A Weekend at the 2018 Grand Prix of St Petersburg

I’m a little late getting this out considering the race happened three weeks ago, but hey, better late than never! This is the 3rd year in a row that Bayley and I have attended the Grand Prix of St Pete, and while I did write about it in 2016, I never got around to it last year for some reason, so I’ll make up for that by being extra wordy this time. One thing to note here, I’m not going to cover the race itself, there are plenty of motorsports writers who do it for a living that cover it far better than I could. If you’re looking for well-written recaps, hit up TrackSide Online or the IndyCar section of Racer’s site. I’ll be talking to our experience as fans at the track, and maybe throwing in some tips along the way!

In past years, we’ve purchased grandstand seats in turn 10, along with paddock and pit passes. This year we decided to do something different and go with a 2-race credential package through IndyCar Nation, IndyCar’s fan community. Those give you general admission access to the track, along with paddock and pit access, so we were only losing grandstand seats, which really wasn’t a big deal to us, as we prefer to check out the action from various locations around the track. As the site indicates, it also gets you a hot lap, a big added bonus in my eyes. Being an actual IndyCar-issued hard card doesn’t hurt either!

When I’m attending races, I like to spend as much time at the track as possible, so I’m usually there around the time the gates opened. On Friday I was entering alone, as Bayley had a couple of classes at Eckerd and wouldn’t be arriving at the track until around 1pm. No problem, I hopped the free shuttle from the Hollander and was on my way, arriving at the track right about 8am. Friday mornings tend to be the least busy time of the weekend, so I usually end up doing a ton of walking, trying to cover as much of the track as possible while things are quiet. When I arrived this time, the PWC area was first up. I wanted to go check out Flying Lizard’s space, as they were back with a couple of Audi R8 LMS GT4s this year. Sure, their Porsche liveries are classic, but as an Audi owner, I do love the R8 ūüôā

The walk over there isn’t a short one, and thanks to the security area between the PWC and IndyCar paddocks, isn’t always an easy one either. We did the walk a couple of times on Saturday last year and were less than impressed with the speed of the lone security checkpoint between paddocks used for the return trip, as the line to go through the metal detector could get pretty long. They did move the security location closer to the pedestrian bridge between T2 and T3 this year, but it’s still basically a funnel into a single metal detector. As much as I’d have liked to visit the PWC side more, that security gate made me decide to stick to only two visits, and only on Friday.

After a long walk up and down their paddock area checking out a number of teams, I headed back over to the IndyCar side to catch PWC¬† practice and USF2000 qualifying from the pits. The best place to be for any on-track action in my opinion is the pits, as there’s nothing like hanging out back there watching the teams go to work. Honestly, pit passes may be pricey, but they’re worth every penny. The only Indycar session we didn’t take in from pit lane was the actual race on Sunday, but only because we didn’t have race mode tags allowing us to be there. One of these years we’ll figure out how to get our hands on those!

While I was down there taking in the action, I got a text from Riley, who runs the IndyCar Nation program, asking if Bayley and I wanted to sit front row for the Friday Q&A session with Helio Castroneves. Heck yea I did! This is just a small example of why IndyCar Nation is the best fan community in sports, and easily worth the price of admission. Helio’s session was being held at 12:30 in the Mahaffey Center, shortly after IndyCar practice wrapped up, so I texted Bayley to see if she’d be at the track by then. She seriously considered skipping class, but with a quiz scheduled decided to stay, so I went alone. The event was a blast, Helio’s very well spoken and has a ton of interesting stories to tell. Here’s a clip of him talking about last year’s Indy 500:

At the end, he even did a little video selfie for the promoters, which I’m visible in! Bottom of the video in the white shirt with the huge grin on my face:

About the time Helio’s session ended, Bayley arrived at the track, so I met her outside the paddock near the bridge at the gate 5 entrance. Shortly after she arrived, we grabbed some lunch from one of the stands in the main shopping district (for lack of a better term) between the Dali museum and the front stretch grandstands. The food’s mostly the type of thing you’d find at a fair/carnival, so expensive and bad for you, but super tasty. I hadn’t eaten all morning, and the foot long corn dog I inhaled really hit the spot, while destroying the diet I’ve been working on for the past two months.

