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Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg the debrief

What an amazing experience this year’s Firestone Grand Prix of Saint Petersburg was. I had a blast!

I signed up to volunteer as a pit & grid marshal and spend the entire event in pit lane near pit out. Occasionally during my off time I went to spectate at Turns 2 and Turn 10 as well as do a little bit of flagging from the amazing Turn 12. My favorite events of the race weekend were everything but IndyCar but since they were the big boys in town I did enjoy spectating their time on track. We didn’t have much to do during the IndyCar sessions because that series brings their own Pit people to work the event, so instead I took some pix…

So for this event the role I was assigned was more of an observer in nature than anything else. Having worked the Indy race at Pocono Raceway with Team Pocono, the paddock at Daytona for the 24 and as pit fire at VIR for IMSA, the pit lane observer role was familiar for me. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to do where I was stationed at pit out. It seems the St. Pete GP folks contracted the event “volunteers” – a separate group from CFR SCCA folks that I was part of, to do the crowd control duties. But I noticed the people were a bit timid and didn’t really stop anyone from crowding various pit boxes, or assisting much for teams bringing cars onto the pit lane from the paddock. The time went by slow because of the lack of duties, but there couldn’t be a better spot to watch what’s happening in pit lane other than maybe watching it on TV. I enjoyed the experience.

Post race we were right in the thick of things as the winning drivers walked past us towards the podium.

As we wrapped up and walked towards our worker shuttles I noticed this little Disney jem… a Mickey Mouse race car and boy do I think it looks sooooo much better than the massive billboards the actual Indy Cars have become. I’m not a big fan of the series. To me IndyCar feels a lot like the open wheel version of NASCAR where good drivers go to retire. And I’m sure the series could be improved greatly if it aspired to be more Formula 1 rather than NASCAR. Instead of one chassis supplier Dallara, there should be more variety. Optimize the wings and things for aero more than advertising space, and things would improve. Watching the crowds at this event though I can see they are not exactly struggling, so let them ride a wave of success and ignore my difference in taste of the outward appearances.

Besides the actual event, I am absolutely in love with St. Petersburg and the Gulf Coast of Florida in general. I would totally love to move to the Tampa Bay area, Clearwater, St. Pete Beach, or even Brandenton… it’s far more laid back than South Florida/Miami area and just as exotic. I’m sure there are tourism and motorsport based businesses I could make a living at. And check out some of the murals and street graffiti around downtown St. Pete, it’s simply uplifting… I want to live here!

One final highlight of the trip. I had booked a cheap motel about 10 miles north of the track. It had horrible reviews and I was cringing at the idea of staying there. After much thought I decided to change my plans and reach out to people on CouchSurfing to host me. The fella that accepted my request turned out to be awesome and I had an absolute blast staying there… just a few blocks from the track. Before heading back to Daytona after the race I offered to buy my host dinner for his troubles and he chose a really tasty option, burgers at Engine 9 downtown. It was a great experience!

… another Florida event is next on my calendar: Sebring 12 hour!

Roar Before the 24 at Daytona International Speedway the debrief

This was my first Roar before the 24 at Daytona Int’l Speedway.

For a motorsport event this was an interesting one because officially there wasn’t actually any racing taking place, it was all practice sessions over a three day period. The reason for my participation is my desire to check out several of the brand new race cars making their debut this IMSA racing season. Among them of course is the Mazda DPi car. As well as the Cadillac DPi’s, and the Nissan Ligiers, and the Oreca’s and Riley’s. As well as Acura NSX GT3’s, the Lexus IS-F RC-F GT3’s (I previously referred to the Lexus as IS-F it’s actually RC-F), the new mid-engined Porsche 911 RSR GTE’s, Mercedes-AMG SLS GT3’s finally debuting in America. McLaren 570S GT4’s debuting in the support series alongside Porsche Cayman GT4’s.

This post will be all the good, the bad and the ugly opinions.

The good.

Lots of cars in attendance. I’m very pleased with the Acura’s, the Lexus, Mercedes-AMG, Porsche’s, Mazda and Cadillac DPi’s and the LMP2’s from Oreca, Ligier and Riley. All those cars… it was great to see them on track shaking things down.

