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AP crew expertly covers a wild and constantly shifting Daytona 500

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The Daytona 500 is a massive, annual sporting event that is part of the American fabric. The event stretches nearly two weeks and story planning begins a month in advance. This year, the team of Jenna Fryer, Dan Gelston, Mark Long and photographers John Raoux and Chris O’Meara, who co-managed a talented team of several freelance photographers, was thrown a curve when President Donald Trump decided he’d be the second sitting president in history to attend the race.

Understanding NASCAR’s complicated relationship with politics,which included an endorsement of Trump in 2016,and knowing the fanbase is largely Republican,the team recognized quickly this was going to be far bigger than just a story of a president stopping by a sporting event. Trump’s decision was finalized 48 hours before the race, forcing the team to shift their plans and put a package together the day before NASCAR’s season-opening race and Trump’s visit. The team roamed the expansive infield at Daytona International Speedway interviewing fans ecstatic for Trump’s upcoming visit. Long produced a video to accompany a piece co-bylined by Fryer and Gelston that previewed Trump’s visit.

The team knew logistics would be incredibly complicated on race day and worked sources in NASCAR for Trump’s timeline on the day to ensure a photographer was in place for Air Force One’s attempt to replicate the dramatic image of the plane carrying President George W. Bush passing over the speedway. They spoke to angry fans waiting in lines for more than three hours as secret service tried to screen more than 100,000 people prior to Trump’s arrival,then covered his appearance extensively,which increased to Trump’s role as a the honorary starter, a ceremonial pace lap and his address to a crowd chanting “Four More Years!” and “USA! USA!”

Moments after Trump finished his lap around the speedway,it began to rain. It took nearly four hours and a second torrential downpour for NASCAR to postpone the Daytona 500 for just the second time in its 62-year history.

The AP team returned the next day,and without the pomp and circumstance,thought it would be covering just another race day. That changed on the final lap with a harrowing accident that sent driver Ryan Newman to the hospital. Fryer,Gelston and Long worked with editors Dave Zelio, Jay Cohen and Jake Seiner in the frantic two hours in which it was unclear if Newman had survived the accident. Several AP photos were lead images on websites across the U.S.

AP followed the next day with a full multi-media report that included a shot-by-shot sequence of Newman’s accident shot by O’Meara that was used in the New York Times,a graphic explaining “drafting” and how it contributed to the accident, and a robust text report that looked back on NASCAR’s safety record, as well as updates on Newman’s condition.

For constantly keeping the AP ahead during a wild race weekend,Fryer,Gelston,Long, Raoux and O’Meara share this week’s Best of the States.

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