After lunch, we decided to take a stroll over to the PWC/support series side again so she could check it out before the security area got overloaded. Thankfully things moved pretty well and she got to check out the whole area before we headed back over to catch more pit road action as Indy Lights qualifying was starting, followed by more PWC action and IndyCar practice session #2. Is there anything better than the sound of those cars?

After a full day at the track, mostly spent on pit lane, we headed out to get some rest before enjoying a delicious dinner at Hawkers with Bayley and one of her roommates. Day 1 was a success, and we still had two more days to go!

Up next on page 2, Saturday at the track!

Roar Before the 24

Last weekend I decided to take a very last minute drive down to Daytona for an event I’ve never attended, the Roar Before the 24. For those not familiar with it, the Roar is a 3 day test at Daytona International Speedway for those teams competing in the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, which Bayley and I have attended twice, including last year. Being unable to attend the 24 this year, I needed a racing fix before she¬†and I head to the Grand Prix of St Petersburg in March, so late¬†last week I decided I’d give the Roar a try.

IMSA and the speedway put in a lot of effort to ensure people have a good time here. The speedway hosts Scout Days, where Scouts and their families can purchase tickets allowing them to camp in the infield, fish in the lake, and take in the various activities the Roar itself offers. Pretty cool stuff, but what about the rest of us? Well, for $15 per day (or free if you already have Rolex 24 tickets), you get to:

  • Park in the infield
  • Have full garage access to¬†both the CTSC and WeatherTech paddock areas
  • Take guided tours of the garage
  • Participate in fan forums
  • Watch the on-track action during

So basically, you get a lot of the same benefits you can get for the 24, but for a lot less money. Sure, there’s no actual race going on, and unless you’re a Scout you can’t stay overnight, but frankly I had a blast while I was there. I spent the vast majority of my time in the WeatherTech paddock, with some walking of the infield thrown in. I can’t speak to how the fan forums or garage tours were, as I skipped both. I actually meant to check out the fan forum, but totally forgot about it while walking the paddock Saturday afternoon.

Some tips for those who go in future years:

Parking

When driving into the infield, come in through the turn 1 tunnel. Personally, I like that tunnel better, and it puts you closer to better parking. I came in this way Sunday morning, and ended up with a front row parking spot¬†not far from¬†where the Porsche car corral normally is during the 24. Here’s ¬†clip of some of the on-track action while I was standing in front of my car on Sunday:

You can still get to that area if you come in the turn 4 tunnel, I just like the turn 1 entrance better. I did come in turn 4 Saturday morning, and ended up parking over by all the driver and crew rental cars. I only know this because I encountered drivers coming and going from the area more than once Saturday, including Dion von Moltke and Bruno Junqueira, which was pretty cool.

Garage

Enjoy the garage access. Seriously. Some of the best times to be in there were when the cars were heading to and from the pits, and while they were on track. Sure, seeing them all in their garages being worked on between practices is cool, but the other times I mentioned above were great as well. Watching a line of cars drive right past you while heading out to the track is really cool, and you never know what you’ll see while walking around in there while practice is underway. Teams come and go as they need to make major adjustments on their cars, and every now and then you’ll run in to a driver or team owner down there too. Here are a couple of clips of the cars coming and going from the garage.