I’m really glad I got a few opportunities to take some pictures. It was important to me to have some good memories I can share with friends, and I call it mission accomplished. It was very good to work with my friend John all weekend, who took some awesome pix for me also. He let me crash at his house and even let me catch a ride to the track with him every day. Definitely appreciate that! CFR SCCA was excellent. We received $25 Gas Cards for every day of participation and $50 hotel credit (IOU’s) for future CFR events. (Which I think I may actually cash in during Sebring or St. Pete)

Also really happy to run into other flag marshals that drive Miatas

The bad.

Weather was cold. Like stupid cold. I was prepared to a degree… since I drove my Miata down I loaded it up with multiple pairs of clothes. I had 4 white t-shirts, 3 white hoodies, 2 pairs of white pants, 1 white jacket, 1 non-white jacket, and a whole bunch of undershirts…. not to mention a few bandanas which came very useful to block the arctic wind from hitting my face. But it was still stupid cold! I was thinking I could handle 59F in the evening and 65F during the day. We dropped down to 35F on Sunday, and had most of the day raining on Saturday with the temperatures dropping. The wind was especially killer!

This was how bundled up I was, and still cold:

That said, Friday… the first day of the event was T-shirt weather. I think it was in the high 70’s and I got a nice sunburn on my face!

There was a lot of opportunities to take some awesome shots of race cars while Media vans were shooting their official photos on track (while we were off-duty) unfortunately our station was way too far from the track to get a decent shot.

The ugly.

I like most BMW Art Cars… except this year’s. I think this year’s model with the polka-dots on the front, and roof is stupid! The word “FAST” on driver’s side and an actual picture of that race car stickered on the passenger door is just dumb…. I don’t understand the attraction other than the stupidity of it and for that reason I find it very ugly!

The other ugly news during the event was another shooting in FLL – Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport in Florida… one of my favorite airports to fly into when going to Miami and South Florida. That was not good news… in fact that was ugly news, and it ran right under the news about the Roar before the 24 in the paper:

For an event that I thought I would never do again, I would totally do this again. Both the Roar before the 24 and the Daytona 24h race.

It was a blast!

Good people though made this experience possible for me.

Post Card from IndyCar at Pocono Raceway, The Tricky Triangle

Greetings from Day 2 of IndyCar at the Pocono Raceway… on the Tricky Triangle. What Turn 4?

So this time I’m doing something different, while still volunteering for a Motorsport event, it’s not quite marshaling. But I’m in pit lane, there are race cars around me, I’m happy!

A few weeks ago I worked with a guy from Pennsylvania at Watkins Glen who invited me to come volunteer IndyCar at Pocono… What? I didn’t know we could do that… I thought marshals weren’t needed on ovals… err… triovals.

They are not, but volunteers are always needed. I filled out my application… got a typical cryptic response that made me wonder if I was in or out, and tickets for the event showed up in my mail box a few days before the race. Cool!

The role for this event was: “Customer Service” with Team Pocono. Some would call it a security role, but there were actual security at the event that were hired help and were getting paid for their service. We worked for free, and we were the only ones in pit lane, where you know… it’s actually dangerous.

Our role was to check wristbands and paper tickets of spectators and VIP’s that were roaming around pit lane during all sessions of the event. I didn’t think this was even possible because typically the pits are off limits to spectators at other events I volunteer at. IMSA and F1 have a special Pit Walk for the spectators which is a watered down experience that lasts for about an hour or so primarily designed for spectators to take some close up pictures of cars in pieces and maybe grab an autograph from their favorite driver. Here, the pit lane was open to anyone who was willing to spend the extra money for this pit pass, and it wasn’t that pricey.

In many ways this activity is where IndyCar is most similar to NASCAR rather than other series like IMSA or F1. The other similarity was running the oval which meant there wasn’t to be any racing as soon as the rain hit the forecast. That combined with a time-certain TV schedule meant that despite the scheduled race for today, the feature activity of the weekend, the actual race got moved to Monday because of the rain (even though as usual the morning was nice and sunny with some overcast)… This was the first time I’ve ever had a race postponed to the next day of the week.

The actual role of customer service was really neat. I got to interact with a bunch of spectators, several crew / team members of the pits I was responsible for, and got to see several drivers up close. The first day of my participation I was absolutely rubbish. There was a person smoking nearby who I missed completely, which was one of my responsibilities. People kept on sneaking up towards the pit wall every time I would turn my back, which wasn’t meant to happen. Someone walked in with a beer, which again was a big no no… Someone brought their young kids in, again this wasn’t good. But on the second day I got the hang of it.

