Behind The Scenes

A funny thing happened on the way to the Stewart flag-raising . . .

Editor’s note: Here is a first-person story FrontRow requested from Andy Hall once we heard about how he overcame obstacles securing a Tony Stewart flag.

As ESPN Communications’ publicist for NASCAR, I’ve had some interesting situations over the last five seasons.

But on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, I was in the right place at the right time.

As it was all set for the new NASCAR Sprint Cup champion to come to ESPN headquarters in Bristol on the day after the season finale, my colleague Dan Quinn had come up with the idea of getting flags for each of the two championship contenders (Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards) and having the flag come to Bristol with the champion.

The driver would then participate in a flag-raising ceremony on the ESPN campus as part of his Car Wash.

The quest started on Thursday at NASCAR’s media day in Miami.

Edwards’ team had planned on having a show car on campus if Edwards won the title, so after I talked to him, his PR guy made one phone call and told me it was handled — the flag was being put into the show car hauler.

With Stewart, it was a little different.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart raises the #14 flag in Bristol, Conn.

The team didn’t have one with them, and their PR guy suggested I go to the souvenir trailer at the track and buy one.

That sounded easy enough, but it rained much of the day on Friday at the track and I was tied up with other things, so I didn’t get to go to the souvenir area until late Saturday afternoon.

To my dismay, they were sold out of the 3-foot-by-5-foot flags that are often seen flying in the campgrounds at NASCAR tracks.

So I got to the track around 7:30 a.m. on race day with no flag.

My plan was to take a golf cart and head out into the camping area and see if I could buy one off of a fan.

But just as I was walking into the TV compound, I bumped into a man and woman wearing Tony Stewart team clothing who were walking out.

I stopped them, introduced myself, and found out they were the people who took care of Stewart’s show cars.

We were using one of the cars in our opening segment on TV later that day and they had been coordinating with our production team.

I told them what I was looking for and the man, Ernie Hays, said he didn’t have one but he’d see what he could find.

I gave him my business card and then went into get some breakfast before heading out to the campground.

Just as I was finishing breakfast about 15 minutes later, my cell phone rang and it was Ernie.

He said he’d gone back to the Stewart-Haas Racing hospitality area and asked about a flag and there were two there that were going to be used that day as door prizes. He said I could have one.

I jumped on the golf cart and got it, then gave it to NASCAR’s PR rep who was heading to ESPN the next day.

It was a relief and I also realized how lucky I had been: If I hadn’t gotten to the track at the exact moment that I did, I wouldn’t have encountered Ernie coming out of the TV compound.

Sometimes things just work out, and this was one of those times.

The ESPN and the #14 flags waved on the ESPN campus after Tony Stewart raised them.
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