MSC Divina: Day 4 Recap

Today was all about getting off the boat and having some fun in St Thomas. After two days at sea, we were ready for a change. We booked an excursion on our own for this stop, one that Jen and I did last month on the Escape, the BOSS Underwater Excursion. We had a blast last time, and couldn’t wait to do it again, this time with Bayley. Note that normally they require cruise ship passengers to book through the line they’re coming in on, but MSC doesn’t contract with this company, so we were free to book it on our own.

Being that we arrived in port after their first trip of the day left, we booked the noon trip. Arriving in St Thomas at 9am, that gave us a couple of hours to walk around the port area. After doing a bit of shopping, we decided to grab some lunch at Shipwreck Tavern, just outside the port area, and we were glad we did. Everyone was extremely friendly, and the food was pretty good. The girls had burgers, and I had a Philly cheesesteak to go along with my rum punch. Definitely a good stop, we’d eat there again.

Just before noon, we headed back through port security to meet up with the excursion contact right outside of our ship. Just like last time, she escorted us to the end of the dock, where we hopped on the boat and headed out to Buck Island. One quick note here, there were only 13 of us on this trip (the three of us, and 10 from the Norwegian Spirit). Last month, the same boat had 49 people. The number of people wasn’t a problem at all last month, but having a smaller number was really cool, as we got twice the amount of time in the underwater scooters because of it. Apparently there were 34 people from the Carnival Valor that were supposed to be on the trip, but their ship was an hour or so late to port, and the BOSS folks couldn’t wait. Sorry guys, but we had fun without you :).

If you’ve never seen an excursion like this before, check out the video I put together from last month’s trip:

Honestly, this is one of the best excursions I’ve done to date, and would highly recommend that anyone coming in to St Thomas check it out. Well worth it, and I can’t say enough about the crew, they’re awesome!

IMG_4007

We got back to the dock around 3:30 and decided to head up to the infinity pool at the back of the ship to hang out for a bit. Turns out, the infinity pool isn’t so infinity in port, as the water level is lowered to cover only the regular pool area. Kinda lame, as was the fact that they only had the water slide open from 10am-1pm today. Huh? When we were in port here last month, the Escape’s Aqua Racer was open the whole time, allowing us to give it a go after we got back from our excursion. Oh well.

After getting cleaned up, we headed to dinner. It was another good dinner in the MDR tonight both from a food and service aspect, so we seem to finally be on a roll here! I started with the chilled pineapple pina colada soup, followed by one of the entrees as my second course, the Surimi mac and cheese. Both were good, but it was my main course I was really looking forward to, the prime rib. Mmmmm. This was also the first night that any of us had a steak-based dish where they asked how we wanted it cooked. I ordered mine medium, and was not disappointed. I finished the meal off with the sugar free bread pudding with vanilla ice cream, which was also delicious.

IMG_4016 IMG_4017 IMG_4018 IMG_4019

We got through dinner by 7pm, so we decided to hit the early show instead of waiting for our normal seating. Tonight’s show was Treasure Island, complete with pirates, acrobatics, hand balancers, and even an illusion thrown in for good measure (and some other cool stuff I’m sure I’m leaving out). Definitely an awesome show, and one that you shouldn’t miss when sailing the Divina.

After the show and another round of bingo, we headed up to the F1 simulator so that Bayley and I could give it a go. That thing is definitely harder than it looks, but it’s an absolute blast! I was trying to be fully technical with it, focusing on shift points, corner apex, etc, and just kept missing corners and spinning. Bayley drove around the track in 7th gear one lap and easily beat my best time. Grrr…. It’s really fun though 🙂

Not much else for tonight. With an 8am arrival in San Juan on tap, we all wanted to get some sleep, so we didn’t make it to the White Party. There are a couple of annoyances I wanted to call out though:

  1. We’ve walked through the buffet during normal dinner hours a couple of times now, and each time it’s been pretty much only pizza and a few dessert items. Now don’t get me wrong, I could eat the pizza every night if we skipped the MDR, but the lack of overall selection is a bit odd to me. We’ve skipped MDR dinners on other lines before for various reasons, and never had an issue with lack of buffet selection.
  2. If you book on deck 5, mid-ship, just note that you’re likely going to have a lot of extra foot traffic from people heading to the lobby. There’s no way to get to the lobby if you come down the aft elevators other than to walk down the corridors in front of passenger cabins.

Nothing major, just things to be aware of. All in all it’s been a great trip so far, and we’re glad that we have the chance to finally try out MSC!

We don’t have anything planned for San Juan, we’re just going to get off the boat and see where the day takes us. From here in St Thomas, good night!

Driving a Supercar

Earlier today I cashed in one of the presents I got for Christmas: a Living Social deal for a 3-lap driving experience from the folks at Motorsport Lab. While it’s not travel, I figured I’d throw out a quick review on it. Note that my review is for the Charlotte event, I can’t speak for any other location.

When you register on Motorsport Lab’s web site, you get to choose the type of car you want to drive. For this event, there were 3 options when I registered in late December:

  • Lamborghini Gallardo
  • Ferrari 360 Modena
  • Ferrari F430 (upcharge for this one)

Being a life-long Lambo fan, I chose the Gallardo. After you register, you’re sent a link to the participation form you need to fill out and bring with you to the event. As I saw called out in the many Yelp reviews of this company, this is a rather long form (16 pages), filled with all kinds of scary language warning about possible charges for things like damage and exceeding various RPM levels among other things. They offer insurance for each possible problem at the charge of $20/$30/$50 per waiver, depending on the item. That, and the form calls out suggested tip levels very clearly, which I admit is something I find a bit tacky. I’m fine letting people know the instructors work off of tips, but suggesting amounts like that can be a bit of a turnoff. After reading a few of the Yelp reviews, I see I’m not alone in that. I also saw a number of people mention that the added insurance wasn’t needed for most locations, so when I filled it out, I declined all of them. I’m glad I did.

Several of the reviews I read were negative, with some people even saying they skipped the experience entirely after being scared off by the language in the form. This is completely unnecessary in my opinion. Even if you don’t believe me, go early and watch a few people run the course before you sign in so you can get an idea of exactly what is going on, you might be surprised. With all the negative reviews, I figured it was only fair to throw in a positive review since we enjoyed the event.

First, did I spend any money beyond the cost of the Living Social deal? Yes. Totally by my own choice and it was worth it. I asked about getting a ride along for Bayley, who is home for spring break, and took him up on the offer to get her laps with the instructor for $50. That fee and the tip were the only added costs for us. They weren’t being pushy with anything, and were up front in saying that people should tip what they were comfortable with. When I checked in, the guy at the table looked over my forms, saw I’d declined all optional insurance, and moved on without trying to change my mind. I even heard him tell the guy in front of me that most of it wasn’t needed for a course like this. Don’t be scared or turned off by all the language in there around damage, I assume most of it is to ensure that people thinking they’re going to treat these things like rental cars are talked down off that ledge. There were a few other complaints in other reviews that could have been addressed by people doing a little research beforehand, so I’ll call a couple of them out here:

(Note: If you want to read those reviews, just search for the company. I’m not a big fan of Yelp so I’m not linking to them)

