nascar america

A behind-the-scenes look at NBCSN’s NASCAR AMERICA

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“Gotta go fast now…We can’t delay this.”

An urgent voice rings through the production control room inside NBC Sports Group’s International Broadcast Center in Stamford, Conn., and there’s a reason why it’s urgent.

The man of the hour has arrived. Dale Earnhardt Jr., fresh off claiming his second Daytona 500 victory the night before at Daytona International Speedway, is working through a whirlwind media blitz in New York City.

As part of that, he’s making time for a quick interview on the debut episode for NBCSN’s new studio show, NASCAR AMERICA. It only takes a few moments to mike up Earnhardt before host Rick Allen and analyst/part-time Sprint Cup driver Jeff Burton begin to ask him question about his big win.

And even though it’s clear that Earnhardt’s running on seven cylinders after a late night inside his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, the happiness over his accomplishment is there.

“I’m gonna enjoy it,” he says. “It’s not every day you get to go through this experience…I didn’t expect to do this once, let alone twice, so I’ll let it sink in and enjoy it.”

It’s a fact everyone connected with NASCAR acknowledges: As Junior goes, so goes the sport. It certainly didn’t hurt for NASCAR AMERICA to have the son of the Intimidator as the centerpiece for its debut episode – not to mention that the race was actually able to get done following a six hour, 22-minute rain delay.

But NASCAR AMERICA, which debuts 18 months before the start of NBC’s Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series race coverage, doesn’t aim to thrive solely on star power alone.

At over six decades old, NASCAR can boast of having an exciting tapestry of stories that continues to evolve. And it’s compelled NBC to go for it and not wait until their races begin in the summer of 2015.

“NASCAR is an incredibly valuable property and once we realized we had the resources and the ability to launch a show, it was a no-brainer,” Vice President of NASCAR production Jeff Behnke told MotorSportsTalk on Thursday.

“We are partners with NASCAR, first and foremost. Having this opportunity to be part of this, to re-energize NASCAR, and to get into it from a programming standpoint immediately was a tremendous opportunity for us.”

NBC re-enters a sport that is much different from when they left it at the close of the 2006 season.

TV ratings and live attendance have dropped, and there’s been renewed talk of having to regain the attention of younger fans in order to help bolster the sport’s older core.

However, that core is still very loyal and it’s a group that Behnke says will be served well by NASCAR AMERICA.

“Our first responsibility is to those core fans,” he said. “Our immediate goal is to do things in our show that are going to cater to the core fans. From there, yes, obviously the younger demographic is a key demo and as time progresses, we’ll do stuff for them.

“But the immediate goal is to go to the core fans and get them…When fans watch on TV, and see the fans are filling up the stands again, they think it is an important event and they’ll want to stay and watch it. It’s a progression – you have to start somewhere and that starting point is NASCAR AMERICA.”

For many of those core fans, racing is not just a three or four-hour affair in front of the television but a way of life itself. Every weekend, they haul their battered but unbroken race cars to the local short track to compete or to help their sons and daughters compete.

A brief but neat segment on the show, the Heart of Racing, acknowledges those grass-roots racers and their families who are, collectively, the lifeblood of American motorsport.

“Racing goes on at tracks all over the country, every weekend, every region,” Behnke explains. “It’s just one little way to let the fans know that racing is a big part of their life. We’re going to do the Heart of Racing all year long, and that small segment will continue to grow.

“That’s directly for core fans, but it’s also for other people to know about that world of racing, one that a lot of people may not know.”

There are other worlds that even the biggest fans don’t know about, and Behnke and his team are ready to reveal them as part of NASCAR AMERICA.

To help their efforts, NBC has set up a second studio for the show in Charlotte, N.C., the hub of the stock car racing industry.

“Some of the key points with our show is trying to take fans and viewers to places they can’t go,” Behnke said. “We have a LiveVue cam and we’re going to different race shops and doing different interviews. Just this week, we were at Tommy Baldwin Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing and Hendrick Motorsports, as well as one other shop.

“This week alone, we were at five different shops in our first four days. We have the ability to go to two different shops, do reports from inside the shops, and try to give those fans a view of a place they can’t normally go. It’ll be a key part of our show all year.”

All of that effort is necessary. As mentioned before, NASCAR constantly evolves and this year will be no different as elements such as a knockout-style qualifying format and a revamped Chase for the Sprint Cup (which sets up a four-driver, winner-take-all battle in the season finale) make their debut.

It’ll be an adventure staying on top of all the twists and turns of what should be a dramatic season. But Behnke and the team at NASCAR AMERICA are ready.

“We didn’t want to wait [for 2015],” he said. “It was time.”

