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 🙂 ).

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!

IMG_5399IMG_5114IMG_5113 IMG_5158 IMG_5161 IMG_5169 IMG_5189 IMG_5192 IMG_5201 IMG_5203 IMG_5207 IMG_5245 IMG_5335 IMG_5436IMG_5407 IMG_5464 IMG_5493 IMG_5299IMG_5501 IMG_5508 IMG_5531 IMG_5534 IMG_5535IMG_5536 IMG_5577 IMG_5604

Looking Back at a Weekend of Racing – Part 1

We don’t have any trips scheduled for the holidays this year, so I figured I’d fill the gap by revisiting a few of our past ones. My first one’s going to cover a more unorthodox trip completely unrelated to cruising, the one my daughter and I took to the 2012 Rolex 24 at Daytona for the 50th anniversary of the race. Yesterday I discovered Audi’s less than a week away from putting their Rolex 24 Motorsports Experience tickets on sale, and sitting here thinking of our last trip has me a bit nostalgic. I’ll be doing my best to pick up two of the Audi tickets as a Christmas present for Bayley and I, as the 2015 race happens to be the weekend she’s heading back to college. Fingers crossed 🙂 (Update: We’ve got the Audi ME tickets and will be enjoying the 2015 Rolex 24!)

I’ve been a fan of various forms of motor sport for years. Being that I tend to prefer road and street circuits, I generally follow F1, IndyCar and various forms of sports car racing. CART was my first love, and my interest grew from there. Honestly, if I didn’t need the paycheck, I’d quit my job in a second to stooge for whatever team would have me. I know people say it’s not the same when it’s your job, but I’d gladly do whatever menial task was needed if it meant I got to hear the roar of those engines every day, it’s most definitely my happy place. I’m lucky in that my daughter picked up the bug too, so we’ve been able to do some awesome father-daughter trips the past few years. Doesn’t hurt that it’s in her blood, as A.J. Watson was her great granduncle, and her great grandfather, Don Watson, loves to tell stories from their racing days when we’re up visiting. Her first trip with me was to the 2010 Grand Prix of Long Beach when she was in 8th grade, and she’s been hooked ever since.

The Rolex 24 had been near the top of my list of races to attend for several years. Shortly after tickets for the 2012 race went on sale, I decided to go for it. Bayley’s always been a trooper at the IndyCar street races I’d taken her to in Long Beach and Baltimore, staying at the track from open to close with me, and enjoying every minute of all the track walking we did. Being a 24 hour race was different, but she was just as excited, and agreed that once we were at the track the day of the main race, we weren’t leaving. With that discussion out of the way, I got us a set of 4 day race/garage passes and infield parking.

Since she was in school, we didn’t go down until Thursday, and missed one day of track activity as a result. I’d booked a cheap hotel for Thursday, Friday and Sunday night a few miles away from the track, so once we got down there we crashed for the night. Waking up Friday, we got to the track as soon as it opened, parked in the infield, and began to explore. It was a bit overcast and misty, but neither of us cared, we donned our ponchos and walked the garages. One of the cool things about a series like Grand Am (now IMSA/TUDOR) or the now defunct ALMS is the variety of cars. You get to see everything from a Camaro, Mazda, Ferarri, Audi R8, all the way up to the prototypes. For anyone new to the sport who’s having a hard time understanding the different classes, IMSA’s got a quick video explaining the current class setup here. The prototypes are some of my favorites, there’s nothing like being next to the track as one goes roaring by. Here are some shots of the garage from Friday morning.

FridayGarageAudiR8CamaroFerarri LizardPatronPorschePrototypes

In addition to the garage area, Daytona International Speedway offers quite a bit of other stuff to see and do. The Sprint FanZone’s got food and drink options, shopping, and a handful of cars on display. For this event, they had the Corvette ZR1 that lapped the ‘Ring in under 7m:20s, in addition to a few other cars on display in the FanZone and/or other manufacturer display areas around the infield. That, and something I wish I’d bought Bayley when she was a toddler. Should be easy to pick out which one that is:

VetteZR1BimmerCamaro2MiniDF NissanNissanProtoPrototypeMazda

We walked the infield multiple times, checking out the facilities, and watching various practice and qualifying sessions. After grabbing some lunch at one of the food areas in the middle of the infield, we settled in to the grandstands in turn 4 of the road course to watch some of the Continental Tire Series race. As an ex-MINI owner, I was happy to see a couple of those out on track, but in general the race itself was pretty good, with the overall victory going to Jack Roush Jr and Billy Johnson in one of the Roush Performance Mustangs. As it was ending, we decided to head out and have a little fun for dinner. With Orlando being fairly close (well, closer than it is from our house :)), we decided to hit Downtown Disney for dinner before heading back to the hotel to get some sleep before our long weekend of racing.

Coming up in part 2: All the fun (and lack of sleep) we had at the track on Saturday and Sunday! In the meantime, enjoy some more pictures from Friday!

 

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