Most of my waking hours on Friday and Saturday were spent at Richmond International Raceway, helping our sister paper in their coverage of the NASCAR Nextel Cup's spring race at RIR.
As a Saturday night race, it poses some unique challenges. For smaller papers, just getting the race into the print edition is a challenge. For larger papers with multiple editions, there is the problem of finding things to write about for early editions which won't have the results of the race itself.
So, on Saturday afternoon, a parade of various press conferences and announcements are held. It was especially important this weekend, as the race was an impound race, where NASCAR prohibits any work on cars after qualifying.
My early assignment was to write a story about one of those press conferences. Sunoco teamed up with Orange County Choppers to create a Sunoco racing bike which will be raffled off this summer, with proceeds going to the Victory Junction Gang Camp in North Carolina. Victory Junction is a camp, founded by Kyle and Pattie Petty, that hosts seriously ill children for free.
The presser featured a senior vice president from Sunoco, Kyle and Richard Petty, and the Teutels, owners of OCC. OCC, as you probably know, is the same outfit featured on the Discovery Channel's series, American Chopper.
I recorded the press conference and got a question in as well. The actual unveiling of the bike was held in Victory Lane after the press conference. So I trotted out there to get a good look at what they had come up with.
While the principals of the press conference posed for photo ops with the bike, several others were standing around. I got to talk to Kyle Petty and Vinny DiMartino - the fourth wheel on the American Chopper show.
DiMartino was as nice as could be. But for the minute or so I actually talked to him, I wouldn't say I was starstruck, but the whole scene felt kind of surreal.
He is featured quite prominently on the show, which I've seen several times. And it's just that his voice is a very familiar one; but it's always in a one-sided setting. I could scream at the TV and it wouldn't affect what's happening on-screen. And then being in an actual conversation with him struck me as a bit surreal. The only other time I felt like that was when I got a callback for an interview request from former Bills coach (and now Bills president) Marv Levy.
It sounds kind of stupid, really, since at least a portion of my job involves interviewing well-known athletes. But somehow, this was a little different, perhaps because Vinny isn't really famous for being an athlete - and, thus, I wasn't in my normal area of comfort. I know a hell of a lot more about racing than I do about building bikes. Perhaps part of it was that most of the people I talk to one-on-one aren't part of hugely popular weekly television shows.
I've tried to figure it out since Saturday afternoon. Starstruck doesn't seem to fit, but surreality doesn't quite capture the moment either.
Maybe someday it will hit me. But for now, it was just different.