Logano; you don’t think of him as a championship contender, but what he’s done with Team Penske is impressive. Brad Keselowski, too, they’re good teammates. When you could [Keselowski] out, he goes out and succeeds.”

When Pockrass is at the track, he doesn’t stay in the media center all day. He helps host Tweet Ups with friend and fellow NASCAR writer Jeff Gluck. Originally Gluck’s idea, the two use it to meet with fans and hear their thoughts on current issues within the sport. In return, they try to bring guests such as spotters and drivers.

“We need to know what the fans are thinking. If we help the enjoyment of the fan, it’s like we’re giving back to the sport. We get criticized as media for writing stories about attendance and TV ratings, and some say we’re the reason sponsors leave. At the Tweet-Ups, we get to talk racing with fans and get their opinions. I don’t do it just because of the business aspect.”

Nope. He does it because he’s passionate for readers. That’s a key element if you want to get into the sport, which isn’t as easy as it sounds.

“It’s tough because the media is changing so much. I believe the best way to get into the business is by working in an area with a local short track. Establish yourself. That’s the best way. If you want to be in major media, you have to get a degree. You need to have a passion for readers.”

Those readers feel the same way about Pockrass and his dedication to NASCAR, and it definitely doesn’t go unnoticed.

Ryan McGee: The Weirdest (yet Successful) Route

“I took the weirdest route [into sportswriting] you could imagine.” However, it was one that worked out well for ESPN writer and reporter Ryan McGee.

Growing up in Rockingham, North Carolina, McGee was surrounded by racing. Rockingham Speedway was just down the road, and his father was on the pit crew for Dave Marcis. This led him to attend the University of Tennessee for broadcasting with sports in mind, but the outlook wasn’t positive. Many told him, “‘with that accent, there’s no way you’ll be on TV.’”

ESPN hired him as a producer right out of college, and he was there when NASCAR began to gain national attention in 1994. ESPN2 added RPM2Night to their lineup, which is where he ended up. It was only a matter of time until ESPN decided to launch ESPN The Magazine and needed someone to write racing content.

“I was the only Southerner at the time . . . so I basically volunteered to write, and it just snowballed from there.”

Now he is a staple at races across the country, going along with the traveling circus that is the NASCAR media. When talking about that group of people, McGee mused, “The thing about [the members of the NASCAR media] is that they’re either exactly who you would expect, or they’re the complete opposite extreme. I think that’s a good thing because it brings so many cool perspectives.”

Those cool perspectives can also be found on Twitter, which has brought fans deeper into the lives of those within the sport. To McGee, it’s a double-edged sword.

“The good thing about the internet is that everyone has a voice. The bad thing about the internet is that everyone has a voice. There are more talented people covering the sport than we’ve ever had, and there are so many opportunities now. The problem? It’s harder for young people to stand out. [They] have to find what works and run with it.”

Another issue? The face that social media is giving fans a direct link to express their feelings to NASCAR. Although that sounds like a good thing, it may not be a positive. “There’s this image the sport can’t possibly live up to . . . you can’t manufacturer these moments. I think NASCAR listens to fans too much. Every time [the fans] complain, they try to please them.

“NASCAR is at a crossroads. This next year is very crucial because of the new TV deal in 2015. Same thing happened in 2000: all new things for the FOX and NBC deal in 2001. [The 2014 season] will mostly be tweaking the Gen-6. I like the Gen-6. There’s so much you can do with these cars.”

Don’t think that the writer is hard on the fans; he respects them to no end. That is evident on the podcast he does with close friend and fellow ESPN writer, Marty Smith. Marty and McGee’s following, affectionately dubbed The 406, listens in as the two talk about racing, college football, parenthood, and anything else that comes up in conversation.

“Marty [Smith] and I had hosted radio shows as fill-ins for a friend of ours, and it was so natural. We lobbied hard. ESPN finally said, ‘Quit bugging us’ and gave us a shot. The most fun we have is that one hour.”

One thing that makes the fans respectable is a quality both McGee and Smith admire deeply: passion. “You know, I don’t know anything about soccer. I don’t watch, I don’t understand it, I don’t get it. But if you’re passionate about it, I will tell you to go for it. I’ll respect you.”