Keep your head on a swivel when in the garage. This applies for any event, to be honest. The teams have a job to do, and they won’t hesitate to move you out of the way so they can get things done. During the more busy times, hearing the horns on their carts was a pretty common thing, and occasionally you’d hear someone getting yelled at as a moving race car was headed towards them while they weren’t paying attention. Seriously, keep track of your surroundings and stay out of their way. Want to know how easy it is to get caught up in the action? Check out my clip of the Rahal BMWs leaving the garage. I’d been recording the Vettes in the garage next door heading out when the first M6 departed. That wasn’t a big surprise, it was when the other one was pushed out to my left, which I wasn’t expecting. Fortunately I was able to (I hope) stay out of the way for it, but there was some initial surprise as the wing of the 25 suddenly came in to view right next to me :).

Food and drink

Just like the 24, you can take your own food and drink in. I completely forgot to bring my cooler with me, so I ended up buying food and drink at the track Saturday. The prices aren’t NFL-diculous, but still, I could have saved a few bucks and avoided some lines by stocking up before arriving.

Cameras

Keep at least one camera at the ready at all times. I didn’t take any serious gear this time, I just kept my iPhone gear and GoPro handy, and frankly, enjoyed using the GoPro to capture the cars. I picked up the 3-way arm for it Saturday morning, and while I liked having the additional reach, it allowed for more camera shake than I liked, so maybe I’ll pick up an arm with a gimbal for St Pete. I was also burning through battery in both pretty quickly, so had to recharge them both with my portable charger a few times on Saturday, so be sure to keep one handy. Also, if you’re bringing gear to try and get good shots of the cars on track, bring a step stool so you can get a clean shot over the fences. I used one during our first trip to the 24 in 2012, but forgot it last time and again for the Roar, and was pretty mad at myself both times. Sure, I could have left the track and gone across the street to Target to pick one up, but leave the track? Seriously?

Enjoy the facilities!

Don’t just stay near the fan zone and garage, get out and walk the infield. I walked out to speedway turn 2 on Saturday and took in some of the action on the high speed turn, then walked the lake back over to the boardwalk club. There are some great spots to enjoy the action all over the track, so don’t limit yourself to one location. My Microsoft Band claims I walked 13.1 miles on Saturday alone!

Tickets

One thing I learned the hard way, get your tickets far enough in advance for them to arrive before you go. I didn’t have much choice here, since this was so last minute, so I ordered online with will call pickup as my only choice. For Saturday that was fine, I got there shortly after 8am, and the will call window was open, so I picked up my ticket and headed in to the track. I’d originally only ordered my Saturday ticket, as I wasn’t sure if I was going to drive home that night, or wait until Sunday. Well, I’d decided to stay for Sunday, but couldn’t go ahead and buy my ticket at that point, as will call was the only thing open, and I didn’t want to wait until the regular ticket office opened at 9am. Guess what? I had to Sunday morning. I’d gone ahead and ordered online for will call pickup Saturday night, but on Sunday, will call doesn’t open early, so I had to wait until 9am to get my ticket and head in. Sure, it was only an hour delay, and the WeatherTech cars weren’t on track yet, but I like to get inside as early as possible :).

I think that about covers it. I really did find the weekend worth the 13 total hours of driving I did to and from Daytona, as the Roar ticket is a heck of a value, even if it is just testing. Getting to see the new Ganassi Racing Ford GT was a pretty good bonus too, that thing is an absolute demon (in a good way ūüôā ).

Enjoy some of my favorite pics from the weekend, and if you can make it out to the Roar and/or the 24, do it, you’ll have a blast!

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24 Hours of Speed – Part 2

Picking up where I left off in part 1, after grabbing a golf cart from the suite back to the infield, we immediately headed for the Ferris wheel. One of the best views of the race at night is from that thing, and at that point in the night, it wasn’t busy all, so we got an extra-long ride. To get an idea of the view you get of the infield, here are a few night shots I took, and be sure to check out the video I posted of a full rotation while looking over the infield.