  • This experience is on an autocross course. It has the words ‘autocross’ and ‘agility’ in the experience name, so arriving to find a course of cones shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s not going to be on an oval or on city streets, even if the event is held at a track, like it is in Boston. You’re not getting the cars up to 100MPH. Even the straight on our course was too short to get up over 50MPH-ish (had it been dry) unless you’re really experienced on these types of courses. If you want something faster, maybe try the IndyCar or NASCAR experience. I’ve done the IndyCar one, and you definitely go a lot faster with that, but you’re on an oval.
  • The Lambo wasn’t put in to automatic transmission mode as some reviews mentioned, but we never got out of 2nd. You do get to shift, but basically only from neutral to 1st to get going, and to 2nd pretty quick after that. Once in 2nd, you stay there the rest of the way. You’re not getting close to the 6500RPM limit in 2nd on this course unless you’re planning on exiting over some cones and paying the price.
  • Scheduling can be a pain. I don’t disagree. Once you buy the deal, register as fast as possible to ensure you have options. I’ve learned this the hard way with other LS/Groupon deals in the past (namely my IndyCar one), so I registered shortly after opening this present. Even with that, the list of available dates was limited, but I got something that worked for me.
  • Some people said your time in the car isn’t that long, and that’s true. The deal is for 3 laps, and being an autocross course in a parking lot, that means a relatively small track. They do offer more laps as an add-on, or if that’s not enough, you might want to check out one of the companies that use real road courses or take you out on streets.

Back to the review: After checking in, we hung out under the canopies they’d put up (due to rain) and waited for the event to start. There weren’t a huge number of people for our 9am session, I’d say 7-8 for each of the two cars at most. Those driving the Ferrari got a nice upgrade at no cost, as the 360 was in the shop, so all they had was the F430 (both the F430 and Gallardo are 2006 models, BTW). They take you out based on the time you checked in, which they’d written on your wristband, so I was 3rd for the Lambo. With the ground being so wet none of us in that first three pushed all that hard, but I really did enjoy it. I’ve driven some fast stuff, but never something so well balanced in the corners. The instructor (or ‘sherpa’, as they call it) who was with me was really good, too. Very nice and talked you through the whole thing, and was far more helpful than the spotter I had with the IndyCar experience. He gave me pointers on corner entry/exit, and when to give it power exiting a turn. It ended faster than i’d have liked, which wasn’t a big surprise. Three laps is a bit short in my opinion, but I knew what I was getting in to, and I’m sure if I’d asked I could have upgraded to six for a little more. It was enough to give me a taste of what a well balanced supercar felt like, so it was worth it to me.

After I went, my daughter was up for her ride-along. When I bought it, the guy said that the cost is $50/lap, but they normally go ahead and do two laps for that. She actually got three, and he seemed to really be enjoying himself behind the wheel out there (who wouldn’t?), intentionally kicking out the rear in a few corners. Just for fun I gave him a heads-up that he had her past experiences to live up to, as she’s done an IndyCar 2-seater ride as well as the Audi ride-along at Daytona. He definitely pushed it, and she loved every second of it. I’ve got video of her laps up on YouTube if anyone wants to see it.

When it was all over, we both agreed that we had a blast. All of the employees were very friendly, and the car was a blast to drive, even in the rain. For the Living Social price it was definitely a fun morning, but I wouldn’t have done it for the listed price of $549. Not really sure if anyone actually paid that this morning, though. I do think Jen made a bit of a tactical error in buying this for me, as now I want to move up to one of the events on real tracks, like this one. There are a couple of cars on their list I’d absolutely love to get behind the wheel of, like the McLaren, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for deals with them, too 🙂

 

WP_20150314_08_38_50_Pro WP_20150314_09_29_11_Pro WP_20150314_09_30_03_Pro WP_20150314_09_41_38_Pro WP_20150314_09_48_45_Pro WP_20150314_10_10_19_Pro WP_20150314_10_15_24_Pro WP_20150314_10_15_32_Pro

WP_20150314_10_10_42_Pro 1 IMG_1400 IMG_1354 IMG_1357

 

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.

WP_20150125_00_23_14_Pro WP_20150125_00_26_36_ProWP_20150125_00_23_31_Pro

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:

WP_20150125_01_05_10_Pro

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.

WP_20150125_01_20_21_Pro WP_20150125_01_22_26_Pro WP_20150125_01_24_41_Pro WP_20150125_01_27_05_Pro WP_20150125_01_28_13_Pro WP_20150125_01_34_38_Pro WP_20150125_01_47_17_Pro WP_20150125_01_47_57_Pro

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:

DSC_2020 DSC_2030 DSC_2043 DSC_2049 DSC_2134 DSC_2149 DSC_2161 DSC_2184 DSC_2204 DSC_2271 DSC_2313 DSC_2314 DSC_2317 Header2

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.

WP_20150125_03_22_18_Pro WP_20150125_03_59_10_Pro WP_20150125_04_14_05_Pro WP_20150125_04_26_05_Pro WP_20150125_04_26_11_Pro WP_20150125_04_26_56_Prov

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.

WP_20150125_06_42_47_Pro WP_20150125_06_43_56_Pro

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.

WP_20150125_11_05_55_Pro__highres WP_20150125_11_06_38_Pro WP_20150125_10_46_52_Pro WP_20150125_10_46_38_Pro

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!

WP_20150125_09_15_40_Pro WP_20150125_09_16_21_Pro WP_20150125_11_37_52_Pro WP_20150125_11_42_17_Pro WP_20150125_12_07_02_Pro WP_20150125_12_35_41_Pro__highres WP_20150125_14_39_54_Pro

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.

WP_20150114_14_49_37_Pro

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.

WP_20150123_17_22_35_ProWP_20150123_17_23_04_ProWP_20150123_17_51_45_ProWP_20150123_17_55_13_Pro WP_20150123_18_04_10_ProWP_20150123_18_07_08_ProWP_20150123_18_19_59_Pro

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.

WP_20150124_07_52_15_Pro-2WP_20150124_07_52_58_ProWP_20150124_07_53_36_ProWP_20150124_07_54_55_Pro

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.

WP_20150124_08_27_11_ProWP_20150124_08_28_43_ProWP_20150124_08_28_50_ProWP_20150124_08_29_55_Pro

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 :).

WP_20150124_09_31_08_ProWP_20150124_09_31_56_ProWP_20150124_09_32_27_ProWP_20150124_09_33_37_Pro WP_20150124_09_36_18_ProWP_20150124_09_37_14_ProWP_20150124_09_38_40_ProWP_20150124_09_39_15_Pro WP_20150124_09_41_10_ProWP_20150124_09_49_46_ProWP_20150124_09_51_19_ProWP_20150124_09_47_46_Pro

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.

WP_20150124_10_06_35_ProWP_20150124_10_07_41_ProWP_20150124_10_08_51_ProWP_20150124_10_09_15_Pro

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 🙂

WP_20150124_11_53_56_ProWP_20150124_11_56_20_ProWP_20150124_11_54_48_ProWP_20150124_13_10_57_ProWP_20150125_04_45_53_Pro

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.

WP_20150124_13_27_39_ProWP_20150124_15_12_38_ProDSC_1569DSC_1586 DSC_1742DSC_1650DSC_1722WP_20150124_15_28_00_ProDSC_1623

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.

WP_20150124_16_47_45_ProWP_20150124_16_47_53_ProWP_20150124_16_49_32_ProWP_20150124_16_48_47_Pro

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.

WP_20150124_17_03_23_ProWP_20150124_17_12_43_ProWP_20150124_17_17_10_Pro

WP_20150124_17_13_30_ProWP_20150124_17_14_33_ProWP_20150124_17_30_49_Pro

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.

WP_20150124_21_19_50_ProWP_20150124_21_22_18_ProWP_20150124_21_22_31_ProWP_20150124_21_22_53_ProWP_20150124_21_23_09_Pro WP_20150124_21_24_03_ProWP_20150124_21_25_08_ProWP_20150124_21_30_51_ProWP_20150124_21_33_39_Pro

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.

DSC_1852DSC_1856WP_20150124_23_33_00_ProWP_20150124_23_33_43_Pro

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.

WallTRGPitsStartFin3StartFin2

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!

FW1FW2FW3FW4

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!

ESMLizardsOryxPastranaSahlenSahlen2

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.

020345Battle2BattlingR8VetteViper

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.

0103BimmerPorsche

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

DempseyCarR8TRGDempsey

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.

MorningMorning2

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!

%d bloggers like this: