One of Mid-Ohio’s coolest and most distinctive characteristics is the lofted garages in the paddock area. Spectators, credentials depending, are actually allowed to climb some steps and loiter directly above the garages whilst engineers, mechanics, drivers and other team members are busy doing their jobs below you. The elevated catwalk affords a birds eye view of the paddock area including the very busy alleys between the garages.
Being down in the action is great fun and all, but for our weekend at Mid-Ohio the paddock was teaming with rabid Nascar fans hoping to get their sodium induced, water retaining, swollen mitts on Jimmy Johnson. They have never been in a paddock before, and are only there for one reason, and it’s not to stay out of the way.
The frustration was as easily visible on some team members faces as was the sweat pouring from their heads. Mostly the button-up shirt management types with ‘somewhere to be’, never mind the poor schlep in a firesuit, humping two tires, waiting for the lady with the oversized sunglasses and the baby stroller for the fertility drug induced twins (side-by-side, not tandem of course) to MOVE THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY!
I would not last long as the Hospitality Manager there for sure.
I happen to be standing over Alex Palou’s garage when he showed up. Looking comfortable and confident, racing suit half off and tied around his waist; I was surprised to see him as it was a bit more than an hour before qualifying was to start and very few other drivers were out and about (around this time they are found over by the team trailers or the bathrooms). Alex wears a huge smile on his face nearly all the time, even this year with all his contract troubles, but most certainly last year when there was almost no expectations or weight on his shoulders. He spent a little time autographing with some fans (as he had yet to win the Indy Championship, most spectators ignored him), then took interest in a couple guys (around the same age as he is) and actually invited them into his garage area, letting them get a close look at the car while explaining different features and functions to them. He even took his steering wheel out of it’s storage box and let them hold it while going over all the buttons and knobs. He easily spent 5-10 minutes with these guys, no doubt giving them memories that will last a lifetime (and then won the Championship that year – I bet those two are serious fans now!).
I’m not sure what kind of contract advise Alex has been given, and it sure seems as if he wants the hell out of Ganassi racing, but man… what a class act. I don’t know what series he will wind up in, but he seems made for Indycar – he is way too much the everyman’s man for F1.