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!

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.

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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:

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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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