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With our midnight Ferris wheel ride over, we decided to rest in the Audi Boardwalk Club¬†for a few minutes before walking the paddock¬†and pits. When we walked in and sat down, there was only one other table of people in there. It took all of 2 minutes for Bayley and I to realize who two of them were; Conor Daly and James Hinchcliffe. Hinch was at the 24¬†as a co-driver on the #70 SpeedSource Mazda, and as mentioned in the previous post, their race¬†had ended a little earlier with an oil pump failure. We’re both big fans of the Mayor of Hinchtown, so it was cool to walk in to that. I’m not one to bother someone (regardless of who it is) while they’re hanging out and relaxing, so we just sat and rested for a few. At one point, Hinch got up and walked past us, so I went ahead and asked if we could get a pic with him and Bayley, and as usual (he’s one of the most fan-friendly IndyCar drivers), he was happy to oblige:

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Shortly after that, somewhere around 1am, the three of us decided to head to the paddock to see if any cars were in for work. Sure enough, there were a few teams hard at work repairing cars, and a couple cars covered due to terminal issues. Walking pit lane, there was plenty of action there too with teams filling up fueling rigs, getting misc parts together, and preparing for pit stops. These shots are another example of how much of a team sport this really is. There’s also one in here taken just before the Paul Miller Racing guys did a driver change, with Christopher Haase standing on the pit wall in full gear waiting for their Audi R8 to make its way to the pits.

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After walking around down there for a bit, the kids decided they wanted to rest for a while, so they headed back to the boardwalk club, while I continued walking around. I’d hardly done any shooting with the Nikon D750 I rented for the trip, so I decided to head over to the infield grandstands to get some shooting in. I forgot to bring my step stool, a very handy tool for getting shots over the fence line at the track, so I used the grandstands in the turns 3, 4 and 7 areas to do some night shooting. While I didn’t shoot nearly as many pictures as a did last time, I did get a few that I like:

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Between walks of those grandstands, I stopped in the Boardwalk Club to check on the kids. They were both pretty tired, but on my stop in there, her friend and I downed some Red Bull to stay awake. They did use the floor in there as a bed for about 10 minutes each, but that was about the extent of the sleeping. I’m pretty sure we were the only ones with the Audi ME tickets who stayed the entire night, as we were the only non-employees in the Boardwalk Club between 2am and 6am.

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Around 6am, the catering staff began to arrive, and we cleaned up our area a bit so we weren’t in the way. As more people began to show up, the sun started rising over the backstretch. I absolutely love watching the sun come up at the track, and the patio area of the Boardwalk Club was a great place to do so.

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After breakfast, we had to head back to the room for a few minutes to check on Bayley’s cat, so we grabbed a golf cart back to the car corral, piled in my daughter’s Jeep, and were on our way. I admit, it was nice to clean up a little at the hotel after being up for more than 24 hours. We only stayed for about 20 minutes, then headed back to the track, where we decided to spend some time relaxing in the suite. If I recall, we were the only ones in there at that point, so the kids hung out inside while I sat in the seats outside for a bit, taking in more of the race.

At about 10:45am, after just over an hour and a half hanging out in the suite, we decided to head to the Boardwalk Club for lunch. One of the things we hadn’t taken advantage of yet were the race updates. Audi¬†did these a couple of times Saturday and once or twice Sunday, and it was basically a short update on the status of the Audi teams from one or more of the drivers. For the 11am update today,¬†Dion von Moltke from Paul Miller Racing¬†was there between stints to update us on their race. They’d had a pretty good race up to the 17 hour mark, fighting for the win, but a couple of issues late in the race had them fighting to get back up front. While Dion was in there talking, we could see on the monitors above him that another issue struck the car, as it was spending an extended period of time in the pits. In the shot below where you can see the monitors above him, the one on the left is the live shot out the rear of his¬†car as it was sitting on pit lane.

