Tag Archives: bama

Mazda MX-5: 2,500 mile Road Trip Down South For Some Racing, Foodie Sampling and Exploring

So the last two weeks were spend exploring the Southeast again… I used the opportunity to volunteer two fantastic events in Alabama and Virginia to be a little bit of a tourist, a foodie, Miata Fiata fan, and of course a road tripper.

pre-trip inspection bright and early at WAWA… well actually I forgot to check my tire pressure, so I stopped by to get it all leveled out. For whatever reason the tire pressures were all over the place in each tire.

The trip included stopovers in Knoxville, Tennessee; Birmingham, Alabama; Atlanta, Georgia; and Danville, Virginia (Milton, North Carolina really).

I volunteered two massive events: working as a flagger for the Alabama Grand Prix at the beautiful Barber Motorsports Park and as fire rescue crew for PWC Grand Prix of VIR at the awesome VIRginia International Raceway.

Along the way I did a bunch of Miata Fiata stuff about which I wrote some previous posts, read about it here:

My Motorsport posts included:

But in this post I’d like to wrap up and talk about the actual road trip part… after all I put nearly 2,500 miles on my Miata. Burned more than 60 gallons of fuel and spent over $160 bux doing it. I was lucky to average in the high 36mpg’s at one point hitting over 38mpg’s which is fantastic! And it was all trouble free… which is the best part!

I sampled a lot of good food along the way. Some fairly average food, and some I tried to skimp out on… like Chick-fil-a for breakfast many times… or the Steak ‘n Shake visits thanks to a discounted gift card I bought… $50 card for like $20 bux!

In many ways this Road Trip was a continuation of my drive to Texas in Wes’s Crown Vic… in fact I used that drive as a dry run to see what I should expect taking my own car to Alabama. I knew I would have a great time in Knoxville, TN because I stopped for lunch there before. This time I had booked a hotel in the Knox to stay overnight after a 700+ mile journey there from New Jersey. I googled some BBQ places to eat, went to pick up my order at Archer’s which came highly rated… and wasn’t all that impressed with the ambiance of the facility when I got my box to go. On the way to the gas station to fill up before returning to the hotel, I noticed a much more happening BBQ joint just a block away called Full Service BBQ… and there I was faced with a dilemma… do I stop by there and buy another dish? I had already picked up a fairly large box that was more than enough for me to have for dinner… or do I keep going and regret not visiting this busy place? I decided to come and visit… and to my surprise not only did they have everything I wanted (a mix plate of their ribs, pulled pork, sausage and brisket) but it was also smelling and tasting really good. So as usual I got way too much food. But boy was it fantastic! I left the box of Archers to bring with me the next day to Alabama, and had it for dinner there the next day instead.

Nice Drive-Thru

Excellent food… Archer’s was great too in it’s own right, but Full Service had them beat with the ambiance of the place, and the big crowd of people eating there when I stopped by.

After a nice rest, I was off again for another 400 miles or so to my final destination. And I don’t know why but Alabama sure feels like “Sweet Home” even though I don’t consider myself Southern at all.

So of course the first order of business upon arrival in Birmingham was to go register at the track and take some pix of all those IndyCar sanctioned Global MX-5 Cup car Miata’s.

And straight after I went into town to meet up with my wonderful CouchSurfing hosts that welcomed me with great Southern hospitality going above and beyond what hosts typically do.

Perhaps my favorite activity with my generous hosts was sharing some amazing food with them. They fed me every night I stayed there, but one night I treated everyone to some Soul Food from Niki’s West… including two types of Catfish with all the fixins’

After a truly wonderful time in ‘Bama it was time to work my way back North to the next weekend’s events in Virginia. But since I had a few days to kill I visited Sakshik (my fellow Miata Fiata buddy) who now lives in Decatur, Georgia where he’s off to Law School.