Daniel de Jong favors GP2 stay over LMP2 move

2015 GP2 Series Round 11.
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Saturday 28 November 2015.
Daniel de Jong (NLD, Trident), Raffaele Marciello (ITA, Trident).
Photo: Zak Mauger/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _MG_4831
© GP2 Series
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Daniel de Jong will remain in the GP2 Series for the 2016 season with MP Motorsport after deciding against a move into the LMP2 class of the FIA World Endurance Championship.

De Jong made his GP2 debut back in 2012 with Rapax and has since raced for MP Motorsport, scoring six points over the past three years.

The Dutchman admitted that he did consider his future in the series after 2015, but ultimately decided against a move into LMP2 despite enjoying a successful test.

“Last year, we began looking at what the future holds for us. We looked into LMP2 pretty seriously, and I did a test that really pleased me,” de Jong said.

“But then I saw the WEC prototypes and GP2 race on the same weekend in Bahrain, and I thought: GP2 is such an amazing category, with cars battling throughout the entire field.

“That’s why I decided to stay in this hugely competitive championship for one more year before a possible switch to prototype racing.”

De Jong will race alongside 2015 Formula Renault 3.5 champion Oliver Rowland at MP this year, a prospect that the GP2 veteran is relishing.

“With Oliver as a teammate, we have a fantastic year ahead of us,” de Jong said. “He is so good and extremely motivated, and we’ve known each other for a long time.

“Everyone in the team is buzzing with enthusiasm and that feels really great.”

Jorda laughs off claim she was 12 secs per lap off pace in simulator

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 08:  Development driver Carmen Jorda of Spain and Lotus F1 looks on in the team garage during practice for the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 8, 2015 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Renault development driver Carmen Jorda has laughed off an accusation from former GP2 driver Marco Sørensen that she was 12 seconds per lap slower than him in the Lotus simulator.

Jorda joined Lotus in a development role in 2015 after spending three seasons in GP3, where she finished in a highest position of 13th and failed to score a point in 46 attempts.

Jorda is yet to drive a Formula 1 car, but completed work for Lotus in its simulator during 2015.

Sørensen formerly enjoyed ties with Lotus before turning his attention away from single-seaters and moving into endurance racing with Aston Martin Racing.

In an interview with Danish publication Ekstra Bladet, Sørensen said that Jorda received favoritism within the team despite being as much as 12 seconds per lap slower than him in the simulator.

“She was 12 seconds slower than me in the simulator,” Sorensen claimed. “Still, she ran away with all the rewards.

“I have spent at least 60 days in the simulator in the past two years working on the development of the Formula 1 car, as Kevin Magnussen has done at McLaren.

“So I felt so violated that it finally became too much, so I just had to stop.”

Jorda responded by taking to Twitter and laughing off the claims, posting in both English and Spanish: “12 seconds faster? I’ve been laughing at that for 12 hours!” The English tweet has since been deleted.

Jorda also spoke about Sørensen’s comments in an interview with Spanish newspaper AS, saying: “I honestly don’t know who he is. I haven’t ever seen him in Enstone. Last year he was not part of the team.

“Last year in the simulator I used to be more or less within a second of [Romain] Grosjean.

“If you trust Sørensen’s numbers – if someone was 11 seconds up on Romain, I’m sure that all the F1 teams on the grid would sign them.”

MX-5 Cup Shootout winner Glenn McGee joins JJRD program

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Photo: Mazda Road to 24
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Glenn McGee’s a name you might hear down the road as he progresses through the Mazda Road to 24 program, having won the shootout to compete in the Mazda MX-5 Cup this season after advancing in from iRacing.

He’s now joined the Jonathan Jorge Racing Development (JJRD) driver development program for the year. A full release on that is below, along with a video of his shootout win.

JJ Racing Development (JJRD), an industry leader in coaching and driver development services among the junior and pro-levels of motorsports, has selected professional gamer turned professional race car driver, Glenn McGee to join their 2016 driver development program. In addition to JJRD’s full coaching services, designed to prepare drivers for the demands of a professional racing career, JJRD’s team of drivers will also benefit from the expert instructors, advanced modern formula race cars, and seat-time at North America’s premiere tracks, provided by the Lucas Oil School of Racing.

With the intent to identify and develop elite drivers, JJRD scouts for those whom demonstrate the raw ingredients to succeed in motorsports and works to successfully transition them into the pro-ranks; instilling the racing techniques, physical, social, and mental tools required to climb the motorsports ladder. Elite talents, scouted and retained within JJRD’s Driver Development program include current Indy Lights driver/winner, R.C. Enerson; Mazda Prototype driver, Tristan Nunez; and Indy Driver, Spencer Pigot.