As usual we were not allowed to take any pictures of the cars, but I snuck a few selfies in.

indycar at pocono raceway 1

Only British flags were flying on communication antennas in pit lane to commemorate the one year anniversary of Justin Wilson’s death which happened at this event last year sadly.

indycar at pocono raceway 5

First day I worked the “South” pits watching over Alexander Rossi and Tony Kanaan pits. While second day I got bumped to the North pits looking out for Marco Andretti and Takumo Sato. Second day we really had nothing to do. (because of the rain)

indycar at pocono raceway 9

indycar at pocono raceway 10

indycar at pocono raceway 2

I was most impressed with the whole registration process at Pocono. Things were well organized, people were knowledgeable and things went very smoothly. Camping was provided right on the inner course where I had driven once when I volunteered as F&C during an SCCA event.

indycar at pocono raceway 3

Chits for food were provided both days, and food was tasty!

indycar at pocono raceway 6

For the second day there was a car show with some interesting things on display like these Jaguars.

indycar at pocono raceway 7

indycar at pocono raceway 17

For support event we had Vintage IndyCar organized by USAC.

indycar at pocono raceway 18

There were also lots of stock cars and dirt track cars on display very popular in Pennsylvania and among the crowd who were naturally mostly NASCAR fans. The whole weekend had a very low key feel to it, almost like a club event. Not too many people in attendance which made the event feel very open and drivers super accessible.

indycar at pocono raceway 16

indycar at pocono raceway 12

indycar at pocono raceway 13

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indycar at pocono raceway 14

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The days on post were quite long and my feet were burning by the end. Luckily I had enough wet weather gear with me to stay dry when the skies opened up on Sunday.

indycar at pocono raceway 19

As a keepsake we got a pin for participation and a program. Which is more than we normally get while volunteering for F&C.

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indycar at pocono raceway 8

All in all I had a hell of a time and even though I left the track when the rain started because I was not going to camp in the bog that the water created, I’m very much looking forward to the 98 mile drive back there on Monday to finish what I started/signed-up to do.

It was a fantastic experience to be sure!

Post Card from Belle Isle Detroit, Pre-Grand Prix Paddock Tour

Knowing full well how stringent the organizers get giving us (volunteers) paddock and pit access during the event, I went a day early to walk around and get some shots of the unpacking in progress.

I had to sneak onto the island. Our credentials were not to be distributed until later on in the afternoon and since dinner was provided by Detroit Region SCCA it was unlikely that I’d return to Belle Isle Park or even more unlikely that I’d actually see anything there. So having arrived for the event a day early and getting some much needed rest at my friend’s house I ventured down to Detroit downtown bright and early. First stop was visiting the GM Renaissance Center, something I always wanted to do… there on the second floor I found the Detroit Grand Prix offices, with big glass windows showing you what’s going on behind the scenes with all the maps and track plans on display to anyone that walks by.

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 28

I also spotted a cool looking Chevy Caprice Detroit PD car… on the way back to my car I managed to snap a few shots… turns out these cars (about 100 of them) were donated to the city of Detroit, and therefore sport a cool wrap of the city skyline.

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 26 chevy caprice detroit pd

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 27 chevy caprice detroit pd

It was a very beautiful day and an awesome chance to walk along the waterfront of the Detroit River, checking out the views of Windsor, Ontario on the other side. Next Stop: Belle Isle Park.

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 23 belle isle park detroit

I managed to get into the parking lot that I obviously had no legitimate access to, but as security was slack, I got away with it.

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 6 michigan state police

I’ve always been fascinated by the old-school look of Michigan statie’s cars, like this Ford Explorer Police Interceptor.

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 25 we love detroit

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 24 team penske

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 3 aj foyt

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 10 alexander rossi

And then I spotted a Miata a fellow marshal owns it from Canada eh?

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 2 miata

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 1

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 4 indycar

Lots of Chevy’s everywhere…

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 5 camaro

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 7 chevy ss

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 8 chevy camaro

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 9 chevy corvette

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 22 chevy silverado

And then my favorite… the SpeedSource Mazda Prototype Team:

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 12 mazda lmp2

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 13 mazda lola lmp2

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 14 mazda lola lmp2

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 15 mazda lola lmp2

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 16 mazda lola lmp2

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 17 mazda lola lmp2

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 18 mazda lola lmp2

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 19 turner bmw

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 20 turner bmw

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 21 lambo huracan

detroit grand prix paddock walk belle isle 11 michael shank racing

More from the event soon…