Hendrick Motorsports’ 2016 was an eventful one. Chase Elliott took over at the start of the season for Jeff Gordon. Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed the second half of the season after suffering a concussion. Gordon came back to substitute for Junior. And Jimmie Johnson won his seventh championship.
Crazily enough, there was a film crew capturing much of went on at Hendrick Motorsports behind the scenes.
“You can’t plan this type of stuff,” “Road to Race Day” director Cynthia Hill told Yahoo Sports. “Reality is better than what you can make up in your head most of the time …”
“What also happened, specifically with the Dale Junior storyline and Jeff Gordon getting back into a car again — the 88 — it brought a lot of these storylines back together again.”
“Road to Race Day” is an eight-part documentary series about Hendrick Motorsports. Each of Hendrick’s four teams is heavily featured in two episodes and the first, which chronicles the anticipation leading up to Elliott’s first Daytona 500, was released Wednesday on the Go 90 streaming platform via Complex’s Rated Red app.
A new episode will be released each week and each broken into three parts between 15-20 minutes each.
Hendrick Motorsports vice president of marketing Patrick Perkins said the team had been looking at doing a documentary series highlighting its race operations for the last few years. And “Road to Race Day” came together within a matter of weeks after Hill, who has directed and produced numerous films as well as the PBS show “A Chef’s Life,” reached out to Hendrick about doing a project about Elliott replacing a four-time champion.
Coincidentally enough, Perkins had recently watched Hill’s HBO film “Private Violence.” It didn’t take too long to come to an agreement on going ahead with the project, which was expanded to include all of Hendrick’s teams.
“You could tell right from the star, was a world-class storyteller and the production value of what she creates is incredible,” Perkins said.
Hill said she had nearly unfettered access to the crews at Hendrick throughout the filming process. While there were times where her crew would give teams some space if necessary, the only hard prohibition in the agreement was regarding any trade secrets. If you’re looking for an intricate look at how Hendrick’s cars were set up to gain an advantage over its competitors, you’re out of luck.
“We have to be protective of trade secrets, racing is that type of sport and it’s very technology and mechanical focused,” Perkins said. “So we had to put the footage and the content through multiple filters here to make sure that we were being smart with what we were showing.”
Hill, a native of North Carolina who said she remembered going to her grandfather’s house on the weekends as a child and NASCAR would always be on the television, said even she was surprised at the technology in the series.
“It was way more sophisticated than I imagine, and I thought it would be sophisticated,” Hill said.
Instead of an up-close look at engineering, you’ll get a good glimpse of team dynamics. On race days, drivers didn’t have a microphone from the moment they put their firesuits on before the race.
So Hill quickly found out that the team interior mechanics were a good conduit to get the pre-race thoughts from a driver and give fans a look at how a team goes through its pre-race preparations.
An interior mechanic is basically responsible for anything inside the car, from the fit of a driver’s seatbelts to the placement of his steering wheel and mirrors. As he helps a driver get prepped for the race, the interior mechanic is one of the last people to talk to a driver in-person before the race begins. And Elliott’s interior mechanic Jordan Allen quickly becomes one of the stars of the series.
“What I said to him might have been a little toned down than what I usually say to him, but it’s not really — I’m still doing the same thing,” Allen said of his last-minute pre-race discussions with Elliott. “I’m sensing him on how he’s feeling for the day and reacting accordingly. If he seems like he’s pretty tense I’ll cut a joke, try to loosen him up. If he seems pretty focused I’ll pump him up, tell him ‘Chase Elliott’s a hell of a race car driver.’ Just fun things to try to gauge his direction on how he’s feeling and get him going in that way.”
Allen even hit it off so well with Hill and her film crew that they attended — and filmed — his wedding after he convinced his wife Jana that it was a good idea to have their wedding included in a racing documentary. And yes, she liked the finished product.
“This is how I sold it: Cynthia told me that they were going to follow me — and a couple of the guys from my team that are in my wedding — around and watch my interactions with them and other people,” Allen said. “And I said you’re going to see things that you didn’t get to see at our wedding that aren’t on our wedding video.”
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