Passion is what got him to this point in his career, and that still fuels him today. When it comes down to it, one piece resonates with him like no other. “In 2008, I did this piece on Aaron Fike [former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series rookie] . . . and he took that opportunity to tell me he use to shoot up heroin on race days. That changed the NASCAR drug policy into what it is today.” That is a change he is thankful he had a hand in.

It’s been a long time since McGee first entered the world of sportswriting via that interesting road. Yet, it worked out for the best; he’s writing, hosting, and speaking out about NASCAR, his passion. For that, he is respected.

Superstars Dillon and Scott help bring smiles at Nationwide Children’s Hospital

A press conference discussing the upcoming Nationwide race on August 17th (credit: Kristen Schneider)
A press conference discussing the upcoming Nationwide race on August 17th (credit: Kristen Schneider)

It was a beautiful day for a race…in a dark room on top of Columbus, Ohio’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

The public relations group at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course put together a Pinewood Derby event to raise awareness for the hospital and the inaugural NASCAR Nationwide Series race on August 17th, the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200. Twenty heat races pinned twelve lucky kids against Richard Childress Racing drivers Austin Dillon and Brian Scott.

“My favorite charity work has to be when we work with children,” Scott told me Tuesday afternoon. “It makes you never want to complain about the small things.”

Dillon added, “I think the coolest thing is seeing [the kids] smile…they want to go fast.”

Fast they went. Wooden cars were provided to the kids, and the Nationwide Series drivers helped them decorate their new vehicles with stickers. Two gracious Boy Scouts helped place the cars on the top of the track’s hump. When the four cars were set, a switch was flipped, and it was always close as the toys used momentum to jet off the hill and to the checkered.

A rivalry between the two RCR drivers brewed before the event ever began; making their derby cars back at the shop, there was pressure to one-up each other. Unfortunately for Scott, his no. 2 wasn’t put together with the ‘hilly’ track in mind.

“I put all the weight in the back…I wish I could get in a time machine and go back and rebuild my car better.” He also went on to praise the fun, laidback atmosphere. “It’s fun when you can do any event like this with children. You get so much enjoyment and so much from it…at least for myself, it makes me enjoy these little things. It’s really good to get away from the grind.”

‘Hilly’ has also been a theme for this season, which has been his first with RCR. Sitting eighth in the point standings, the growing pains caused a slight slump, but the team is battling back. “Our cars have been fast…I think our biggest problem is on pit road, but not necessarily pit stops. We need to make better adjustments throughout the race.”

His teammate’s description of his own season was similar, summing it up in three words: speed, luck, and heartache. Dillon, who tops the standings with a fourteen-point lead, is still riding the high he gained after winning at Eldora Speedway two weeks ago in the NCWTS. That winning Truck will be making its way into the NASCAR Hall of Fame next week, which is “very cool” to the driver.

A little asks Austin Dillon how to make her Pinewood Derby car faster than his. (Credit: Kristen Schneider)
A little asks Austin Dillon how to make her Pinewood Derby car faster than his. (Credit: Kristen Schneider)

“It was really keyed up to my career, I feel like. You know…I wanted to make sure the fans enjoyed it because I love dirt racing. I think so many fans enjoyed it that you’ll see it for many years to come.”

When the conversation turned to championship contenders, however, Dillon was less confident. “There are so many good [opponents] out there this year…all the guys with Cup experience are tough, with Elliott Sadler, Regan Smith, and Brian Vickers…Sam Hornish Jr., too…hopefully we can hold them off.”

Both drivers are excited to get to Mid Ohio next weekend, yet apprehensive of what the new stop will throw at them. Track president Craig Rust shares the same feelings, acknowledging the Michigan Cup race that is three hours north.

“We don’t know what that impact that might have, but we’re excited to find out.”

With multiple Nationwide drivers donating spots on their cars to carry pictures of the hospital’s patients and the Pinewood Derby, a lot of buzz has been radiating from Mid Ohio Sports Car Course and their first NASCAR date.

As the kids watched their cars go fast, the smiles never waned. It’s no surprise that the track and the hospital are doing all they can to make this about two crucial elements: racing and the children.