Sunday Group Guest Blogger: Ariana Murray, Sunday Group Summer 2012 Intern
Let me start out by saying that the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is a fabulous facility. Prior to this event, I had been there for two Izod IndyCar Series events. Both times, I attended as a spectator and was able to experience the atmosphere from a fan’s point of view. However, my experience with Sunday Group Management was much more educational and far more exciting, as I learned the ins and outs of public relations and the work that goes into a race weekend.
I arrived at the track just after noon on Thursday and was greeted cheerfully and helpfully by the Mid-Ohio staff as I received my credentials. Julie, my fabulous co-worker, took me on a tour of the paddock area, introduced me to all of our clients, and explained where all of our essential weekend materials were located. I then made my first foray into the media center, which is far more accommodating than I expected. The Mid-Ohio media center provides the opportunity to look out at the incredible view of the hills surrounding the course as three walls of the room are windows. Mid-Ohio is truly an idyllic location for a racetrack. After all of the stories were written and loose ends tied up for the day, our team went to dinner with one of our clients, Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge driver Adam Burrows. Much of our conversation revolved around oddly disturbing reality television shows and of course, racing.
Friday morning dawned bright and early and when we arrived at the track at 7:30AM, the temperature was already blazing. My first assignment of the day was to attend both the Continental Tire and Rolex Series driver’s meetings and hand out schedule cards which have all the essential on-track and off-track schedules listed. Throughout the day, Julie and I sought out our clients to get quotes. Listening to the questions asked of the drivers and the responses given was excellent PR practice for me. I then went back to the media center to transcribe quotes from clients and drivers with quick times after practice sessions as Matt was covering the GRAND-AM storylines for speedtv.com this weekend. As it was my first time transcribing audio, I feel I did a solid job.
The rest of my day consisted of tracking stories written about our clients, which kept me busy and thoroughly entertained. The nonstop action on the track made for a constant flow of information, particularly because Matt was doing the SPEED coverage.
We left the track around 7:30 PM and headed to dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings, where we were joined by Adam Burrows and his Compass360 Racing teammate, Trevor Hopwood. Thanks to the myriad of televisions, we were able to watch IndyCar qualifying and discuss any and all racing series while we ate.
SGM arrived at the track on Saturday at 7:30AM and I immediately got to work updating driver statistics documents from the previous day. One of the great benefits of being in the media center is the availability of all timing and scoring documents just minutes after they are produced by Grand-Am. After the final warm-up for the Continental Tire Series, we viewed Trans-Am qualifying, in which Sunday Group client Amy Ruman qualified third.
Right after Trans-Am qualifying, Julie and I headed to the pits for a pace car ride, courtesy of BMW and Matt Cleary. Before we began, our driver said that he would “do some fast stuff and some sliding stuff.” Despite the warning, I was completely unprepared for what was to come. As we headed into the first turn, the driver slid the car into the turn at a 90° angle. He then righted the BMW and accelerated to well over 100 MPH. The ride was, by far, one of the coolest experiences I have ever had. Until Saturday, I had never ridden on a road course at such speeds.
Once Julie and I exited the BMW, we headed back onto pit lane, as the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Fan Walk had started. The Fan Walk is one of the most impressive shows of driver, team, and series accessibility that I have seen in racing. Seeing fans interact with drivers and develop a passion for the sport and for the series is pretty incredible. We spent time talking to drivers and crew members and by the time we left for the media center, it was time for the race to start. We ran into Matt and we all stopped and listened to “God Bless America” and watched the drivers enter their cars. It was the first time I had been on pit lane for the start of a race and it was an unbelievable thrill. The excitement and energy in the air was palpable and I felt honored to be part of it.
All three of us headed back to the media center for the start of the race. At the halfway point of the race, I headed to the Michael Shank hauler and grabbed hero cards and Sharpies for the Rolex autograph session to be held at the conclusion of the Continental Tire Race. Julie left for pit lane to interview teams and drivers as the driver changes began. I then transcribed the quotes for the stories to be written after the race.
The race ended as I headed down to the Honda Pavilion for the autograph session. Sunday Group team Rum Bum Racing with drivers Matt Plumb and Nick Longhi brought home a third-place finish in Grand Sport (GS). Adam Burrows and co-driver Andrew Novich took home a third place finish in Street Tuner (ST). All in all, it was an exciting and satisfying end to the race.
The autograph session took place in withering heat, but the drivers seemed pleased to be there. The lines for the session were quite long and MSR drivers Ozz Negri and John Pew signed a few hundred hero cards for the excited fans. Many people stopped to congratulate the two on their Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona win and have them sign tickets, hats, shirts, and programs from the hallowed endurance event.
The autograph session ended at 3:00 PM and I went back to the media center, where Matt and Julie were writing their stories about the Continental Tire race for SpeedTV and our Continental clients, respectively. I will take this opportunity to thank the Mid-Ohio media center staff and volunteers for their hospitality and assistance throughout the weekend. Much of my time at the track was spent in the media center and all of the staff spent lots of time and energy to make the experience an enjoyable one.
Immediately after the Fan Walk, the Rolex race started. It was only one lap before disappointment struck, as the number 60 MSR Daytona Prototype (DP) with John Pew at the wheel was spun by another car and ended up in the third turn wall. The crew got Pew and the 60 car back out, one lap down, and proceeded to perform flawless stops and work on the car throughout the race. Though Sunday Group drivers were not in contention for the win, a riveting battle between Richard Westbrook and Scott Pruett developed and culminated in Westbrook taking the checkered flag.
Once the quote gathering was done, Matt, Julie, and I came back to the media center. I transcribed the audio from all of the post-race quotes, including the winners from both the DP series and Grand Touring (GT). Matt and Julie then wrote their stories, while I updated the statistics documents with the race results.
The three of us left the track at 9:30 PM and I headed back to Indianapolis while Julie remained at Mid-Ohio for Sunday’s Trans Am race in which Amy Ruman finished second. I had an amazing weekend, as I learned so much about public relations. The mind-boggling pace car ride, pre-race pit lane experience, autograph session, and Rolex victory lane celebration were icing on the cake. Hands-on experience is the best way to learn a craft and I could not be better equipped to do so than with Sunday Group and with Matt and Julie, who are incredible teachers.