Race fans can now peer behind shop doors of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams of Chase Elliott, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne, as the first episode of Hendrick Motorsports’ “Road to Race Day” docu-series premieres Wednesday on Complex Networks’ Rated Red and go90.
An eight-episode series that chronicles the 2016 season for each of the organization’s four teams, “Road to Race Day” aims to take a closer look at the complex processes involved in preparing for a race weekend.
Cameras follow the teams through the race shops, team meetings, garages and even on the pit box of a race. There are moments of tension and moments of joy, cursing and laughter.
It’s “unscripted and unfiltered,” Earnhardt Jr. said.
“I think (fans will) be interested to see because it definitely is a little behind the scenes,” Earnhardt Jr. told NASCAR.com. “I’m a little nervous, actually, to see where I am and what’s going on and what exactly they caught. Because we had some up and down times. It was a difficult year, but also a year that had some fun runs and good runs as well.
“Allowing those guys that close into our office was challenging … but I think it’s going to be a big success for Hendrick Motorsports because … this is definitely sort of cutting edge and you don’t really see other teams doing anything like this.”
Produced by Markay Media and Film 45 and directed by Cynthia Hill, the series shadows the teams for approximately six months during the 2016 NASCAR season, beginning with Media Tour and Daytona Speedweeks.
“When we first started, it was more about trying to enter this world that seems to be on the surface something that people know, but I felt like there had to be a world that wasn’t known,” Hill said. “And you watch the races and you see cars go around the track and it’s about the driver, but I knew there had to be a really interesting story behind all that was happening on a Sunday.”
“So, that to me was important to go behind what you see on the race track and find out how do you get there.”
Hill’s resume includes “A Chef’s Life” TV series and documentary “Private Violence,” and the series’ Executive Producer is Peter Berg, who created “Friday Night Lights” and “Lone Survivor.”
Hill didn’t know much about NASCAR’s intricacies prior to filming — she even confessed to reading “NASCAR for Dummies” before the first shoot. But the North Carolina native was exposed to the sport at a young age; her grandfather was a huge Richard Petty fan, and Hill watched races with him on Sundays.
“Tackling and exploring subject matter in the South or something that is iconically Southern is something that I’ve done a lot of,” Hill said. “Stock car racing is one of those things that’s in my backyard … So, it’s one of those things that’s just ingrained in who I am and a big part of the landscape here, so for me, it’s a natural subject to want to explore.”
The first and second episodes focus on the No. 24 team, as Elliott makes his first start in the No. 24 Chevrolet at Daytona International Speedway following Jeff Gordon’s retirement. It was an adjustment period for the No. 24 team, as they were trying to get acclimated to a completely different driver.
That made the No. 24 team’s episodes both special and challenging for crew chief Alan Gustafson.
“At the end of the day, it was probably the worst time for us to do the show because of what we were going through,” Gustafson told NASCAR.com with a smile. “But really that probably turned out to be a blessing in disguise because Cynthia was able to capture — and the show was able to capture — some of those moments. … It’s a rare glimpse into that and the adjustment period is big.
“In hindsight, it’s cool to capture that time together because … it’s never going to be that way again.”
For the team, the new driver was another challenge on top of the bigger obstacle of filming something as secretive and competitive as NASCAR. Teams are private about their methods, wary of giving away too much for competition reasons — and constant cameras make private matters difficult.
“You’ve been taught and kind of ingrained in you the entire time this is all proprietary and you want to keep it yourself,” Gustafson said. “And the potential exposure it could have, and then you think of your personal side, right? People get a pretty intimate look at you and what you do.”
But the raw and detailed look at the teams was also necessary in fulfilling Hill’s vision: to showcase all that goes into a race day at NASCAR’s highest level.
“There’s much more that goes on behind the scenes,” Gustafson said. “There’s much more work that goes into the cars and effort and … blood, sweat and tears that the normal person never has an opportunity to understand. And I think it’s a great way to show that, I think it can help our sport.
“The majority of people that I’ve come in contact with that aren’t race fans have no idea, like zero — they think we have some bay, like oil change bay garage that we put our one car into and work on,” Gustafson said with a laugh. “They don’t know that this is a huge, huge undertaking and business. So, hopefully that will show and enlighten some people.”
No. 24 interior mechanic Jordan Allen echoed Gustafson’s sentiment.
“It’s not just a bunch of rednecks in their backyards who get in cars and turn left every day — it’s a huge amount of effort that goes into getting the car ready for the race track, getting it on the race track and then actually competing for a win every week,” Allen told NASCAR.com. “And I think they’ve done a great job of capturing all that goes into it … and the personalities that go with all that work too, because it is a balance every week.
“You’ve got to have a group of guys that are able to work together 40 weeks out of the year. That’s difficult to find people that can spend that much time together every week — like, I see these people as much as I see my own wife — and have to work for that long.”
Allen’s wife, ironically, was also in the series, as the crew filmed at his 2016 wedding. For him, including a personal event like that was equally important to illustrate sacrifices made by those who call racing a career.
“It was really cool that they actually came in and captured that moment because I thought it was important for (those) outside of the industry how we kind of have to cram in things like that,” Allen said. “And honestly you do. Both my wife and I guessed on a weekend off … to get married.”
“It’s kind of the conception of there’s thousands of fans who are waiting in line to take your job and they would give anything in this world to do what we do — well, I don’t think they realize what we actually do and the amount of dedication we put into this deal, being away from home for so long, working long days in the middle of the summer, not having weekends,” Allen continued. “This is an opportunity for people to just kind of realize, this is what these guys do and this is an inside look of how much they actually care about what they work on.”
The first episode of “Road to Race Day” Series is now available on the go90 streaming platform and is free on iOS and Android to watch. The rest of the episodes (one more on the No. 24 team, the next two on the No. 88 team, the following two focusing on the No. 48 team and the final two circling around the No. 5 team) will roll out one every Wednesday for the next seven weeks.
Trailer courtesy of Complex Networks