McGee’s induction into the program is unique and offers an equally unique challenge to JJRD in that he will be the first of their drivers transitioning from virtual-to-reality. McGee recently went from being the fastest virtual Mazda driver in world competition (through motorsport simulation software, iRacing.com) to earning an invite and eventually winning the 2015 Mazda Road to 24 Shootout against real-life Mazda club racing champions; taking home a $100,000 Mazda scholarship and pro-seat in the 2016 Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup, Presented by BFGoodrich Tires.

Part of JJRD’s program will be designed around helping the young driver successfully move from the virtual world to a real pro-racing career, while complimenting Mazda’s own driver development plans for McGee.

“We are committed to guiding talented drivers towards reaching their full-potential and are proud of what our drivers have achieved,” said JJRD’s Jonatan Jorge. “We’ve helped successfully guide drivers to the top of both the Mazda Road to Indy and Mazda Road to 24 ladder systems; evidenced by JJRD development drivers RC Enerson, Spencer Pigot and Tristian Nunez, and we think we can do the same with McGee,” Jorge continued “He has shown he has raw speed and a lot of the attributes that we look for when identifying these promising talents for the future and we are excited to invest in a driver from such a unique background. With our support, it will be interesting to see what a top simulation driver can do in the real world”

“I’m really honored to be a part of JJRD’s team which has already produced great drivers,” said McGee. “This is a big year for me as I navigate from being a pro sim-driver on iRacing.com to becoming a full fledged professional racing driver,” “There is an extraordinary amount to learn, but JJRD specializes in nurturing drivers from the start of their career and has proven that their methods work. I can’t wait to see what we can achieve together!”

McGee begins his program in earnest with JJRD and the Lucas Oil School of Racing where he’ll gain valuable seat time and instruction; working closely with staff on learning in-depth knowledge of advanced racing techniques, speed, racecraft, strategies, chassis setup, and the myriad of mental tools required to grow into a world-class professional driver. Open to drivers who complete the 2-Day course, McGee will also be attending the schools winter racing series, the Lucas Oil Formula Car Series, to further supplement his training with JJRD.

IndyCar Ministry prepares for another season of at-track service

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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There’s a lot of things that occur at a Verizon IndyCar Series race weekend behind-the-scenes but are intriguing and crucial elements of what makes the traveling road show tick.

IndyCar Ministry is one of those elements.

Although it’s not directly affiliated with INDYCAR (series sanctioning body), the ministry serves as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit non-denominational Christian organization that ministers to IndyCar plus the three series on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000.

The organization went through a leadership change this offseason with Chaplain David Storvick taking over as full Director of the ministry, following the resignation of past Chaplain Bob Hillis. Storvick was interim director prior to losing the interim tag, and had served as primary Chaplain for the Mazda Road to Indy series.

Storvick, a Purdue engineering graduate, had been a crew member going back to the early 2000s and began helping Hillis once the Mazda Road to Indy schedules grew and expanded. He later received his Masters’ in seminary at Cincinnati Christian, and has been traveling full-time since 2008.

The ministry’s mission is to be there for support for those who need it at the track, whether they’re drivers, crew members or other key stakeholders on a weekend.

“We work to make ourselves available,” Storvick told NBC Sports. “At track, obviously we’re there, in whatever situation for drivers, crew and their family,. We try to be a spiritual help to family in (tough) situations.

“After a tragedy or when something like that happens, there’s lots of what I would call ‘impromptu counseling.’ Getting people to understand what happened in those situations. For us to have the privilege, it is a privilege, and we take it very seriously. We try to do it as effectively as possible.”

The offseason for IndyCar Ministry sees the group do a bit of fundraising, through phone calls and emails to help secure funding for the following year, while continuing to raise awareness. Monthly newsletters also come out.

“It feels like a race team,” Storvick said. “We have to raise enough funding to do what we do to get to the track. It’s always a constant.

“But INDYCAR does allow us to use its logo and places for us. We’re not supported by them per se; financially, we’re solely on God’s provision, through individual and corporate donations.”

There are a lot of programs IndyCar Ministry completes on a weekend, which Storvick outlined.

ministry

“For a race weekend, there’s a lot of preparation that goes into it,” Storvick said.

“There’s a chapel service and there’s a message prepared. We make a point to offer prayer to every driver before every race in every series.

“You’d see it on the false grid for Mazda Road to Indy races, but I’ll come through to every driver, in all four series, at driver introductions, if the driver wants to pray before introduced, we will. IndyCar will do not just drivers, but also teams. But there’s a lot of activity on a race day, from our standpoint, to chapel, to prayer.

“And then obviously there’s a lot of people we work with on a regular basis. Sometimes we have those sessions at the track. We do other services as well, such as weddings or funerals that obviously requires extra planning.

“It’s about building relationships with people, sharing the hope of Christ with them, and taking it to next level.”