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The update was cool, something I wish we’d taken advantage of on Saturday, but live and learn. After Dion finished up, we enjoyed one last meal in the Boardwalk club (off that awesome menu above), and headed back to the suite to end the race. We expected it to be full late in the race, so we wanted to get there as quick as possible to get decent seats, which we managed to do. There were only a few people there at that point, so the kids grabbed some seats along the window inside, and I grabbed a spot outside to enjoy the final couple of hours. It did get pretty busy, as expected, but it was a great place to watch the end of the race. We were all worn out, and walking around really wasn’t an option. Those last 15 minutes made for a good race, as Jordan Taylor, was putting on a show trying to get back up to Scott Dixon, only to have all of that work undone by a miscalculation by the team on his time in the car. When the caution came out for a wreck near the bus stop and Jordan brought the #10 in to the pits, the assumption was they’d miscalculated on fuel, but jaws dropped around me when they did a driver change.¬†The guys over at Jalopnik have a pretty good story on what happened, it’s well worth the read.

With the race over, we headed down to grab a cart from the suite back to the car corral one last time. We hopped in our cars, headed to the hotel to rest, clean up, eat dinner and get a full night’s sleep. Bayley’s friend had never been to a race like this before and seemed to really enjoy himself all weekend, so hopefully we helped bring a new fan in to the sport. Regardless, the entire weekend was a blast. I was really happy with the decision to buy the Audi Motorsport Experience tickets, and can’t say enough good things about the staff, they were great all weekend. We’ve now done this race in two completely different ways, so next time maybe we just need to rent an RV and camp out in the infield all 4 days. One of these years, hopefully :). That last shot below of us on our balcony was taken after the race, just before we cleaned up for dinner. After roughly 36 hours of being awake we were wiped out, but loved every minute of it. Huge thank you to Audi Sport, Paul Miller Racing, and Flying Lizard Motorsports for an awesome weekend!

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24 Hours of Speed – Part 1

As I said in my recap of the last Rolex 24 we went to, being at a race is definitely my happy place. There’s something about the sound of a race engine roaring to life, or a race car flying by me that I absolutely love. Last weekend Bayley and I, along with her best friend, made the trek to this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. There are plenty of places where you can read coverage of the race itself, including my one of favorite sites, Racer.com, so I’ll stick to covering our experience. The race itself was great, with a lot of action on track, and a crazy last few laps. Being a fan of Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, I was happy to see them cross the stripe first for the overall victory, but I’d have loved to see my favorite GTD team, Flying Lizard, finish higher up the order. No matter, they fought hard the entire time to get back up to 10th¬†in class after some early clutch issues, and were still pushing hard when the clock hit zero on Sunday afternoon.

This race weekend was a much different experience than any past IndyCar or sports car race we’ve been to. Normally I just get the standard¬†3-4 day weekend package with grandstand seats for whatever race we’re going to, but this time I splurged a little and went with the Audi Motorsport Experience tickets. We’ve never done a race on any sort of hospitality tickets, and looking back, I couldn’t be happier with the choice, Audi took great care of us all weekend. The tickets themselves included access to a number of things we’d never had access to at a race before that will all be covered here, and we loved every minute of it.

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When we got to Daytona on Friday evening we went straight to the track. Even though the Continental Tire Series race had just ended, I had business to attend to in the garage area before the teams called it a night, and we wanted to hit Tijuana Flats for dinner after that, which is right across the street from the track. Walking the garage at a track off-hours definitely reminds you that this is a team sport. While the drivers may be off doing appearances or resting up for the race, the crews are usually hard at work getting the car ready.

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Come Saturday morning, our normal race weekend plan kicked in. Bayley knows that I like to get to the track as early as possible, so that meant getting to the Audi Boardwalk Club, the heart of their hospitality setup located in the middle of the infield, as soon as we could. We left the hotel around 7:20am and got to the Audi car corral about 20 minutes later. They’d included two parking passes with our tickets, so my daughter parked her Jeep over with the other non-Audi cars, while I parked my little TT roadster in line next to a beautiful R8.

