Grand Prix of Alabama… or Bust!

I just did something incredibly foolish.

Seeing a friend post about flagging the Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park I researched and booked my travel there without having any clue as to who is organizing the marshals for the race or if there’s even a chance of me volunteering the event at all.

But, I am now on a mission of getting myself accepted as a marshal for this event which I haven’t done before, at a track I haven’t been to yet. Because, why not?

Apparently the event is staffed by Flagging by Faynesha, the same lady I’ve been in contact with about marshaling MotoGP at COTA a year ago, an event I got accepted but couldn’t attend because of the short notice. But this time my flights are booked, just need to get my acceptance in order. So if anyone knows Faynesha please put in a good word for me.

I think I’m more addicted to shopping for a good travel deal than I am to Motorsports. The way I went about booking this trip will raise some eyebrows and probably kill me from exhaustion, but it’s worth sharing the story here. This kind of dedication to volunteering is not something you are likely to see in the business world, even if it is the business of Motorsports hiring paid flagges for an event.

First, I checked out the flights. New York City to Birmingham, Alabama. To no one’s surprice they were pricey, something in the $300-$400 range for the IndyCar weekend.

That wasn’t an option, but I kept on checking alternatives. Flying to Atlanta dropped the price by half. I started getting excited. But at $175 it was still expensive. Looking further east, Columbia, SC and Charlotte, NC were in the $140’s – $150’s, but I knew I cold do better. So I expanded my search to include Philadelphia and eureka! Leaving out of PHL to ATL it was $36 each way…. SOLD!

$72 round trip to fly Southwest from Philly to Atlanta. But the savings didn’t end there. To pay for the flights I used some creative shopping for gift cards on eBay.

For a long time now I’ve been buying $100 eBay gift cards every time they go on sale for $95 bux. You pay $95 and get $100 card which you can later use to purchase other discounted gift cards. I used mine to buy a $100 Target gift card for $95 bux. So basically $100 Target card only cost me $90. As soon as the Target card arrived via snail mail, I used it to buy $100 eBay gift card on Target.com so that I could use it for future purchases on eBay.

And so along came a Southwest gift card deal, only $90 for $100 card. I jumped on it, using my eBay gift card I ended up paying $80 for the $100 value, or instead I got $100 Southwest card with $20 left over on my eBay card to use in the future. So depending on how you look at the situation, my $72 flight really cost $52!

Next, I had to get to Philly early enough for a 7am flight, the day after I arrive home from California after doing the Long Beach GP. Typically Megabus is a good solution for this problem, and while no $1 fares were available, the $5 deal I booked was significantly cheaper than spending twice the time to take NJTransit train down to Trenton and changing to SEPTA for another 2 hour journey to the airport. The bus will leave NYC at 1:30am and get me to the 30th St. station before 4am. I will be able to book a round trip train ticket to the airport, arriving hopefully in sufficient time for the flight.

The better Megabus deal was to be had in Atlanta. I found a $1 bus ticket from Atlanta to Birmingham departing the night of my arrival at ATL. The trip takes a few hours and gets me in town quite late but hopefully I find some accommodation to spend the night.

Barber Motorsports Park is a short drive out of Birmingham but not close enough to rely on public transport. So I booked a rental car. Found an $8.15/day rental with Alamo at the BHM airport which is a short public bus ride away from the city for like a $1. The four day rental will run me about $64 and earn a nice bonus with Southwest which should get me enough points for a freebie short flight on the airline for the future. In fact the $64 rental will get me more than 10x the points that I’ll earn from flying the airline on a $72 ticket.

I will return the car on Monday morning after the race and take an afternoon bus back to Atlanta for $5. With all my trips to Road Atlanta I have yet to actually visit downtown. So this trip will give me the opportunity to explore a little. Get some delicious southern food and spend the night before flying back to Philly 8am Tuesday morning. I booked a 2pm Megabus for $5 back to NYC and should be home around 6pm later that day.

So total spent so far: $72 + $64 + $18 = $154 – 20 = $134 on a trip that could have easily pushed half a grand going the direct route.

Next step is finding accommodation for the event, and most importantly finding a way of getting myself accepted as a marshal. It would be a huge waste if I end up being a spectator.

For anyone familiar with the event, please contact me with the appropriate parties I should contact to get on the worker list. Cheers!