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 🙂

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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!

Looking Back at a Weekend of Racing – Part 2

(Continuing from Part 1)

On Saturday morning we got up around 5am, checked out of the hotel, and headed to the track. After stopping for a quick bite to eat, we arrived shortly before the gates
opened to find a bit of a chaotic scene. The DIS parking staff apparently hadn’t been given much in the way of instruction on what the various parking passes meant, so those of us holding guaranteed infield passes were held up for a bit while everything got straightened out. No biggie, after a 45-60min delay we were driving through the tunnel towards the infield!

Once parked, we headed in to the fan zone (next to the garages) to see what was going on. There was a 5k going on out on track that we managed to catch the end of, and once it ended we walked around up and down pit lane, and even walked out on the front stretch of the track, stopping to take some pictures at some cool spots along the way.

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We walked around out there until they kicked us off the track, and then headed in to the garage area. Crews were already hard at work preparing the cars, so we walked around checking out all the activity. I find it fascinating to watch a crew disassembling/reassembling major pieces of a race car, so I get locked on that pretty easily. At some point (likely at Bayley’s urging), we finally moved on to check out other areas of the infield. I don’t recall everything we did, but we hit the large infield ferris wheel and swing once during the day before the race started, and then once late at night while the race was in full swing. Honestly, both of them provide some of the coolest views at the track, especially at night during the race. They also had a fireworks show over the wheel at 11pm during the race, awesome stuff!

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One of the big events we wanted to hit was the autograph session, as we both really enjoy meeting the drivers. Travis Pastrana was co-driving Michael Waltrip’s Ferrari, and with Bayley being a huge fan of his, we waited in that line first. We got over there 45min early and ended up second in line, but by the time things started moving, he had one of the longest lines there, second only to Patrick Dempsey’s, if I recall. Travis was really friendly, and Bayley couldn’t have been happier to get her picture with him. After we finished with his line and the tables that followed, we headed over to where I wanted to be, in Flying Lizard’s line. I’d bought a team flag the day before, but completely forgot to bring it with me to the autograph session. With no time to run back to our car and get it, I just went through and got autographs on the cards they provided. In the session shots below, be sure to check out the ones from the Sahlen’s table (last two pics). That little girl was awesome, sitting there signing autographs like she’d been doing it for years!

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After the autograph session, we walked around a bit more, got some food, then headed to the fenceline at the exit of the turn 3 horseshoe to get set for the start of the race. I’d come equipped with two Nikons, a D7000 and D80, and handed the D80 off to Bayley so she could try her hand at shooting moving race cars. I had a 70-200 F/2.8 VR mounted to the D7000, and was ready to get some race shots. The start itself was fairly clean, and I got plenty of pictures in the time we spent at that spot. I think we stayed there for around 45min or so, then headed out to check out other areas of the track.

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Over the course of the next 24 hours we did a lot of walking, but we did take time to relax in my car, too. We’d rented a scanner, so throughout the race one of us was usually listening in on various teams to see how things were progressing. I’d brought some food and drinks in a large cooler so we weren’t stuck eating the track food the entire time. I’d also come armed with a bunch of energy drinks to keep us awake. Not sure Bayley ever had any of the Monster, but she was a trooper anyway. During the night we were mostly out walking around the track, but admittedly did take a couple of quick naps. I think I got a total of 45min of sleep in the middle of the night, with Bayley getting just over an hour’s worth. Through it all, we hit just about every spot on the track getting plenty of pics along the way. Around 5am I headed over to the fence line near the entrance to turn 3 to see if I could get one of the more iconic shots: A car flying by with the large ferris wheel in the background. I got a couple that I liked, including one showing the glowing front brakes on the #03 Patron 458 just before sunrise.

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During the night, several cars ended up in the garage for various issues, including one of the two Dempsey Racing Mazdas due to a wreck shortly after 9:00pm. We’d been in the garage area an hour or so earlier, and there weren’t many fans there, but once a Dempsey car was brought in, it seemed like every fan left at the track headed to get a look, as shown in one of the shots below that was taken as they were bringing it in on the flatbed. We also walked the backside of the pits a few times at night, as it’s pretty cool to watch the crews at work. In the shot below taken from behind the fence, the driver in yellow standing there with his helmet on is Patrick Dempsey, waiting for the #40 RX-8 to pit so he can get out there for his night stint

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As the sun came up over speedway turns 3 & 4 on Sunday morning, we hung out in our chairs by my car giving our feet some much needed rest.

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At that point we had about 8 hours left in the race, and spent the day doing more of the same, wandering around watching the race from various places, checking out the garages and pits, etc. While it was a long couple of days, we made it to the end, as we saw the #60 Daytona Prototype of Michael Shank Racing cross the line for the overall victory, with the #44 997 GT3 of Magnus Racing taking the GT class win. Shortly afterwards we packed up and headed to our hotel to check in and clean up. After being awake for the better part of 36 hours, the idea of trying to drive straight home didn’t seem very appealing, so I’d reserved another room at the same Super 8 we’d stayed at on Thursday and Friday so we could get a full night’s sleep before heading back to Charlotte.

The Rolex 24 at Daytona is definitely one any race fan should attend, and if you do, be sure to stay for the entire race. I was surprised at how many of the cars parked around us left after it got dark. If the crews can stay up all night, the fans can too. There are a handful of ways to do the full 24 hours:

  • The way we did, just camping out in the car. There were several people around us who made fires to keep warm and cook food, etc. Take a fully stocked cooler in, and you won’t have to spend a ton of money at the concession stands.
  • Get tickets for the actual campground area. These were sold out quickly, otherwise I’d have done the same vs camping in the car. Looked like lots of partying going on in the tent area!
  • Rent an RV and park it in the infield for the weekend. This provided the best of both worlds from what I could tell, a comfy place to rest and cook food while still being at the track the entire time.

All in all it was a great time, and we’re really hoping to do it again this year as part of the Audi Motorsport Experience, with me driving my black 2009 TT Roadster down. These tickets supposedly go pretty fast, so I’ll be online when it opens Thursday evening hoping to scoop a couple of them up!

If anyone’s interested in seeing all of our pictures from the 2012 race, feel free to browse the gallery!

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