The few days we spend there could be accurately characterized as a foodie tour! We had a somewhat disappointing experience getting Fried Chicken and Waffles on my first day there… unfortunately the place I went to last year closed (without telling Google, we arrived to find windows boarded up)… plan B turned out to be very snooty with a long wait time… and place C butchered the Waffle by making dough out of some cheddar mix that tasted awful. But our luck changed the next day when we went for BBQ and the following day when we did Indian food.

Probably the highlight of my visit… besides hanging out with Sakshik, checking out Mazmart parts store, visiting both Mazda and Fiat dealerships and recording an episode with Daniel on our podcast; was visiting World of Coca Cola which I had been planning to do for the longest time but never had a chance (until now!)

My favorite part of the whole visit to the World of Coke was the “Tasting” room featuring soda pop from around the world… divided by continents and featuring some drinks I’ve tried in their home countries like Fanta, Crush, Inca Cola, etc.

Funny part is, I actually own some Coca Cola clothing, my favorites though were t-shirts from around the world with Coke in cyrillic for the Russian market or in Mandarin for the Chinese market.

After spending several hours in downtown Atlanta and almost getting sick on all the drinks I sampled at the Coke museum, we hit up a cool Indian place to sample something different. Sakshik lives in a part of town where lots of Emory University students live so it by definition is very diverse. And the Indian restaurant we went to was a good representation of this diversity. The food was excellent!

And of course Sakshik coming from India meant he knew what to order and how to eat the food properly. I enjoyed that experience!

And finally the time flew by super quick, and the rest of the road trip to Virginia came bright and early on Thursday morning.

The food I had in Danville, VA just outside of the track I tried before. Unfortunately most of the time I ordered late and got way too much, so I didn’t enjoy it as I really should have. I went to Mayflower for some seafood on the first night. And Checkered Pig BBQ on my last night at VIR. Of the two the BBQ was best… though having worked with a fella from Roxboro, NC he recommended a much better option on the North Carolina side of the border for my next trip.

VIRginia International Raceway is extremely impressive, I think one of the best race tracks there are in the United States!

And so the trip came to a close way too fast. But to slow it down a little I took a rather scenic drive back to the Interstate through Virgnia… at one point going parallel to the famous Blue Ridge Parkway… US 501 was excellent zig zagging along a mountain on a rainy morning… reminded me a lot of Skyline Drive or what I remember of it from my last visit to Shenandoah.

It’s always kind of cool exploring rural areas of various states along with suburbia to see what’s it like… spotted plenty of Miata’s along my way!

Can’t wait for my next Road Trip… and if I’m lucky it will be another Grand Prix Road Trip like this two week trip I just did. Stay tuned…

Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama the debrief

The third and final stop on my April marshaling extravaganza, whirlwind tour of the south ended in Alabama. And to my surprise and amazement it was the best experience yet! I was impressed, I was surprised and very pleased with the whole experience and I’m happy to share my story below.

So a few months ago I saw a friend of mine bragging about doing an event at Barber… sweet, I looked it up, saw that my weekend was free on those dates, researched some flights and booked a deal! Of course flights were expensive directly to Birmingham, Alabama so I booked a $35 each way flight to Atlanta and then picked up a $1 Megabus ride to the destination. After doing all that I went on MotorsportReg.com to sign up and BAM! Barber is not staffed by SCCA….  DAMN! So I went back to my buddy and asked him for help convincing Flagging by Faynisha crew that I’m a worthwhile flagger.

Luckily she said YES!

Well, to start the journey I would begin in California… because as soon as I arrived New Jersey I was getting ready to leave the same day for the trip south. My SFO flight arrived 5am. I got picked up by my parents, taken home to do my laundry, breakfast, sleep… and then pack for the bus trip to NYC to take a Megabus to Philadelphia where I got on a plane to Atlanta, where I picked up the Greyhound for Birmingham.  A CouchSurfer picked me up for the first night where I got some much needed sleep and on the second day I took the city bus to the airport to pick up my rental car for the weekend. I got upgraded to a full size Huyndai Sonata that was a fuel hog, I think I put less than 100 miles on the car and paid more for fuel than I did in California, and fuel was almost half the cost in Alabama.

The same day I picked up my rental I went over to Barber Motorsports Park to have a look-see and register. I popped into the Barber Motorsports Museum which seemed like an overwhelming place for motorcycle enthusiasts, got sent to the Hampton Inn on the road leading into the track to register, where register I did, and then returned to the track with my credentials to actually have a tour of the paddock and even got a chance to pop into race control.

The first day was a bit rainy but it didn’t stop me from taking a million pictures particularly of all the Pirelli World Challenge cars getting their tech inspections done. For an open wheeler weekend the highlight of my trip was enjoying those beautiful and exotic PWC cars which were so amazing. The SIN cars returned to the track this time around after crashing (both of them) at COTA. There were all four KTM Xbows. The field of Ginettas grew by one. All in all a fantastic showing of wonderful machinery.

For the next three days I got to check out how Flagging by Faynisha folks ran the marshals at Barber and I was pleasantly surprised that the atmosphere in the morning meeting was a lot more pleasant than at many of the other pro events elsewhere.

I was put on the team with my buddy Robert who got me into the event and another Road Atlanta marshal on Turn 1 which was amazing, but for race day we were moved to Turn 10 which was just as amazing because that’s where the driver presentations were taking place in front of the big grandstand and the ferris wheel. Turn 10 especially was a wonderful blue flag station and the PWC race I got to work didn’t have it’s usual full course yellow nonsense, so I got my money’s worth for sure.

The rest of the time at Barber I was admiring how amazingly manicured the circuit was. It seems like not a single strain of grass was out of place. There were statues everywhere you look, some cooler than others. A big spider carrying a motorcycle. A few alligators sticking their heads out of the water at one of the many ponds around the property. Prancing horses… Elephants. Amazing!

I like this place. I really like it a lot.

I think I’ll post a new thread on how wonderful Barber Motorsports Park really is. For now I’d encourage everyone in the position to work with Flagging by Faynisha to reach out and join the group to marshal future events at Barber. If nothing else besides the pleasant experience at a world class facility, you’ll even get paid at the end of the day for rendering your services. The $90 bux per day I received absolutely paid for the entire trip of mine from New Jersey.

I loved it!

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See you next time Bama!

Thank You Very Much to Flagging by Faynisha and Barber Motorsports Park

It’s not often that I go to a new racetrack that really impresses me… Barber Motorsports Park made me say “wow!”

This post will outline all the things I liked about visiting Barber and working with Faynisha and a hopefully give a few tips to other facilities and organizations to improve the enthusiast experience.

I think the main thing that Barber Motorsports Park has going for it is the brilliant location. Surrounded by luscious green forest the track is tucked away yet close to the city of Birmingham which is just minutes away via Interstate 20. Yet, Mr. Barber has gone to great lengths to carve out an amazing facility that totally utilizes the nature it is surrounded by. I say this because I counted at least half a dozen little ponds around the track which I’m sure contribute to keeping the place green when it actually gets hot. The weather was particularly pleasant during my visit though I can’t imaging temps in the 70’s lasting much longer into the summer, it probably gets stinken hot. Besides the little ponds, one of which featured my favorite sculpture at the track: several alligators sticking their heads out of the water making for a very realistic scene. There were countless statues of elephans, prancing horses, spiders, some sort of tigers or other big cats, etc. And of course lots and lots of motorcycles all around. Even the gates to go to various places around the track featured a motorcycle on their design. But the biggest draw to the whole facility is of course Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum which proclaims to have the worlds largest collection of motorcycles and sports cars too….  I read that statement right on the billboard off the Interstate, and I would imagine they’re right, although I feel that visiting such a facility would be a lot more special with someone who could narrate what all those bikes actually are, where they raced, and who raced them.

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Just as impressive as this private track was the group organizing the marshals. Flagging by Faynisha LLC is a private entity responsible for staffing events there with marshals. Faynisha recruits them, Faynisha trains them and Faynisha pays the people for their participation. The group of marshals I worked with for the Indy weekend was fairly diverse, with people of various ages and skill sets present. Many of the workers came from Road Atlanta whom I worked with during SCCA staffed events. The marshals all wore FBF t-shirts which was pretty cool, it was sort of the uniform for the event until Sunday where Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama t-shirts were distributed for race day.

grand prix of alabama flagging by faynisha

I noticed that there was a lot of respect for Faynisha and her partner Tom at the event. Marshals were in a positive mood, people paid attention at the morning meetings. And then everyone got a ride out to station on two trams. Both Tom and Faynisha carried on with their work for the event. Faynisha manned the radios at Race Control while Tom seemed to run the Gridding duties on pit lane. Everything went like clockwork and whenever people had questions they made sure to ask Faynisha on the radio and she always came back with answers. I say this because there didn’t seem to be much of the typical backtalk and backstabbing you’d come across at other more loosely organized events. I thought the group ran the event in a very professional manner and everyone was very detail oriented and polite. People worked together on a lot of calls which was awesome. And I did not feel out of place working with a new group, they made me feel welcome which was very much appreciated.

The reason I wanted to thank Flagging by Faynisha particularly is because often times when I watch other people try to recruit new marshals the immediate go to suggestion is: join SCCA! And that couldn’t be more wrong. The problem with joining SCCA is the very immediate fee of up to $95/per year which scares people off right away. For folks living in Birmingham or near to Bama or Georgia it is easy to get in touch with FBF and not only save the membership fee, they could get paid $90/per day for marshaling big events like this Indy event I went to. Now how would that improve recruiting? I think it certainly would. And if people like to marshal and get paid for it, they would consider expanding their marshaling to other tracks and perhaps then joining SCCA to get the license to do that kind of marshaling…. which even then isn’t always necessary as it’s possible to flag at COTA without SCCA license, I’m sure other tracks too….   So my biggest praise for Faynisha’s organization is for the fact that it offers an alternative for Motorsport enthusiasts to become volunteers without getting scared off by fees, and dues, and various hierarchies, and bureaucracies. There’s a boss in place: Faynisha and it is easy to work with her to develop your career as a marshal.

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I was most impressed with Barber and FBF and hope I get another opportunity soon to marshal there. What a pleasant experience!

Three Week Foodie Tour of the South, with some Racing Sprinkled In

Over the past three weeks I’ve got a chance to sample some amazing foodie experiences around the southern part of the country while marshaling various events in Texas, California and Alabama. My goal is to share my opinions on the places I liked and others that didn’t really do it for me anymore, while promoting the idea that there’s so much more to do when traveling for Motorsport events than just being stuck at the circuit all the time.

foodie tour long beach california in-n-out burger and fries animal style

I’ll start with my visits to the In-n-Out burger joint. It is a fast food place and as such not exactly a culinary phenomenon, but we don’t have it in New Jersey and everyone rants and raves about them on the west coast, and specifically in California so I had to have it. Was it as good as everyone claims it to be? Not particularly. I think I’m In-n-Outed already. The burgers are fantastic, for sure. But I think the fries killed the experience for me. There was an In-n-Out in Austin, Texas my host and I went to during the MotoGP before trying one in Huntington Beach, California during the Long Beach Grand Prix and the problem is the same: french fries go cold quickly making them taste like paper… especially when you get them done animal style, the cheese just puts a hard layer over the thin cut fries ruining the taste of the potato (I’m assuming that’s what they’re made of). That said, next time I’m in Cali I’ll probably have one again, minus the fry.

Another chain that really didn’t do it for me was Shrimp Basket in Irondale, Alabama. I like the idea of seafood to mix things up but this joint didn’t really live up to my expectations and I left disappointed. The food was mediocre, small portions and overpriced.

foodie tour alabama grand prix irondale shrimp basket

Similarly, I was very disappointed in Boomerang’s food truck at COTA, the Aussie flag peeked my interest as I absolutely love to have meat pies whenever I travel to Australia. But this place ruined it for me. The pie was basically a miniature pot pie which is nothing like the proper Aussie/Kiwi pies, and at $10 a pop they’re grossly overpriced, considering real OZ pies go for $2-4 bux.

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I had to have one when I saw the truck, but I’m sorry I did.

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Now to the foodie experiences that I seriously enjoyed…

Meches Tacos is an excellent taqueria less then a minute away from COTA that serves amazing breakfast tacos…. simple yet excellent! So good in fact I ate them before I realized I should take a picture. Look for it on FM 812 in Del Valle, TX just past the track entrance when traveling from Austin.

Unlike my last trip to Austin for PWC in March where I focused primarily on BBQ joints for dinner, this time around Tex-Mex was the name of the game, and the highlight of my visit was a trip to Baby Acapulco’s. I was feeling pretty exhausted and a bit under the weather so I ordered Baby A’s tortilla soup to help self medicate, and that stuff was pretty awesome. Again, was too hungry to take a picture but I did snap a shot of a similar lunch at Pappasito’s Cantina at Dallas Airport on my flight home…. another excellent choice for quick and good meal when traveling to Texas.

foodie tour motogp at cota texas papasito's cantina

I enjoy visiting Pappas restaurants in Texas ever since a friend of mine took me out to the Pappas Steakhouse in Houston. Now whenever I’m in Texas I try to visit one of the establishments depending what I’m in the mood for… Tex-Mex at Pappasito’s or seafood at Pappadeaux.

Some chains of course are better than others. We went to a bunch of bad ones in Southern California which was surprising considering how saturated the market is there with good authentic Mexican food. But we also went to some really great places. One was a hole in a wall bar serving simple sandwiches on rye bread called Joe Jost’s. I ordered the hot dog which was actually Polish kielbasa and a liverwurst pate style thing on rye. This place was a few minutes drive from the temporary circuit downtown and full of people when we went. Funny enough all the drinks were served in margarita style glass, even beer.

foodie tour long beach california bar food

Next awesome stop was actually adjacent to my flag point. After two days of eating the same exact sandwich provided by Cal Club I couldn’t stand the idea of having the same thing on Race Day so we climbed the fence and went to Islands fine burgers and drinks. The root beer float I got to start off my meal really hit the spot on a warm and sunny day. But the highlight of the meal was my bacon avocado burger and those excellent fries. It was very delicious!

foodie tour long beach california islands root beer float

foodie tour long beach california islands burger

I felt like I needed a nap after that big  meal, and the uneventful IndyCar race that followed almost succeed putting me to sleep.

The final meal on the trip before flying out of town took delicious to the next level. I’m a sucker for Motorsport advertising, and when I saw a beautiful Dodge Viper racing in the Pirelli World Challenge series wrapped in Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles livery I had to see what the fuzz was all about. After visiting the Mazda HQ in Irvine I made my way to their Anaheim location to give it a go.

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Boy did that hit the spot. I requested the chicken breast with two giant waffles. The meal was so big this was one of those rare occasions where I didn’t finish it. I don’t normally leave food on the plate after I’m done eating, but this time I just had no place to put it, I was completely stuffed. And very satisfied. The freeflow of fruit punch and lemonade in a distinct two tone as pictured was a nice touch and something I hadn’t really seen before at a chain restaurant. Another good sign the place was packed for lunch!

roscoe's fried chicken n waffles 2 fruit punch and lemonade

Lucky for me, just a week later I had another Southern place to compare these friend chicken and waffles to. As I got an opportunity to stop by a real soul food place in downtown Atlanta on my layover heading home from Alabama. Glady’s Knight’s Chicken & Waffles wasn’t a planned visit, but since I was staying in a cheap motel just a block away and there weren’t too many other options in the area, I jumped on the opportunity to give it a try. Comparing the two I would vote for Roscoe’s as my more favorite, the chicken was juicier and the pancakes were more affordable. But the Hotlanta joint definitely had a better ambiance inside. And instead of the fruit punch and lemonade combo they had a sweet tea and lemonade instead… and after a week or so in the deep south, sweet tea became my go to drink every time!

foodie tour atlanta soul food fried chicken and waffles

foodie tour atlanta soul food sweet tea and lemonade

Now I’ll finish this write up with the really good stuff!

Alabama took me by complete surprise when I arrived there. It was nothing what I had expected. And while I always remind myself to travel with an open mind, arriving in Birminham blew my mind!

The foodie experiences were a major contributing factor to the mind-blown phenomena, and by sharing the pix below I’ll attempt to explain exactly why.

The first thing I learned about Southern Cuisine in Alabama is that they have a special sauce for their meals unique to the region. It’s called the Alabama white sauce and it’s best served on chicken or turkey although some friends that recommended it prefer it on pork too… So of course I went out hunting for this amazing white sauce.

And I found it at Saw’s soul food restaurant downtown.

foodie tour alabama grand prix birmingham saws sampler

My CouchSurfing host lives just about a mile down the road and was happy to show me this joint. She even recommended the sampler plate to try more of the things on the menu. She was completely right, everything was delicious and I really did enjoy the sauce.

foodie tour alabama grand prix birmingham saws juke joint sausage

A few days later my buddy Robert and I went to the other Saw’s location called Juke Joint, which had a different menu but equally delicious food. I ordered some amazing sausage and fried green tomatoes. I also ordered sweet tea fried chicken sandwich to go so I can have it as lunch at the track the next day. Both were fantastic options!

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foodie tour alabama grand prix irondale bama white sauce

Speaking of taking food to the track, on Friday a whole group of Road Atlanta flaggers went to Golden Rule BBQ joint just a few miles from the track for a big dinner. There I got to sample some amazing sliced pork again served with the local white sauce which is vinegar and mayo based with pepper and other stuff added for flavor. I had so many leftovers there was no need to buy lunch the next day.  It was such an delicious experience I’m happy to say that out of all the Southern food I got to sample on the trips to Texas and California, Alabama wins hands down for having the best food!

I am so looking forward to my next Grand Prix Foodie adventure.

Post card from the Grand Prix of Alabama

I must start by saying how ridiculously impressed I am with Barber Motorsports Park and the group that organizes the marshals there: Flagging by Faynisha. This event was a real pleasure and joy to work because of all the positive vibe I got on this trip, at pretty much every step of the way.

I’ll leave the details for a later post but suffice to say I had a blast. The trip started on the same day that my Long Beach GP trip finished, I booked a combination of public and private transportation services which included bus rides, train rides, airplane flights, etc. One of the most roundabout ways of getting from New Jersey to Alabama. But I made it, and I had a great time along the way.

I want to thank my buddy Robert Carnright for organizing the marshaling part of the trip for me and introducing me to Faynisha. Couldn’t have done it without the help… and super glad I did!

Some photos from the event:

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Welcome to Barber Motorsports Park, just about 10 miles outside of Birmingham, Alabama right off of Interstate 20

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Probably the biggest attraction of the facility is it’s amazing museum: Barber Motorsports Museum ( I only took a sneak peek)

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IndyCar going through tech inspection

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Indy Lights going through tech inspection

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The Holmatro Safety Crew that work all IndyCar events

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Mazda Road to Indy support series which include USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights… all cars obviously powered by Mazda

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A very diverse driver range, this one hailing from Malaysia

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My favorite support series was the PWC: Pirelli World Challenge

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The Sin cars were back, and after the smash ups in COTA they were kicking ass! One had a very impressive win, starting from the front, stalling, dropping to last and coming back to win!

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KTM Xbow GTS piloted by my neighbor from NJ Brett Sandberg

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More diversity in the Pro Mazda series, Argentine, Canadian, American and Australian pilots

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I was lucky enough to visit race control on my first day to Barber, was pretty interesting perspective I don’t normally get to see

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Some Ginetta GT4 cars from the GTS class

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Maserati Gran Turismo GT4 contributing to the variety in cars

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I love all the statues around the circuit, these were at the gates to the paddock, while my favorite were the alligators in the pond

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First few days were spent at Turn 1, VIP treatment for sure!

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For race day we were bumped to Turn 10, another excellent spot

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Stay tuned for a more detailed write up on this awesome experience.