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Once we had all of our stuff, we hopped on the Audi golf cart shuttles, which took us pretty much wherever we needed to go over the course of the weekend, and headed to the Boardwalk Club to get signed in. These tickets included a few behind the scenes things that we wanted to be sure and get spots for:

  • Hot lap
  • Audi paddock (garage) tour
  • Hot pit tour during the race

When we initially signed up, we were on the 11am hot lap list, which was pretty long. Right after we went and sat down in the Boardwalk Club to enjoy some breakfast, one of the girls from the front desk came over and asked if we wanted to switch to the 8:30 hot lap, as they had a couple of openings. We enthusiastically agreed, and hopped on one of the carts to head to the IMSA (series) hauler to sign our lives away.

The hot lap is exactly¬†what it sounds like. A lap around the track at speed. Since we were with Audi, that obviously meant doing the lap in an Audi, specifically a new S3 (the blue one below). It was pretty wet out, and even started raining a bit harder as we were standing on pit road waiting for our turn. We expected them to shut it down, considering all the high speed infield turns, as well as the steep speedway turns. Nope. The line of hot lap cars came in, and we hopped right in and took off. It was an absolute blast, with our driver telling us that they weren’t even holding back in the wet, the cars were gripping just fine. Coming off of turn 7 (speedway turn 2) on to the back straight, we were doing almost 120mph in a street car. So. Much. Fun. In addition to the pics below, I’ve got video of the hot lap up on YouTube beneath them.

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Once the hot lap was over, we walked around the garage a bit before heading back to the Boardwalk Club. Our first two activities were almost back to back, with the paddock tours scheduled for 9:30am. On arrival, we once again boarded a golf cart shuttle and headed back to the garage area. This time around, we were getting a behind the scenes tour of the garages for both Audi teams, Flying Lizard and Paul Miller Racing, along with a tour of the Audi Customer Racing parts hauler. We all had a blast. In addition to getting to see the crew of my favorite car at work (the #45), our guide Mark did a great job of explaining things along the way and answering questions as they came up. The guys in the Audi hauler were really cool, too. The hauler is equipped with two spare R8 chassis and enough parts to build a couple more cars. They just sit there and wait for one of the teams to come over needing a part. A good race for the Audi teams means the guys in the parts hauler have no work :).

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Once our paddock tours ended, we were left to do whatever we wanted until later that evening, as our last scheduled event was the hot pit tour at 9pm. We walked around for a bit, checking out the final activity in the garages, and headed back over to the Boardwalk Club for lunch. One of the nice things about these tickets is that they included all meals, as well as snacks overnight. All of the meals were outstanding. Our lunch menu on Saturday included some delicious weiner schnitzel and German potato salad, among other items. During lunch, the drivers for both of the Audi teams arrived for the pre-race driver meet and greet for Audi hospitality guests. Each of the teams were on stage for a few minutes talking about how their car was running, what they expected out of the race, and doing a short Q&A. Definitely a nice touch.

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Once we were done with lunch, we headed over to the autograph session. We’d gotten some Audi flags at the Boardwalk Club, and decided to get them signed by all 8 Audi drivers. The autograph tables are divided into stations, with something like 6 tables per station. Fortunately both of the Audi teams were at the same station, so we only had to stand in one line, but on the flip side, Patrick Dempsey’s team was also in the same station, which meant it’d have a very long line. We got there a little early and waited in line near the front, but it was a really long line by the time the session started. I feel bad for the Dempsey fans in line, too. About 10 minutes before the session started, someone with his team walked by to let anyone waiting for him know that Dempsey would be a no-show for autographs (no reason was given), and would be replaced by Hurley Haywood. While it was cool to see a legend like that sit in last minute, I’d bet less than half of those waiting for Dempsey even know who Haywood is. Regardless, we got what we came for. In addition to the smaller flag, I also got a flag I bought at the 2012 race signed by the entire 2015 Rolex 24 Flying Lizard team this weekend. Drivers, crew, everyone. Of the few pieces of autographed memorabilia I have, this is easily a favorite. The picture¬†of me holding that flag was shot very early Sunday morning, so ignore how rough I look ūüôā

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Our autographed flags in hand, we hopped a golf cart to the car corral to switch out some stuff before the race started. Our plan was to watch the start from the Audi suite on the front stretch. None of us had watched a race from a suite before, and while I normally like to be closer to the track during a race, this was actually a great spot. We had an excellent view of the pits and front stretch from the seats in front of the suite, and Audi staff were on hand inside the suite offering up drinks and snacks, all included with our tickets.

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I’m not good at sitting in one place for any length of time, so after a couple of hours enjoying the action from the suite, we hopped a cart and headed back to the infield to watch the race from the Ferris wheel. This is one of the coolest places to see the race from, especially at night. We did both a day and a night ride, fun stuff.

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After the ride and a walk through the carnival games area, we headed back to the Boardwalk Club for what was easily the best meal of the weekend. Inside, Audi’s chef had a long table with things like roasted potatoes, penne Gorgonzola, and beef tenderloin. Outside they had a table with a large amount of smoked sausage and corn on the cob, along with¬†a table of oysters. Did I mention Audi took really good care of us all weekend? To top it all off, they had a delicious wall of dessert inside.

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Not long after dinner we did break my main rule of the Rolex 24: once you’re in the track, you’re in until it’s over. With the kids heading back to college after the race, my daughter had her cat Luna with us¬†(who lives with her in her dorm at Eckerd), and he was back in the hotel room alone, so we left for a little while to go check on him. We couldn’t stay long, however, as our last scheduled event was on tap at 9:15pm, the hot pit tour. We left the track a little after 7:30pm and got back about 8:45pm. Upon arriving, we took a cart straight back to the Boardwalk Club to check in for our pit tour.

When we got to the pits, they gave us IMSA visitor hard-cards and some headsets so we could talk to Mark. Because of how busy the Paul Miller Racing guys were (fighting for the lead in GTD at the time), we only got to tour the Flying Lizard pits, but it was a blast. We hung out in there for a little over 10 minutes and got to see one of their pits stops, along with the final pit stop of the #70 SpeedSource Mazda prototype before it retired with a fatal oil pump issue. It was all very cool to watch, those crews really bust their butts. The last pic below is the Mazda in for its stop.

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After the pit tour, we decided to hang out in the Boardwalk Club for a while and watch the 10pm fireworks. This is always a highlight of the evening, one that everyone attending should make a point to watch. Race cars and fireworks. What could be better? I’ve got videos of the fireworks as seen from the patio at the Boardwalk Club here, and here. Looking at the last one, the smoke from the finale must have been blinding for the drivers as they came down the backstretch. Shortly after the fireworks, the staff put out some sliders for everyone who was still there. Not that we needed more food, but hey, might as well get our money’s worth, right?

Our last move of Saturday night was grabbing a cart and heading back to the front stretch suite to watch the race from there for a while. The suite closed at midnight, so by the time we got over there, I think we only stayed for about 45 minutes before heading back to the infield as Saturday ended. It was well worth the cart ride, the suite provided an outstanding view of the track at night.

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I think that about covers our Saturday at the track. We really enjoyed all of the special events Audi put together, and were enjoying the race as well. Next up in part 2: Sunday at the Rolex 24!

Renting Camera Gear

I know in my last post that I said I was done until after my trip this weekend, but after a package came today, I figured I had one more in me ūüôā

I love to take pictures when on vacation, as most people do. I started shooting with DSLRs about 9 years ago when my daughter started in competitive cheer, but¬†would say that even today, I’m an amateur photographer at best. While I used to lug my gear around any time we went on trips, I only really enjoy shooting with it under the right circumstances these days. Over the past few years, my interest in using¬†the DSLR gear on vacations has waned, and while I do still take it with me, it serves as a backup camera to my point and shoot, which also happens to be my phone, currently a Nokia Lumia 1020 with the camera grip. While each has advantages and disadvantages, being able to carry such little weight when using a decent point and shoot is enough for me to leave the DSLR in the bag. Most of the time.

The main exception to my rule would be auto races, the one place I really enjoy shooting. Over the past few years, I’ve rented gear to haul to the following:

  • 2008 Grand Prix of Long Beach: Rented a¬†Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR to mount on my D80
  • 2010 Grand Prix of Long Beach: Rented a¬†Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED-IF AF-S VR to mount on my D80
  • 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona: Rented a Nikon D7000 +¬†Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
  • 2015 Rolex 24 at Daytona: Rented a Nikon D750 +¬†Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
  • Oh, and I also rented a¬†Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED AF-S VR to use with my D80 on a work trip to Yosemite in 2010.

The D750 and 70-200¬†arrived today, just in time for our departure tomorrow. I’ve used a couple of different services for this over the years, LensRentals.com and RentGlass.com, and have had nothing but good experiences with both of them. The majority of those listed above, however, have been with LensRentals. My main reason behind this is because they allow me to schedule well in advance what I want and when I need it, vs just waiting until a few days before the trip and hoping what I want is in stock. For this trip, I reserved the gear on the 7th for arrival today. I’ll keep it 4 days, and send it back in the packaging it arrived in on Monday on my way home, only needing to have some packing tape on hand since the return shipping label is included.

Both of the services do an outstanding job packaging their gear, which I would completely expect considering how much this equipment would cost to replace. Today’s box was no different:

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The main reason I’m willing to rent and lug heavy gear around with me is that it’s next to impossible to get a decent shot of a race car at speed using a P&S. Shooting a moving vehicle is a mix of stable panning, fast glass, perfect shot settings, and good location. The professionals generate some awesome images. Me, I’m just happy to get pictures to use as desktop backgrounds, to be honest.¬†The other challenge will be the number of pictures I take. I leave it in burst mode the whole weekend, and usually max out the camera buffer when I’m shooting a passing car from the fence line, and am guessing I’ll easily come home with somewhere between 2500-3000 pictures to sort through this trip. Most of that will likely be throw away, too, but the ones that turn out good will occupy my computer screens for quite a while.

Back to the rental services. Honestly, I find this to be a great way not only to try new gear, but to avoid paying the price of buying something you may only use a couple of times. I’ve always received solid, perfectly working gear, and the few times I did have to contact either company’s support for something, they were always very friendly and helpful. For anyone who’s never used a camera rental service but isn’t interested in renting DSLR gear, most of them aren’t limited to that, some have point and shoot cameras and GoPro gear, too.

One last recommendation for anyone renting high-end gear: Get the insurance for anything you’re not willing to pay replacement cost on. On our 2010 trip to Long Beach, I dropped my camera while it had¬†the 18-200 rental lens on it. As soon as it left my hands, my heart sank. I didn’t even want to pick it up. When I did, I could tell that the lens was a bit jacked up, as the¬†focus ring was loose, and the lens itself wasn’t 100% secure on the mount. We were at the car getting ready to head to the hotel on day 2 (of 3) when it happened, so I wrapped it up and waited to asses it further until we got to the hotel. When we got back to the room, I went ahead and emailed RentGlass to let them know what happened and ask for next steps. Long story short, after we got home, I sent the lens back as scheduled and waited to find out how much the repair was going to cost. Fortunately, none of the glass was damaged, and Nikon’s price to repair was only $125. That was the one time I skipped insurance, and I was sure I was going to have to pay for a new lens, so I was pretty happy with that outcome. It was a lesson for sure, and is still the only time I’ve ever dropped a camera.

Well, I’m off to finish packing since we’re off to Daytona in the morning! For now, here are a handful of my favorite shots taken with rental gear over the years:

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