Photo credit: ©ToyotaRacing @DeeganFamily @2018 Toni Avery (photos at end of story)

The American audience for NASCAR is huge. Watching it on TV really doesn’t do the sport justice, though. I grew up watching Formula 1, where passing happens all the time and it can get quite exciting around the complex road courses. Associating NASCAR with the classic oval, I rarely remember seeing the few road courses they drive aired on TV. Having not been to Sonoma Raceway since 2007 when I attended my first Formula car school, I was excited to return for an all-new experience.

#78: Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing, Toyota Camry 5-hour ENERGY/Bass Pro Shops #4: Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing, Ford Fusion Mobil 1

Toyota invited me on a female focused media trip. All Toyota employees on the trip with us were women, all media on the trip were women and the majority of the people we met at the race and spent time with were women as well.

Landing at San Francisco Airport, I was shuttled to the hotel in Sonoma. Upon arrival, I was beyond impressed with the accommodations. After a short relaxation session by the pool, we were escorted to our first dinner. The group was rather small. It included myself, two other members of the media and some Toyota employees. It was nice to start the trip on a more intimate basis. We conversed about our backgrounds, experiences and a little of what to expect over the coming days.

#19: Daniel Suarez, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry STANLEY and #21: Paul Menard, Wood Brothers Racing, Ford Fusion Menards / Richmond

Day one of the activities started with acquiring our credentials allowing us to enter a good majority of access points. Various divisions of NASCAR were running that weekend and that day we were in the grandstands watching Hailie Deegan qualifying third for the first time. She ended up finishing in the top ten. We had a chance to meet her quickly after her qualifying session. It’s incredible that she’s made it into this level of professional racing at the young age of sixteen.

We were then escorted to the media portion of the grounds where all the TV trucks and media people hang out during the day. We were then taken into several different trucks to see the various processes in TV editing and all the behind the scenes work that goes on. After a quick rest at the hotel, we then headed off to dinner with Hailie Deegan, her mom and two aunts. There, we had the opportunity to ask questions and socialize with her and her family. Gathering insight into her career and start in racing.

Day two, we headed back to the track. We jumped right into hot laps in the pace car with Erik Jones. It was really cool to see how aggressively they drive around the course as well as the different NASCAR layout of Sonoma Raceway. We then met with an executive from TRD who talked to us about the sport and also showed us around some behind the scenes tech areas. After attending the pre-race ceremony, we met drive Kyle Busch quickly before heading into the Toyota suite to watch the race.

After being in the heat the day before on the grandstands, it was so nice to watch the race in air conditioning. It was also a good opportunity to speak more with the Toyota folks and socialize a little before having to head home.

#11: Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry FedEx Express

#18: Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry M&M’s Caramel

There is a huge difference between watching a NASCAR race on TV and seeing one in person. It’s such an experience to be there. The drivers are very inclusive and engaging with the fans, which helps keep the interest going. I really had no idea how really very cool and special a NASCAR event is. The entire family can attend with other things to do besides watching the race. The drivers are friendly and more accessible to fans that you’d maybe expect if you watch other types of racing such as Formula 1. It’s a truly unique experience that you have to experience to really appreciate. I’m so fortunate and thankful for the opportunity to see what NASCAR is really about.

Thank you Toyota!

#78: Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing, Toyota Camry 5-hour ENERGY/Bass Pro Shops

Here are some of my social media photos from the trip: