The Nissan Motorsport drivers have made the most of the trip over to Austin, having been to the homes of both Jack Daniel’s and the Nissan Altima in Tennessee in the lead-up to this weekend’s first ever event in the United States, to be held at the Circuit of the Americas.
Jack Daniel’s was the first stop for the Kelly brothers earlier in the week – this is the fifth season both Rick and Todd have been sponsored by the whiskey.
The brothers took a tour of the distillery in Lynchburg – the oldest registered distillery in the US – getting a behind the scenes look at how the famous whiskey is made, and visited some of the famous sites around Lynchburg, including the cave spring, the barrelhouse and Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House Restaurant.
They also had the opportunity to catch up with Jack Daniel's Master Distiller, Jeff Arnett, who explained some of his key roles and responsibilities.
“The distillery is absolutely amazing and it's just a shame more people around the globe don't actually know the history behind it, because it is an amazing story," Todd said.
The Kelly brothers were joined by Michael Caruso for a behind-the-scenes tour of Nissan’s North American headquarters, which is the ‘birthplace’ of the Nissan Altima that the drivers will race at the Austin 400 at the Circuit of The Americas this weekend.
The trio experienced a guided tour of Nissan’s production facility in Smyrna, Tennessee – where Nissan North America produces the Altima mid-size sedan among other models.
The Smyrna plant has built the Altima since Job 1 rolled off the assembly line in 1992. Nissan Motorsport has spent the past 18 months designing and building its own four Altima V8 Supercars for competition.
The road-going Altima will go on-sale in Australia in the fourth-quarter of 2013. In 2012, 302,934 Altimas were sold in the United States, making it one of the best-selling cars in the US market. It was the first time that the Altima nameplate had exceeded 300,000 sales in a calendar year. Caruso commented the Altimas were everywhere – “You could say they are as common as a Vegemite on your toast for breakfast,” he said.
The Altimas were built in the Smyrna production plant that the drivers visited today, as well as its sister facility in Canton, Mississippi.
“I’ve visited a few car manufacturing facilities over the years, but none as big as this one in Smyrna,” Todd said. “The sheer size of the plant has blown me away. It took us more than an hour to do the tour, and we didn’t even get to all of the different divisions.
“This visit makes me proud to represent Nissan, proud of what our team has achieved and makes me even hungrier to get us to the top step of the V8 Supercars podium… Hopefully we can have a good weekend (at the Austin 400) and it would be pretty important because America is the home of Jack Daniel's and also Nissan North America is not too far around the corner either, so there will certainly be plenty of sponsors cheering us on."
Rick said he had always hoped the V8 Supercars would race on this side of the world.
“I've always had a bit of a dream of racing in North America and I never thought we'd have the chance to do it in a V8 Supercar, so to visit Tennessee, and go and stay at Nashville, and go out to Lynchburg, is just such a great way to come into a race weekend,” Rick said.
"We've done as much homework as we possibly can coming into this weekend and the track looks pretty interesting. It looks reasonably technical from a driver point of view in regards to cornering and technique more specifically. It's not just your classic 90 degree corners, there's a lot of left rights and I think you could find a lot of different drivers, given it's the first time we've been to the event, trying different lines and so on.”
In addition to the plant tour, the drivers also visited Nissan North America’s headquarters in Franklin, Tennessee as part of the build-up to this weekend’s four-race event.
And as a special treat, the drivers made a visit to the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville where they viewed one of the most famous race cars in Nissan’s motorsport history, the Nissan GTP ZX-Turbo racing car that Geoff Brabham drove to four straight IMSA GTP Championships from 1998-1991. Its sister car from Japan also won the 1992 Daytona 24 Hour endurance race.
Caruso and the Kelly brothers sampled Nissan Altima and Pathfinder models while driving between today’s visits, also sampling a Nissan Titan ‘pick-up truck’, a model that is not sold in Australia.
The Titan features the same VK56 engine that the team races in its Nissan Altima V8 Supercars, the engine that also originates from the United States, from Nissan’s engine plant in nearby Decherd, Tennessee.
The trio will join their Nissan Motorsport teammate James Moffat in Austin, Texas tomorrow as they continue preparations for this weekend’s history-making V8 Supercars event.